When I travel it’s the food that often creates the lasting memories that I bring home. For Greece it’s the home-made stuffed tomatoes that I associate with sitting under a leafy pergola with a view of the sea, from Texas it’s the fish tacos that remind me of the food trailers of Austin and from Portugal it’s the Pasteis de Nata custard tarts that bring back mouthwatering memories of a weekend in Lisbon.
With Christmas approaching it’s always good to have a few alternatives to the mince pies that can be whisked up at short notice so it was great timing that I was asked by Expedia to come up with my favourite world-on-a-plate recipe with a Portuguese theme. If you’ve not visited Lisbon, you may not know what you are missing in these creamy, vanilla perfumed custard tarts enclosed in a crisp, flaky pastry that are sold in every bakery and at every hotel breakfast buffet.
While there are plenty of Pastelarias or cake shops around Lisbon where you can buy the tarts, locals and tourists alike swear by the ones that are sold close to the Monastery of Jerónimos at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém where the cakes are simply known as the Pastéis de Belém. To get there you take the tram from downtown Lisbon to Belém, getting off at the stop before the monastery and look for the queue of people snaking out the door waiting to buy them warm from the oven.
I made some of the tarts this weekend as a try out for Christmas week when we will have plenty of family staying with us, so that I can serve them either as a teatime treat or as a desert with ice cream. I had to practically fight off the family from eating them all before I photographed them, so you could see what the result was.
This is the recipe I used for the Pasteis de Nata which is a hybrid of various recipes I found online and makes up to 24 small tarts or 12+ bigger ones.
1 pack of ready made puff/ flaky pastry
500ml milk/ single cream – I used 300ml milk + 200ml cream
6 egg yolks
300g caster sugar
50g flour/ cornflour
A cinnamon stick or 1/4 tsp of powdered cinnamon
2 strips lemon peel
½ tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod
First make the easy custard
1. Put the flour in a pan off the heat and slowly whisk in enough of the milk/cream mixture to make a thin paste with no lumps
2. Gradually whisk in the sugar, then the egg yolks and then the rest of the milk/cream mixture.
3. Add the vanilla essence or pod, the stick of cinnamon or powdered cinnamon and the stips of lemon peel
4. Heat slowly over a low heat whisking constantly as the custard heats through. If the heat is too high or the stirring not constant the mixture may turn into a horrible lumpy, scrampled mixture although it will probably still taste good.
5. Once the mixture turns into a thick custard, take off the heat and allow to cool.
6. Remove by hand the sticks of cinnamon, vanilla pod and lemon peel before using the custard
Bake the Pasteis de Nata
1. Roll out the flaky/ puff pastry as thinly as possible
2. Take a round pastry cutter or glass to cut rounds of pastry that will fit neatly into your individual tart tins which you have already greased
3. Bake at 180 degrees celcius for around 25 minutes but check after 20 minutes. The pastry should be golden and the custard nicely browned.
Serve while warm from the oven or as a desert with vanilla ice cream – they won’t last long!
When we were in Lisbon a few years ago we stopped at the bakery like the rest of the visitors on their way to visit the monastery and because it was raining we ventured past the queue at the front of the shop into the rabbit-warren of cafe rooms behind. They stretched quite a long way back, so by going from room to room we eventually found a table that was free and ordered our Pasteis de Belém with a coffee.
The story goes that in the early 19th century the monks of the nearby monastery sold the ancient recipe to the bakery and the tarts have been made there since 1837, with the recipe remaining a secret, only known by three of the chefs at the bakery. If you visit Lisbon around Christmas time, look out for the Bolo Rei or King cake, a ringed cake topped with colourful crystalised fruits. The cake is eaten up to the epiphany on 6 January and it sometimes has a little token buried in it for one lucky person to find, just as we might put a sixpence in a christmas pudding.
It you’d like to visit Portugal and Lisbon to try out the Pasteis de Nata for yourself, check out the holidays to Portugal that you can find at Expedia and look out for other interesting foods in their world-on-a-plate series.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Expedia as part of their world-on-a-plate series. Read the round-up of the other mouthwatering recipes from Portugal on the Expedia blog here.
More things to see in Lisbon
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey