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Recipe: Portuguese-Style Vanilla Custard Tarts

Recipe: Portuguese-Style Vanilla Custard Tarts

Ingredients

For the pastry

For the custard

According to legend, during medieval times the convents of Portugal used large quantities of egg whites to starch clothes, such as the nuns' habits. With so many leftover egg yolks, bakeries nearby would buy them cheaply, to make Pastel de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts.

Here we've used our exceptional BakeryBits Madagascan Whole Pod Vanilla Powder, giving a different flavour to the traditional cinnamon and lemon that Pastel de Nata contain, but it's a variation that we find totally addictive and now you will too.

It’s worth making your own puff pastry because it’s truly what sets these tarts apart. You could use bought puff pastry, but for us at least, home-made just adds that something extra.

Method

The pastry

1. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and pop the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes to chill. Cut the butter into small cubes. Using a metal spoon, stir the butter in, until each piece is well coated with flour. Pour in the water, then working quickly, use the edge of the spoon to bring everything together to a rough dough. Using one hand, squash the pastry into a fat sausage, without kneading. Wrap this in cling film then chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes.

2. Lightly flour your work surface and the pastry. Roll out the pastry in one direction until it’s about 1cm thick and three times as long as it is wide.  It should be 45 x 15cm. It is important to keep the sides straight and try to keep the top and bottom edges as square as possible. Fold the bottom third of the pastry up, then the top third down.  This makes a block about 15 x 15cm. Keep making sure that the corners are nice and square. Turn the dough so that its open edge is facing to the right, like a book. Bash the edges of the pastry together firmly but gently with the rolling pin. Roll out and fold the pastry again. You need to repeat this four times in all until the pastry is smooth. Don’t worry about buttery streaks here and there. Should the pastry feel greasy at any point, cover and chill it for 15 minutes before continuing. Chill the finished pastry for at least an hour, ideally overnight.

Prepare the Custard

1. In a small bowl, mix the custard powder and water together to form a paste, add about 50ml of the milk and stir well to avoid any lumps.  Transfer into a heavy based saucepan add the vanilla, the rest of the milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar and salt then whisk on a low heat, and keep moving this lightly using a whisk Keep stirring as the custard thickens. This can take 15 minutes or more so take your time and don’t be tempted to heat it quickly (...you will get scrambled eggs!) The mixture will thicken. When the custard coats the back of a spoon remove from the heat. Leave this custard to cool.

Make the Tarts

1. Heat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Roll out the pastry to about 12 inches/30cm wide and the thickness of a £1 coin. Tightly roll up the puff pastry from short end to short end, which effectively turns it into a log.

2. Cut the log into 18 1.5cm rounds. Lay each piece on a lightly floured surface and flatten each piece with the palm of your hand. Roll out each round until they are 9cm or 3.5inches in diameter.  Press each round into a deep muffin tin that has been greased with butter. Spoon about 40g of cooled custard into the pastry cases, and bake until the pastry and custards are golden, about 20-25 minutes.

3. Leave the tarts in the tin for 5 minutes to set, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe contributed by Vanessa Kimbell