Portuguese custard tarts

Portuguese pasteis de nata.
Portuguese pasteis de nata. Photo: Murdoch Books
Dietary
Nut-free

These tarts are called pasteis de nata, or cream pastries, in their homeland of Portugal. They are notoriously difficult to make as the pastry requires a high temperature and the custard a low one, however this recipe for the home cook is achievable and gives an authentic result.

Ingredients

165g (¾ cup) castor sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra

250ml (1 cup) milk

50g (⅓ cup) plain flour

1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped

1 x 10cm long strip lemon zest

4 egg yolks

185ml (¾ cup) pouring cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

30cm x 35cm rectangle of puff pastry (try Karen Martini's rough puff pastry)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 240C. Position an oven shelf at the top of the oven. (Tarts need to be cooked at the top of the oven where it's hottest.) Lightly grease a 12-hole 80ml (⅓ cup) muffin tin.

2. Combine the sugar and 125ml (½ cup) water in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until the mixture reaches 112C or soft-ball stage. Remove from the heat.

3. Meanwhile, put 60ml (¼ cup) of the milk and the flour in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Place the remaining milk, vanilla seeds and pod, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the flour mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. Add the egg yolks, stirring constantly until well combined. Stir in the cream until combined. Add the sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly until combined. Transfer to a heatproof jug and set aside to cool slightly while you roll out the pastry.

4. Combine the extra sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the pastry on a clean work surface. With a long side facing you, sprinkle the pastry with the cinnamon mixture. Starting at the side closest to you, roll up the pastry tightly to form a 35cm long log. Cut the log into 12 slices, about 3cm wide.

5. Working with one slice at a time, place, cut side down, on a lightly floured work surface. Gently press with the heel of your hand to flatten slightly, then use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the pastry to form a 9cm round. Use a round 9cm pastry cutter to trim the edges as necessary. Gently press each round into a greased muffin hole, using your fingertips to carefully press them into the base and side of each hole. Divide the custard mixture among the pastry cases. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes or until the custard is firm to touch and beginning to brown in patches. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.