Do not try this recipe at home unless you’re desperate! Which is how we feel. Far from a purveyor of “pasteis de nata,” how else can we satiate our craving for these divine custard tarts?
We opened with trepidation “Cozinha Tradicional Portuguesa” (Portuguese Traditional Cooking), the imposing tome of vernacular recipes compiled by the legendary Maria de Lurdes Modesto. The old pages creaked, surprised to be turned with such urgency.
Modesto’s instructions assume we know what we’re doing. They’re more like jazz lead sheets than classical music scores. She tells us the key elements of the recipe and expects us to improvise the rest.
The ingredients are humble: flour, butter, cream, eggs, sugar, water, and lemon. We started by making a version of rough puff pastry, folding the dough to create delicate layers of butter and flour. After a few hours of work, we were rewarded with two dozen delicious pasteis de nata.
All the effort that went into making these pastries made us appreciate Portugal even more. It is a place where it is ordinary to find the extraordinary: heavenly pasteis de nata sold for a modest price in every street corner.
Here’s the recipe.
Ingredients for the puff pastry: 500 grams of flour, 500 grams of butter, 2 to 3 deciliters of water, and salt.
Ingredients for the filling: 5 deciliters of cream, 8 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of flour, 200 grams of sugar, and one lemon peel.
Melt the salt in warm water and divide the butter into three equal portions. Place the flour on a stone table and make a hole in the middle of the flour to pour the water. Kneed the mixture until it becomes homogeneous and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Next, stretch the dough into a square form. Knead some of the butter until it has the same consistency as the dough. Spread one third of the butter over the dough, leaving a strip of one inch at the edges of the square. Fold the dough from bottom to top and from left to right, making sure that the fold fits perfectly at edges and on the sides. Stretch the dough again forming a square. Repeat the operation twice, first using the second third and then the last third of the butter.
Stretch the dough as thinly as possible. Cut it in stripes and fold into long rolls. Cut the rolls into pieces of 2 to 3 centimeters. Place the dough at the center of a small mold. Moist your thumb in water and spread the dough to the edges of the mold.
To prepare the filling, mix all the ingredients and bring them to a boil. Remove from the heat and wait until the mixture cools down. Fill the molds with the cream. Place the molds in a very hot oven (250 to 300 degrees centigrade). Once the custards come out of the oven and cool, you can sprinkle them with icing sugar and cinnamon.