In my previous life I was lucky enough to do a tiny bit of traveling in my job. I worked at a bank and a couple of times a year I had to go off to another one of our European offices to have a chat to them about their marketing and how they might improve it. As you might expect, they were never delighted to have a bunch of Brits flying in to (in their view) criticise their work and tell them how they SHOULD be doing things. But, although I found the work a little painful, I still went to some great places I never would have been to otherwise – Moscow, Warsaw, Dusseldorf, Budapest, and on one occasion, lovely Lisbon.
Everything about the trip was lovely. The weather was glorious. Heaven knows how we’d managed to swing it but we ended up staying at the most beautiful hotel – the gorgeous Lapa Palace. We actually managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and sunbathing by the pool. In fact I retain an enduring memory of our little group making our way up an extremely steep hill towards a restaurant in the castle grounds overlooking the city after an all-day-meeting. We were a group of mainly female colleagues, most of us in stupidly high heels and some of us with the ubiquitous “wheelie-travel-bags” – we must have been a ridiculous sight and sound – stumbling, clattering and wheeling across the ancient cobblestones up to the castle!
And the people we’d gone to visit were lovely, friendly people working out of a really small, informal office. They had installed the most monstrous, high-tech, proper coffee machine in their little office – so throughout the 2-day meeting we had the most delicious proper coffee on tap. And each afternoon our hosts got in a pile of the delicious little portuguese custard tarts – Pasteis de Nata. I’d never really understood what the fuss was all about with these as I’m not a huge fan of either pastry or custard but one of these tarts was enough to make me think I’d been a little too hasty in my judgement… For anyone who hasn’t tried them – you should. They’re tiny pastry cups of cinnamon-y, vanilla-y caramelised custard-y joy – they are honestly amazing.
So when I found a pack of puff pasty in the freezer during a clear-out last week, I thought I’d have a go at making them myself. And actually they were fairly easy – you just make the custard first and then when the custard is cool pour it into the pastry cases and bake on a super-high heat so the tops blister a little.
Pasteis de Nata – makes about 24 tarts
1 pack froze puff pastry – defrosted
4 egg yolks
Big carton of double cream – 600ml
2 tablespoons of plain flour
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
A little extra sugar and some cinnamon for sprinkling
First make your custard. Combine the cream, egg yolks, flour, sugar and vanilla in cold saucepan – use a whisk to combine. Turn the heat on very low and, stirring all the time, gently heat the mixture. This bit takes a little while but be patient, keep stirring and don’t be tempted to turn the heat up as you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. You’ll see the mixture getting thicker and when it looks like custard take it off the heat and leave it to cool. Meanwhile roll out the pastry a little. Sprinkle the rolled out pastry with sugar and cinnamon, fold up and re-roll out so there’s a layer of sugar and cinnamon in the pastry. Cut out pastry circles (using a wine glass in my case…) and use to line a muffin tray/yorkshire pudding tin – whatever you have to hand really. When the custard is cool, drop a blob into each pastry cup. Put into the hottest oven possible for 10/15 minutes – keep an eye as they burn quickly. You’re looking for browned pastry and very slightly blackened custard. If you can bear to, wait until they are cool and serve with a really good strong cup of coffee.