Complete with a signature scorched top custard top, channel your inner pastry chef and create these impressive Portuguese tarts
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Combine the sugar and 2/3 cup (160ml) water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar mixture reaches 115°C on a sugar thermometer. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the flour and ½ cup (125ml) milk in a bowl until smooth. Place the vanilla bean and seeds, lemon peel and remaining milk in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Discard vanilla bean and lemon peel.
Whisk egg yolks into the flour mixture. Add the milk mixture and sugar mixture in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a large jug. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and place custard mixture in the fridge for 2 hours or until chilled.
Meanwhile, to make the pastry, place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and use your fingertips to rub butter into the flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and use a spatula to stir until just combined. Use your hands to press the dough together to form a disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 mins to rest.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1.5cm thick, 15cm x 40cm rectangle. Fold in the 2 short ends to meet in the middle, then fold in half. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 mins or until just firm.
Repeat rolling, folding and resting twice more. Place the last fold in the fridge for at least 30 mins to rest. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 25cm x 30cm rectangle. Starting from 1 short end, roll the pastry into a tight log. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 mins to chill.
Cut the pastry log into 12 discs. Roll each disc into a round on a lightly floured surface. Place each pastry round in a hole of a 12-hole, ⅓-cup (80ml) muffin pan. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 mins or until pastry is firm.
Preheat oven to 250°C. Divide the custard mixture evenly among pastry cases. Bake for 20-25 mins or until custard begins to set and the pastry is golden. Use a kitchen blowtorch to torch the top of each tart until caramelised.
Set tarts aside for 45 mins or until cool. Serve at room temperature.
Portuguese tarts, known as pasteis de nata in their homeland of Portugal (where they are arguably the nation’s favourite dessert), are irresistible buttery, flaky tarts with a creamy custard filling, and a signature scorched top. Delicately sweet and petite, designed to be eaten warm and fresh from the oven in just a couple of delicious crunchy bites, a traditional Portuguese custard tart is made using puff pastry and is baked to achieve that beautifully caramelised top. They’re sometimes dusted with cinnamon or icing sugar before being served.
Although there are many variations on the Portuguese custard tart recipe (which is a closely guarded secret in the Lisbon neighbourhood of Belém where the tarts originated), the divine custard is made from ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard such as egg yolks, sugar, flour, milk and vanilla. Our custard tarts recipe uses a sugar syrup, lemon peel and vanilla in the custard for a delightful smooth sweetness and subtle tang. The case is baked from puff pastry to get that crisp and flaky texture and, although you can use store-bought frozen puff pastry if you like, we’ve made a puff pastry from scratch for the lightest, flakiest results.
Portuguese custard tarts are a treasured part of Portuguese culture. They are thought to have been invented by the Portuguese monks from a monastery in Belém, a neighbourhood of Lisbon, in the 18th century. The story goes that the monks were left with many leftover yolks as they used to use the egg whites to starch the nun’s habits, so they began baking them into tarts to sell and make money. Since then, custard tarts have become an iconic Portuguese treat that’s sold all over the country and has gained popularity globally. The Portuguese tart has inspired many tribute versions and bakeries all over the world specifically dedicated to selling the tarts. The English have their own version and, in the former Portuguese territory of Macau, you can find the similar Macau egg tarts (with many iterations of egg tarts also popular in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia). There’s even many dedicated bakeries and cafes in Australia who specialise in Portuguese custard tarts.
Meanwhile, droves of tourists still flock to the spiritual home of the tarts in Belem, Lisbon, to the spot where the monks used to sell their pastries. It’s now a cafe and claims to be the only place in Portugal that serves the original historical recipe.
There is nothing worse than a soggy tart! The perfect Portuguese tart pastry must be super crisp and flaky. It takes a bit of patience rolling, folding and resting the dough to make the pastry from scratch but the end results are well worth the effort.The folding and layering is important, as this allows the pastry to stretch and separate into thin and crisp layers that will puff up beautifully when baked.
When making the pastry it’s important to keep it cool and use chilled butter and iced water, as the pieces of butter throughout the dough help keep your dough flaky so you don’t want them to melt. Freezing your pastry cases in the muffin tin before baking will also help avoid a soggy-bottomed tart, as it helps prevent the custard soaking into the pastry when you fill them.
Pretty and petite Portuguese tarts are ideal for serving at afternoon teas, as sweet bites at a party or just to give yourself an indulgent snack. If you’re now addicted to sweet custard desserts, give Curtis Stone’s apple, cinnamon and custard cake a try, or if you’re after some mini sweet treats that take a little less time and dedication, give these Cheat’s cheesecake tarts a go. Or to give your pastry skills another whirl, these gorgeous Cinnamon brulee tarts with chocolate pastry are another impressive bake!