We had a few hours to spend in Lisbon the other week and we were fortunate enough to have encountered a native who was more than willing to pass along his local knowledge.
Given our restricted time frame, we decided to ride the open top bus to give us an overview of the city. The web site was not very helpful as it did not say if one could buy tickets on the bus ( which is normally the case) but encouraged buying on the internet. However having been on the buses in Mexico City and San Francisco, we decided it was worth taking a chance, and are glad we did. The bus experience was perhaps not the best we have had, but it did give us a good idea of what the city was about and have a list of places and things for our next visit.
One of the things that Lisbon is particularly famous for are the “Pastéis de Nata”, these are rich custard tarts. They were created in the 18th Century by Monks in the monastery of Belem in Lisbon. After the revolution of 1820, when religious orders were facing extinction, the monks moved their business to a nearby sugar refinery but the monastery closed and the monks sold their recipe to the owners of the factory who started making the Pastei de Nata and the company is still owned by the same family.
Rumour has that on a weekend they will make anything up to 25000 Pasteis, which considering that they sell for about €1 each, is not an inconsiderable sum.
The recipe is of course a secret, but as with many secret recipes, one can play around until a passable effort is achieved. It is said that the English also like Custard Tarts and indeed I remember them as being a favourite of my fathers, but they are entirely different from the Portuguese versions. English custard tarts are exactly that, pastry cases filled with egg custard and baked. Whereas the Portuguese version is far more complicated, but not unduly so, especially if you buy the pastry.
For the pastry, buy either from the fresh shelve in the supermarket, or frozen, or of course you can make your own, but you will need plus or minus 500 grms.
For the custard you will need
- 3 Tabespoons ( about 30 grms) of plain flour
- 250 mls of milk
- 200 grms caster sugar
- a stick of cinnamon
- 150mls water
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks whisked
- Whisk the flour and a quarter of the milk together until fairly smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk.
- Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil and boil until it reaches 220F / 100 C.
- slowly add the sugar mix, having removed the cinnamon stick to the milk mixture, which will give a white liquid, similar double cream. It could go lumpy, but do not worry, ( I gave mine a quick whizz with a stick blender)
- Por over this mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking all the while. Cover with cling film, with it touching the surface to avoid a skin forming on top.
- Heat the oven to 250C ( 230 Fan) gas 9
- unroll you pastry and put onto a floured surface, roll it out until it is fairly thin, and then roll up, cut into about 1/2″ discs .
- Grease the holes of a standard muffin/cupcake pan. Carefully press the rolls up the sides of the pan working from the centre out until the pastry reaches the top.
- Pour the custard into the cases to just below the top and bake in the middle of the oven until the pastry is crisp and golden.
- The tops should be brown scorched even, and the custard will sink upon cooling. Keep in the pan for about 5 mins before easing out with the point of a knife. Cool on a cooling tray. Dust with icing sugar to serve.