Chesterman: Portuguese Custard Tart (Pastel de Nata) Recipe

Inspired by Quebec public health director Horacio Arruda, dining critic Lesley Chesterman shares her favourite recipe for Portuguese custard tarts (pastel de nata).

Lesley can be heard every Wednesday morning at 7:10 A.M. on CHOM 97 7 in Montreal.

This recipe was adapted from a version by Chef John, whose seriously entertaining blog I highly recommend.

I’m starting here with the dough recipe, which I’ve doubled because it works better when made in a larger batch. Filling and baking in the next post.

Dough for 24 tarts:

  • 2 cups (270g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) cold water
  • 1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided in three equal pieces

Combine flour, salt, and water in a bowl and mix until it forms a rough dough. It should be just a bit sticky, so if not add a spoonful of water.

On a lightly floured surface, knead for a minute or two to form a smooth round. Cover and rest for 15 minutes.

Roll dough into a rectangle about 15X10’ (38X25 cm) 1/8 inch thick, flouring as necessary.

Take 1/3 of the butter and spread over 2/3 of the rectangle using your fingers or a small spatula, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Flip the unbuttered side over the middle of the square and fold the opposite end over it like a letter, keeping the edges as straight as possible.

Flour lightly then turn so the seam side is up then roll again into a 1/8-inch-thick rectangle, and repeat the operation with the next 1/3 of the butter, folding the dough again into thirds. If your dough is very soft at this point, refrigerate for 20 minutes. If not, turn the seam side up again and roll into a rectangle about 18X14’ (46X36 cm).

Spread remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on the bottom edge, which you will brush with water. Roll the dough into a log starting from the top edge edge (as you would if making a cinnamon bun).

Slice the roll in half, and then, using your hands, roll each dough cylinder until it reaches 12 inches.

Wrap each roll with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or even better overnight. You can freeze the other roll of a future use.  

Filling for 12 tarts:

  • 3/4 cup (150g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) water
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1 lemon, zested in large strips (optional)
  • 1/3 cup (45g) all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 (375 mL) cups milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • Cinnamon to garnish (optional)

Combine sugar, 1/4 cup water, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest in a pot. Boil over medium heat, without stirring for a minute. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven 550 degrees F (288 degrees C). Lightly butter a 12-cup muffin tin (THIS STEP IS ESSENTIAL!)

In a medium-sized pot, whisk together flour, salt, and cold milk, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until milk thickens. Keep at a rapid boil while whisking a good minute. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 10 minutes before whisking in the egg yolks and vanilla.

Strain the sugar syrup into the custard, whisk well, then strain the mixture into a large measuring cup.

Unwrap the dough and trim any uneven bits on the ends. Using your sharpest knife, cut the log into 12, 1-inch pieces.

On a lightly-floured surface, stand each little piece of dough spiral facing up and roll into a 3 1/2-inch round.

Place each in the muffin cup and, using your fingers, press the dough well into the bottom corners and then right up to the edge of the mould. Fill each cup 3/4 of the way with custard.

Bake immediately in the preheated oven until the pastry is browned and bubbly, about 12 minutes. The tops will begin to blister and caramelize but that’s exactly what you’re after.

Cool tarts briefly before unmoulding and serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon if you like.