These tarts are called pastéis de nata, or cream pastries, in their homeland of Portugal. They are notoriously difficult to make as the pastry requires a high temperature and the custard a low one, however this recipe for the home cook is achievable and gives an authentic result.
PREPARATION TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes (+ 1 hour 20 minutes chilling)
COOKING TIME: 20–25 minutes
165 g (5¾ oz/¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar, plus
1 tablespoon, extra
250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) milk
50 g (1¾ oz/1/3 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped
1 x 10 cm (4 inch) long strip lemon zest
4 egg yolks
185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) pouring (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ quantity puff pastry
1. Preheat the oven to 240°C (475°F/Gas 8). Position an oven shelf at the top of the oven. (Tarts need to be cooked at the top of the oven where it’s hottest.) Lightly grease a 12-hole
80 ml (2½ fl oz/1/3 cup) muffin tin.
2. Combine the sugar and 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 5–7 minutes or until the mixture reaches soft-ball stage (112°C/235°F on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, put 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) of the milk and the flour in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Place the remaining milk, vanilla seeds and pod, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the flour mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. Add the egg yolks, stirring constantly until well combined. Stir in the cream until combined. Add the sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly until combined. Transfer to a heatproof jug and set aside to cool slightly while you roll out the pastry.
4. Combine the extra sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the pastry on a clean work surface to a 30 x 35 cm (12 x 14 inch) rectangle. With a long side facing you, sprinkle the pastry with the cinnamon mixture. Starting at the side closest to you, roll up the pastry tightly to form a 35 cm (14 inch) long log . Cut the log into 12 slices, about 3 cm (1¼ inches) wide.
5. Working with one slice at a time, place, cut side down, on a lightly floured work surface. Gently press with the heel of your hand to flatten slightly, then use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the pastry to form a 9 cm (3½ inch) round. Use a round 9 cm (3½ inch) pastry cutter to trim the edges as necessary. Gently press each round into a greased muffin hole, using your fingertips to carefully press them into the base and side of each hole. Divide the custard mixture among the pastry shells. Bake for 6–10 minutes or until the custard is firm to touch and beginning to brown in patches. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
TIP: These tarts are best eaten on the day they are baked.
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