Imagine a small bar/café, a cup of coffee (good coffee!) and a small piece of sweet pastry in front of you, combine this with a stunning view on the surrounding landscape (at least one of the following: sea, river, mountain, old town) – and you have it: my quintessence of holiday, my pictured wanderlust!
As we are planning our summer holiday in Portugal at the moment, these memories – and prospects! – come to my mind and with them memories of this perfect combination of bica (Portuguese espresso) and pastel de nata, the famous Portuguese custard pastry! Yes, the Portuguese know how to savour! … and how to make the most out of basic ingredients: flour, butter, milk, egg, sugar. That’s it!
For long I had searched for THE recipe for pasteis de nata. All recipes I had searched for told me to use store bought puff pastry. Man, I have tried enough (more than enough, actually) pasteis when I’ve visited Portugal to know, that the crispy, flaky pastry was not regular puff pastry, and that exactly this is the secret to them: the perfect contrast of creamy custard filling, slightly burned on top, and crackling pastry.
I already had given up, when I accidentally stumbled upon this recipe which was real enlightenment! I made some minor changes to the ratio … but the fulfilling of my yearning I owe solely to David. The trick: creating layers of dough and butter, rolling the dough and cutting the log into slices that build the base of the pastries … Suddenly I understood why the bottom of pasteis looks like a cross section of the annual rings of trees. Enlightment, really!
And so I came to make “puff pastry” myself for the first time. Yes, it’s kind of tricky, that’s true, and yes, I had failures when I didn’t thoroughly release all air bubbles after folding … butter squeezing out … total mess 😦 but I learned!
And the outcome is so worth the effort! Dust your pastel de nata with some cinnamon, have a bica or espresso with it and let the flavour carry you away…
Pasteis de nata (20 small pasteis)
[adapted from here]
dough: 90 ml water, 150 g flour, pinch of salt, 90 g butter (room temperature, stirred until smooth)
custard: 2 tablespoons flour, 3 egg yolks, 150 ml milk, 75 ml water, 120 g sugar, dash of cinnamon, dash of vanilla
dough: In a small bowl mix the flour, salt, and water until it comes together to a soft ball. Flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 10 cm square. Let it rest for 15 minutes. Roll the dough into an 20-25 cm square. Keep the surface dusted to avoid the dough to stick to it.
Brush excess flour off the top, trim any uneven edges, and spread the left two-thirds of the dough with a little less than one-third of the creamy butter to within 2 cm of the edge. Use a spatula or your hands. Neatly fold over the unbuttered right third of the dough, brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left third. Very important: Starting from the top, pat down the packet with your hand to release air bubbles, then pinch the edges closed. Brush off any excess flour.
Turn the dough packet 90° to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the packet and flour the work surface. Once again roll out to an 20-25 cm square, then spread the left two-thirds of the dough with one-third of the butter, and fold the dough as before.
One last time, turn the packet 90° to the left and roll out the dough to an 20 x 25 rectangle, with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface. Roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Halfen log, wrap in plastic foil and chill in the fridge for 2 hours or preferably overnight.
custard: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 2-3 tablespoons of the milk until smooth. Set aside. Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until the thermometer registers 100°C. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, bring the remaining milk to boil. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture. Then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks. (Strain the mixture into a bowl.) Cover custard with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Assembling pasteis: Heat the oven to the highest you can get. In my case this is 220°C. Remove one pastry log from the refrigerator. Slice into 10 1cm-pieces. Place a piece cut-side down in each well of a 12-cup muffin pan (You have to work in two batches). Allow the dough pieces to soften. Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your fingers into the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup, then smooth the dough up the sides, about 2-3 cm high. Fill the pastry cups with half of the slightly warm custard, about 2-3 tablespoons for each. Bake the pasteis until the edges of the dough are crips and brown. This depends on your baking temperature and oven. It took mine about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack and cool until just warm. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard. Sprinkle each pastel with a dash of cinnamon and serve.