Pais de nata are ubiquitous in Portugal. You will find them in every pasteleria which are abundant on the streets of Portugal. These cute little delicious bites are not at all easy to make but well worth the effort. You need to have a oven that can get up to 550 degrees F.
These pais de nata were invented by nuns as they used egg whites as starch for their habits as well as preserving wine. Therefore they came up with ingenious recipes to use the yolks, so lots of of their pastries include a custard. These actually ended up being very close to the Pais de nata that you will find where they originated at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem where they make some 22,000 per day! There oven is a whopping 800 degrees, each worker has a task and has mastered it whether it be the dough, the filling and of course guarding the top secret recipe. You should definitely use a thermometer when making the custard to get it just right. You can pick one up here.
These pais de natat are delightful and well worth the effort, just take it one step at a time and you will be just fine. They are best enjoyed with a little shot of strong coffee that they call um bica. These little espresso’s are only about 2-3 oz’s and perfect as a little pick-me-up.
Did you know that half of the “New World” belonged to Portugal? Way back in 1494, the Treay of Tordesillas was signed and gave Portugal the eastern half of the New World. It included Brazil, Africa and Asia. This ended up making them the first global empire in history. They were also one of the longest lived colonial powers. It lasted for almost six centuries when Macau was just given back to China in 1999. If you would like to learn more about this amazing European country be sure to check out “Our Journey to Portugal”. Plus, there you can get more delicious and authentic Portuguese recipes.
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Piais de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)
For the dough
- 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 3/4 cup plus two tablespoons water
- 1 cup 227 g / 8 0z unsalted butter room temperature, stirred until smooth
For the custard
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups milk divided
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks whisked
- Powdered sugar optional
- Cinnamon optional
- To make the dough, place the flour, salt, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 30 seconds until soft dough forms that cleans the side of the bowl.
- Place the dough on a generously floured work surface. Pat the dough into a 6-inch square using a pastry scraper. Sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Roll the dough into an 18-inch square. Use the scraper to lift the dough and add flour underneath to avoid the dough sticking.
- Brush excess flour off the top of the dough, trim any uneven edges with a pastry cutter, and using a small offset spatula dot and then spread the left two-thirds of the dough with a little less than one-third of the butter to within 1 inch of the edge.
- Neatly fold over the unbuttered right third of the dough using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks, brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left third. Starting from the top, pat down the packet with your hand to release air bubbles, then pinch the edges closed. Brush off any excess flour.
- Turn the dough packet 90 degrees to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the packet and flour the work surface. Once again roll out to an 18-inch square, then dot and spread the left two-thirds of the dough with one-third of the butter, and fold the dough as in steps 4 and 5.
- For the last rolling, turn the packet 90 degrees to the left and roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch rectangle, with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface.
- Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.
- Now make the custard. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Set aside.
- Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F. Do not stir.
- Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.
- Remove the cinnamon stick then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
- Assemble and bake the pastries
- Heat the oven to 550°F for at least one hour. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and roll it gently back and forth on lightly floured work surface until it’s about an inch in diameter and 15 inches long. Cut it into 1.25-inch pieces. Place the dough pieces cut-side down into each of the the 12 cups of the 12-cup muffin pan. Let the dough pieces soften several minutes until they become soft and pliable.
- Dip your thumbs into the water, then press straight down into the middle of the dough piece. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom.
- Fill each cup 3/4 full with the slightly warm custard. Bake the tarts until the edges of the dough are brown, about 10-12 minutes. If the tarts are not browning as much as you would like place them under a broiler for just a brief minute.
- Remove from the oven and allow the tarts to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm. Repeat the steps with the remaining dough and custard mix.
- You can sprinkle the tarts generously with powdered sugar, then cinnamon before serving but it is optional.