You’re probably familiar with a good-sized handful of French, Italian and even Spanish pastries. (Churros, anyone?) But what about Portuguese? This superb cuisine features some killer desserts, and pastéis de nata should be squarely on your radar. We asked New York City’s renowned Portuguese chef George Mendes for his recipe.
“Pastéis de nata, or pastéis de Belém [Belém is the suburb of Lisbon where they were created] are egg custard tarts,” says Mendes. “Nata” is cream, so the phrase translates to “pastry of cream/milk.” According to Mendes, pastéis are said to have been created in a Belém pastry shop in 1837 by monks who, expelled during a revolution in 1820, began baking to earn money. The pastries became very popular with visitors to the Torre de Belém (Belém tower), and eventually a small store attached to a sugar refinery began churning them out for the masses.
Try making a batch at home, and add one of the world’s most delicious pastries to your baking repertoire.
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 large egg yolks
- ground cinnamon, for serving
For the pastry
In a small bowl, whisk the butter until it is the consistency of sour cream. In the bowl of an electric mixer filled with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt, and 2/3 cup water. Mix on the low speed until the mixture comes together and is tacky, scraping the bowl down occasionally.
Transfer to a well-floured work surface and form into a 1 inch thick rectangle. With a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle that’s 10 inches long. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap and roll the dough into a 15 inch square. Spread one third of the butter on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1 inch rim. Using a bench scraper, fold the top half of the dough over the butter. Press the edges to seal. Pat the dough with a rolling pin and rotate the dough so that the seam is facing you. Roll into a 15 inch square again. Spread half of the remaining butter on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1 inch rim. Using a bench scraper, fold the top half of the dough over the butter. Press the edges to seal. Pat the dough with a rolling pin and rotate the dough so the the seam is facing you. Now, roll into an 18 inch square.
Spread the remaining butter all over the dough, leaving a 1 inch rim. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
For the filling
Preheat the oven to 500F, on convention setting if you have it.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cinnamon stick, and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Let sit until you're ready to use it.
Roll the firm log of pastry on a lightly floured surface until 1 inch in diameter. Trim the ends, then cut the log into 48 1/2 inch slices. Place each slice into the cavity of a mini muffin tin, with the cut side of the spiral facing up. Use your thumb to press the center of the spiral into the bottom of the pan and continue pressing to evenly flatten the dough against the bottom and sides of the cavity, extending about 1/16 inch above the rim of the pan. The dough should be about 1/16 inch thick, with the bottom a bit thicker than the sides. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate until firm, at least 10 minutes.
While the dough chills, finish the filling: In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the milk over medium-low heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the remaining 5 tablespoons milk. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk in a slow, steady stream. Discard the cinnamon stick from the sugar syrup and whisk the syrup into the milk mixture in a steady stream. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.
Add the yolks to the mixture and whisk until well combined. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, then pour the warm filling into the pastry shells until they're three-quarters full.
Bake until the shells are dark golden brown and crisp, the custards are set, and the tops are blackened in spots, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve warm.