Although I have yet to visit beautiful Portugal, I have always been smitten with it. The beautiful coastal towns tucked into hillsides, cobblestone streets, and colorfully hand painted tiles that grace the façade of many houses… And of course the food; with one of the most well known delicacies being the Pastel de Nata, or Portuguese Egg tart.
The famous Pastel de Nata are a rich eggy custard-like tart encased in a crispy and flaky crust. There are two types of this famous pastry: one being the Pastel de Belém, which was invented in Jerónimos Monastery and is the origination of the Pastel de Nata, and second the Pastel de Nata itself.
The main difference between the two is the Pastel de Belém is the secret original recipe given from the monks that invented it to Belem Patissery which is the ONLY bakery in Lisbon allowed to use the name. Pastel de Nata is a variation of that original recipe with every pastry shop having their own secret concoction (there’s even a national contest to choose the best one!).
If you find yourself in Lisbon, do yourself a favor and try a few. You just might discover the secret for yourself.
Or, if you prefer something a little more hands-on, learn the secrets of how to make these little gems from true professionals Ana & Gonçalo during a Pastel de Nata Workshop in Lisbon
A Brief History
In Belém (a neighborhood in Lisbon), the Jerónimos Monastery needed to bring in money in order to keep running. The monks would use egg whites to starch their clothing, and the leftover yolks became desserts that were made in a small bakery connected to the monastery. They came up with the idea to sell those cream pastries to bring in the extra income they needed.
The monastery closed in 1820 following a liberal revolution, but the secret recipe found new life after being passed down to a sugar refinery owner. In 1837, he opened up a small trading shop where he sold the tarts made from that original recipe.
Today, Belem Patissery is the only café allowed to sell tarts under the Pastel de Belém name. In fact, the recipe is so secret, only a handful of people know that recipe, including three of the shop’s owners and three entrusted chefs who have been working in the bakery for more than 40 years
Numerous pastry shops and cafes across Portugal now sell Pastéis de Nata, each with their own version of the original recipe and claiming to have discovered the secret. Over the years, the delicious palm-sized tarts have become a symbol of our Portuguese culture as well as a gastronomic jewel of the Portuguese people.
1 package of frozen puff pastry
1 liter heavy cream
400 g of sugar
9 egg yolks
80 g of flour
1 lemon peel (or zest of ½ lemon)
1 stick of cinnamon
½ vanilla pod
Flour for sprinkling
Butter for greasing pan
Cinnamon powder or icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 260 degrees C or 525 degrees F. Generously grease tart pan
or muffin tin with butter.
2. In a medium sized pot, bring the cream, cinnamon stick, vanilla and the lemon peel to a boil (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
3. In a large heatproof bowl, mix the sugar and flour. Slowly add the cream mixture through a strainer, stirring very well afterwards until no lumps remain.
4. Return the mixture to medium pot and bring to a boil again, stirring continually to avoid burning. Boil until cream begins to thicken, strain and set aside to let cool.
5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and then add them to the cream mixture once cooled enough to avoid scrambling the eggs. Mix well using a wire wisk.
6. Extend the puff pastry on a floured surface. Fold it and re-roll the roll until approximately 2.5mm. With a round cookie cutter or drinking glass cut circles in dough with the same diameter as the openings of the pan. Line them with a slice of dough, stretching it up the edge approximately the height equivalent of 2 fingers.
7. Fill each form with the cream to just under the lip of the dough and bake them for about 10 minutes or until the dough edges and tops of tarts are nicely browned. Serve pastries hot or cold topped with cinnamon powder and icing sugar if desired.
If tarts aren’t eaten within 24 hours, store remaining in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Tarts will keep for 5-7 days.
Visiting Lisbon? Join the Pastel de Nata Workshop with Ana & Gonçalo
About the autor
I’m a food and travel blogger with a mega sweet tooth. I run the blog Sweet + Savor where I document sweets and eats from around the world, how to find them on your own adventures, how to make them in your own kitchen, and how to travel better while doing it. You can follow my culinary adventures on my website, on Instagram or Facebook.