Natas (Portuguese Custard Tarts)
These Portuguese custard tarts, known as natas, are a staple dessert in Portugal. Buttery puff pastry is met with sweet crème pâtissière and a hint of nutmeg.
When I first came to London, I lived near Portobello Road, and it was always a treat to go to the Lisboa Patisserie for one of their famous and gorgeous Portuguese tarts. I say one, but the problem was you always wanted more. Although I have called them custard tarts, I make my natas with crème patissière rather than custard (crème anglaise), which is baked until you get dark brown patches on top. In France I had grown up eating flan, which is a similar kind of tart, but usually a big one cut into slices. The little, deep and irregular-shaped natas have a greater ratio of pastry to custard, and because you roll the pastry in sugar, it becomes caramelised in places: irresistible! You can finish the tarts off with a sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg if you like, though I prefer them plain.
|Butter or baking spray, for greasing the tin|
|Icing sugar, for dusting|
|1||quantity of home-made puff pastry (see p44 of Pastry for recipe) or 500g of good ready-made butter puff pastry|
|About 100g||icing sugar|
|1||quantity crème patissière (see below for ingredients and method)|
|Cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)|
|For the crème patissière:|
|250ml||full fat milk (semi-skimmed can be used, if you prefer, but the cream will not be as rich)|
You will need a 12-hole muffin tin and a pastry cutter.
Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin using a butter paper, or melt a little butter and brush it inside the holes. Even if you use a non-stick tin – unless it is brand new – it is worth doing this as the sugar on the pastry will caramelise and cling to any bits of the tin that have lost their non-stick properties.
Dust your work surface with icing sugar. Take the pastry from the fridge and roll out 4–5 mm thick, sprinkling well with more icing sugar as you go.
Use a pastry cutter to cut 12 rounds of pastry about 10 cm in diameter – they need to be big enough to line the holes and leave a little overhang. Put the tin into the fridge to rest for about 1 hour.
Now make the crème patissière. Put the milk into a heavy-based saucepan. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla pod along its length, scrape the seeds into the milk, then put the halved pods in too.
Put the egg yolks and sugar into a bowl and whisk until pale and creamy. Add the flour and mix until smooth.
Put the pan of milk over a medium heat, bring to just under the boil, then slowly pour half of it into the egg mixture, whisking well as you do so. Add the remainder of the milk and whisk again, then pour the mixture back into the pan. Bring to the boil, whisking all the time, then keep boiling and whisking continuously for 1 minute. Take off the heat.
Pour the mixture into a clean bowl and scoop out the vanilla pods. (You can wash and dry them and keep them in a jar of sugar, which will give you vanilla-flavoured sugar to use in all your baking). Cover the surface of the bowl with greaseproof paper straight away to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool, then store in the fridge until you are ready to use the crème patissière.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
Remove the muffin tin from the fridge and fill each pastry case with the crème patissière. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg, if using. Bake for 15—20 minutes, until the pastry is golden, the sugar it was rolled in is caramelised and the crème patissière is dark in spots. Allow to cool for just a few minutes before lifting the tarts out of the tin; don’t leave them in much longer, or the caramelised sugar may weld the tarts to the tin. Leave to cool completely before eating.