Sweets & Desserts

Portugese Tarts

Time: 10 minutes prep for pastry, plus cooling time for custard; 18 minutes in the Thermomix; 20–25 minutes baking
Yield: 24 tarts

We can think of lots of reasons to revisit the Portugese capital, Lisbon, a city almost unfairly blessed with extraordinary history, beautiful boutique hotels and sensational seafood. Don’t get us started on the cute kiosks and rooftop bars serving craft gin and icy tonic in fishbowl-sized glasses—what’s not to like? But the real reason we’re heading back is this: the Portugese tart.

This flaky, creamy, miniature custard tart—pastéis de nata in its native language—has made its way to more countries than explorer Vasco da Gama, with good reason. Yet the finest examples, so people in Portugal say, are found in Lisbon. 

The best-known purveyor is located in the city’s Belém district and turns out thousands every day for tourists who are more than happy to queue for the privilege. However, good examples can be found in cafes everywhere. Just be prepared for a questioning look if you ask for “Portugese tarts”: the response will be something like “you mean egg tarts”?

As Lesley Russell observes, the hallmarks of good pastéis de nata are crisp pastry, sugary custard, some dark, burnt bits on top and a glossy finish. “These have all those,” she says.

They are at their most delicious still slightly warm from the oven but keep well for a day or two.

By way of an aside, the Thermomix is huge in Portugal. Our favourite machine is so well loved there it has acquired a nickname: the “Bimby”. Check out the cookery shelves in any Portugese bookstore and you’ll find numerous titles devoted to the four blades—including our own In The Mix, which has been translated into Portugese.

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Portugese Tarts
400 millilitres full-cream milk
½ cinnamon stick
zest of a small lemon, peeled in strips
½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
160 grams white sugar
180 millilitres cold water
40 grams cornflour
4 egg yolks
2 sheets prepared butter puff pastry
extra sugar, to scatter
  1. Measure the milk into the mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon stick, lemon zest and vanilla bean. Heat 5 minutes/50 degrees/speed soft to infuse the flavours. Remove the lid and allow to stand for a further 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the cinnamon, zest and vanilla bean from the milk. Rinse the vanilla bean and allow it dry so it can be re-used. Add the sugar, water, cornflour and yolks then cook 6 minutes/90 degrees/speed 4. Cook again 2 minutes/100 degrees/speed 4. The mixture will be thickened and glossy although it will still be quite runny.
  3. Pour into a wide shallow container, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until completely cold before using, about an hour. 
  4. Lay both sheets of pastry out on a work surface. Brush them with water and scatter generously with the sugar. Then fold them in half to create two rectangles, pressing down a little to firm them. 
  5. Starting from the short end, roll one piece of pastry into a fat sausage shape then slice into 12 even rounds with a sharp knife. Repeat with the second piece of pastry. 
  6. Roll each slice out to a 7-centimetres circle. If you like, neaten the edges with a cutter of the same size. 
  7. Fit the pastry circles into the holes of two mince pie tins, they will sit a little higher than the edges of the tin. Refrigerate until the custard filing has cooled.
  8. Heat the oven to 190C. 
  9. Stir the custard filling to soften it and fill the pastry cases with a teaspoon so they are very full; there may be a spoonful or two left over. 
  10. Bake the tarts in the centre of the oven for 20–25 minutes, until the custard is puffed, browned and blistered—it will be quite runny during baking. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

AND … The custard can easily be made the day before. If you only have one mince pie tin, bake the tarts in two batches. The finished tarts keep well for a day or two.