An Ode To Pastel De Natas (Aka The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten)

Culture Portugal

An Ode To Pastel De Natas (Aka The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten)

Aug 1, 2017

Egg yolks have been my sworn enemy since 2003.

12-year-old me came home from Camp Mataponi 15-pounds heavier (blame it on the Chipwiches) and decided it would be fun to try the new “healthy eating plan” that my mom had become obsessed with over the summer (aka The South Beach Diet). I was swifty introduced to the egg white omelet, and 14 years later I’ve never looked back. Ordering my omelets and scrambles sans-yolk was always just a mindless part of life (or at least, brunch), but I had no idea what I’d been missing until I got to Lisbon and met The Pastel De Nata.

“Those sound disgusting” I told James when he read the description of the egg-yolk, custard pastries off of Time Out’s list of “Things To Do In Lisbon.” Everything from the texture to the color to the fact that they probably tasted like egg yolks seriously grossed me out. “Who would want that?”

Fast forward a week, when he dragged me out of bed on a Sunday morning to go on a run to Pastel de Belem, the home of the best Pastel de Nata in Portugal. “They say that coming to Lisbon and not trying the pastries from this place is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower,” he recited from some article he read on the Internet. I wasn’t convinced, but wanted to be a supportive girlfriend and also had no other plans.

After waiting in a line that rivaled Dominque Ansel’s during the Cronut craze (which, thankfully, moved at lightning speed), we were the proud owners of 6 of the best Pastel de Natas in Portugal. “I’ll just have a bite of yours,” I said, dreading having to put the yolk-y pastry in my mouth.

… Three PDN and 500000 calories later, I was hooked.

They’re equal parts creamy, crispy and flaky, and somehow sweet and savory at the same time. They’re the yin to my egg white yang. I almost wish I had never tried them because now I can’t stop eating them. I’m averaging two a day, and it’s not great for my bikini body.

I fell so deeply in love with the little tarts that I signed up for a cooking class — my first ever. “I’ll be able to make them for us at home for the rest of our lives!” I told James excitedly as visions of me in an adorable 80-year-old me in a bakers hat pulling perfect pastries out of the oven danced in my head. “We’ll finally have a use for all the yolks we throw away ever morning!”

My thoughts, apparently, were pretty much exactly the same as the Portuguese nuns’ who invented the Pastel de Nata in the 18th century. The nuns in Belem used egg whites to starch their habits, but didn’t know what to do with the leftover yolks. So, they started messing around with the ingredients they had available — sugar, flour and cream — and my new favorite pastry was born.

As it turns out, though, it’s not as easy as sugar+flour+cream=perfect Pastel de Nata. They’re actually one of the hardest pastries to make, and considering my skill level extends to Nestle’s cut-and-bake cookies, I was in way over my head in cooking class. Still, I managed to roll out the dough, whip the yolks and form 15 (!) adorable little custard cups, which looked disgusting but tasted unbelievable. I ate all 15 in the course of 24 hours, and haven’t admitted it to anyone until now.

For anyone who can’t make it to Lisbon, but wants to experience the orgasmic level of heaven that  comes with biting down on a homemade Pastel de Nata, here’s the recipe I learned in cooking class (complete with my annotations on how not to mess it up as badly as I did). May the fork be with you.

Here’s What You Need:

  • 1 pack of puff pastry
  • 20g of flour
  • 250g of milk
  • 2 lemon peel
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 150g of sugar
  • 100g of water
  • 3 egg yolk (mixed together)
  • Salt

To Make The Custard:

Heat the stove to max heat, and create simple syrup by mixing water and sugar, and letting it boil for 3 minutes. Put it to the side for L8R.

Put milk in a pan over low heat on the stove, then add the lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Let them hang out in there for a few minutes to infuse the milk with flavor, but don’t let the mixture boil.

In a bowl, whisk flour and a bit of milk (not the milk from the stove, FYI) until there are now lumps, them mix it into the cinnamon/lemon/milk pan on the stove. Keep mixing on low heat — and don’t let it boil! — until the flour is completely dissolved.

Next, add the simple syrup and continue to mix. Take out the lemon peels, and let the mixture cool. Then, add the egg yolks and mix it all together

Congratulations! The Custard is done! 


To Make The Pastry:

Unfold the puff pastry (you can also make your own pastry from scratch, but that sounds very hard), and using your fingers moisten the dough slightly

Roll the dough into a cylinder that’s about an inch thick, and make sure you can see a “spiral” on either end

Cut the dough roll into pieces appprooooxxximately the size of the top part of your thumb

Take each piece and put it into a 2-by-5 muffin tin, and use your thumb to squash them from the center to nold to the shape of the tin

Keep flattening until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick, then smooth it along the sides of the tin. The pastry on the sides should be thinner than the bottom.

Time to bake! You’re so close to having heaven in your mouth!!! 

To Finish It Off:

Fill each tin about 3/4 of the way with the slightly warm custard

Bake in the oven at around 480 degrees util the pastry is golden brown

Remove these little tidbits of heaven from the oven and let them cool, then transfer to a cooling rack

Sprinkle ’em with as much confectioners sugar and cinnamon as your heart desires (I recommend a LOT of both), and eat as many as you can until you pass out. Or share them with your friends, if you can bear it.

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