Baked Custard Tarts (Pasteis de nata)
Makes 24 pastries
Slightly adapted from David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast
One 17 ¼ ounce package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, thawed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Grated zest of ½ lemon
1 ¾ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
8 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling
Place one still-folded sheet of pastry on a lightly floured work surface so that a short end is facing you and the thicker fold is to your left. Open the two panels of dough, lightly brush the right panel on both sides with water, and then fold it back into position. Cover with the left panel and press down to seal. Lightly brush the top of the pastry with water, then curl up the short edge and tightly roll up the pastry away from you, as if making a jelly roll. You should have a 3-inch-wide log. Roll it back and forth on the work surface to extend it to 3 ½ inches. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry. Wrap each roll in plastic and place in the refrigerator.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, lemon zest, and ½ cup of the cream until all the lumps are dissolved. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk the egg and yolks together, and set aside.
In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and 2/3 cup of water to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Let it bubble until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees F.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 1 ¼ cups of cream over medium high heat, until it steams slightly and bubbles appear around the edges, about 5 minutes.
Whisk the hot cream into the flour mixture until smooth, and then pour in the hot sugar syrup. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking continuously, then pour the custard back into the medium saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking slowly, until the mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon and registers 170 degrees F on the thermometer, about 4 minutes. Pour into a bowl, add the vanilla, and let cool completely.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to prepare the dough for the muffin tins, transfer the wrapped dough logs to the freezer (the cut will be easier to cut into slices).
Have a mini muffin pan (24 capacity) nearby. Using a serrated knife, trim off the uneven ends of one dough log, and discard. Cut twelve ¼-inch slices from the log, and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Repeat with the second log. Place the baking sheet with the dough slices in the refrigerator.
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (NOTE: The recipe says to put a baking sheet in the oven also, and then put the muffin pan on top of the baking sheet when blind baking the tart shells. However, as stated above, I found that my pastry shells did not cook enough on the sides and bottoms. Next time, I might try omitting the baking sheet from this step and just using it when the filled custard tarts are returned to the oven for the final baking).
Fill the tart shells to the top with rice or dried beans. Bake the tart shells until the edges are puffed and golden brown, about 16 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, leaving the oven on.
Carefully remove each tart shell, one at a time, and dump out the rice or beans. Some will stick, and gently remove with the tip of a knife. Place the tart shells back in the muffin tin. Fill each tart shell three-quarters full with the cooled custard (a pastry bag, with a large round tip, works well for this task). Bake until the custards barely jiggle in the middle, about 12 minutes.
Transfer the muffin tin to the rack and let cool for a few minutes. Gently remove the pastries (I used a small offset spatula to lift them out) and let cool until warm. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja) is another Portuguese dessert featured in David’s cookbook. Mom prepared a similar version, Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake, from Saveur (recipe here). The cake is dense, but moist, and has a light orange glaze and sprinkling of sea salt on the top. This would also taste wonderful with morning tea or coffee.
Stay tuned for a second post of sensational Portuguese cuisine!
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