Yaaaayyyy!!! I cannot believe that I was able to make these Pastel de Nata or Portuguese Egg Tarts. They are so amazingly good, just like how I remembered them…light and smooth egg custard with crisp flaky puff pastry. The first time I had these was on my very first out-of-the-country trip to Macau back in 2007 with two good friends, Romina and Leony, it was quite an adventure and so much fun and it was also at this time that I mastered (somehow) using chopsticks out of necessity (and hunger). Portuguese Egg Tart is one of the famous local specialties in Macau that should never be missed. Macau has been a Portuguese colony until late 1999 so that explains how this delicious pastry found its way to this tiny island in Asia all the way from Portugal.
From that very first taste of Pastel de Nata or Portuguese Egg Tarts, I got hooked! I cannot get it out of my mind for months after getting back to the Philippines so I tried recreating it using a different recipe (from the internet) but every single attempt ended up as a failure. Not only was it difficult to make puff pastry in a really warm and humid kitchen but I also cannot get the custard to be as smooth or the top as shiny with those burn spots which is a signature of Pastel de Nata or Portuguese Egg Tarts (aside from the time I burned a batch of course) . So after so many failed attempts, I gave up :-(.
Fast forward to 2016 and with a change of location (Germany), I decided to give it another shot. I was feeling a bit more optimistic since ready-made puff pastry sheets are easily available here, so half of the work is done. Next step was to look for the right recipe. I found some and tried them but still no spots and I get curdled custard instead. They also tasted good too but not quite the Portuguese egg tarts that I know…then finally I found this recipe from Kitchen Tigress and she explained so well why I, and Rasa Malaysia in this case, were failing at making Pastel de Nata. She says… to get those burnt marks on top, there should be enough milk to have the protein needed to create a skin while they bake in the oven at 250°C. Now to stop the custard from curdling, it should be stabilized by adding cornstarch to the egg-milk mixture which then should be cooked first on medium-low heat until the correct thickness is achieved. The correct thickness is when you dip a spoon and it gets a thin coat from the mixture. You should stop there and remove it from the heat a.s.a.p. and put the pot in a water bath to stop it from cooking further.
Kitchen Tigress used ready-made puff pastry shells (good for her), unfortunately, they are not available here in Germany. But I am already happy having the ready made puff pastry sheets. What I did was, I cut circles about the same size or a bit bigger than the top circumference of my forms (good thing I have a drinking glass with a wide rim with the same size, you just have to be resourceful). Then I placed the center of the pastry dough at the middle of the butter-greased form and pressed it to the sides making it thinner and expanding it to reach the top. When I don’t do this, the crust gets too thick when baked and does not look so good. After forming the puff pastry shells, you have to freeze it for a few minutes again so they become firmer and will keep their shapes while baking as they tend to shrink in the heat.
She also bakes her Egg tarts at 250°C for 30-35 minutes which I found impossible for me to do or the crusts get too burnt. Maybe it is the difference in our ovens, I am not sure, so I adjusted my baking procedure a bit.
- 70 grams heavy cream (at least 30% fat)
- 70 grams sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 1½ Tbsp cornstarch
- 200 gram full-fat fresh milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- butter for greasing the forms
- Form the dough into pastry shells as I mentioned in my post above. Freeze them for some minutes while preparing the custard.
- In a small pot or saucepan, whisk together the cream, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and milk until well combined and all lumps age gone.
- Cook egg mixture over medium-low heat while stirring continuously until it reaches the correct thickness (also mentioned above). Remove from heat and place pot in a cold water bath to stop it from cooking further.
- Add the vanilla extract and stir until well mixed. Let it cool down to room temperature.
- Preheat oven at 250°C.
- Take the puff pastry shells from the fridge and fill them with the egg mixture leaving about 5-7mm of the top uncovered.
- Baked them at 250°C for 5 minutes or until the pastry starts to puff. Lower the temperature to 200°C and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the top of the custard gets the burnt spots and the bubbling starts to subside. Rotate your tray several times throughout baking time to get the crust brown evenly.
- Remove from oven and place on the cooling rack. Portuguese Egg tarts are best eaten while still warm.