I’m not sure how I’ve made it so far on this site without discussing the merits of puff pastry and combination steam ovens, so today seems a good day to address it with these Portuguese custard tarts.
If you haven’t discovered so already, a combi steam oven setting is absolutely the best thing ever to happen to a piece of puff pastry. The dry heat lifts and separates the layers to make the outside golden and crunchy. And the humidity means instead of all the little pockets of moisture inside (from the water content in the butter) drying and disappearing during cooking, the internal layers stay tender and slightly chewy.
So, custard tarts. These are based on the Portuguese pastéis de nata. I’m not sure how true to type they are as most of the other versions I found didn’t have cinnamon in the pastry, but authentic or not, they are very good – and I don’t even care that much for custard based desserts.
These are not difficult tarts to make but you probably will want to set aside a relaxed weekend hour or two to get through the steps.
Not confident making custard? I can’t give you instant kitchen self-esteem, but I will say two little things which might help avoid lumps or sweetened scrambled eggs.
First, whisk the first bit of milk into the egg and sugar mix slowly. If you get it smooth right from the start your chances of success are far better.
And secondly, use a LOW stove temperature. It’s so tempting to just turn it up a bit because things are moving so slowly and you don’t want to keep stirring. And stirring. But trust that when it finally thickens, it’ll go pretty quickly. A low temperature will help you control exactly how thick you want the final result.
Happy weekend all. I plan on getting outside with my little people (and a custard tart or two) while the sun is shining. Hope it’s good wherever you are.
Portuguese Style Custard Tarts
- 2 eggs or 2 yolks and one whole egg; for a very rich custard use 4 yolks
- 1/3 cup superfine sugar 80g caster sugar, plus a couple of extra tablespoons for the pastry
- 1 ½ tbs cornflour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk 375ml I'm sure reduced fat would work but the tarts won't be as creamy
- ¼ cup pouring cream 60ml
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry each about 12"/30cm square; I used supermarket puff and it was just fine
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin with oil spray or melted butter (mine is a regular sized muffin tin, each hole has 1/3 cup capacity).
- Get your pastry out of the freezer and put it on the bench to defrost while you make the custard.
- Whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan (off the heat) until smooth. Gradually whisk in the milk, cream and vanilla – if you dump it all in at once you’ll have lumpy custard. No-one wants that.
- Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until it thickens and comes almost to a simmer (don't let it boil or the eggs will curdle). It doesn’t need to be really thick as it’ll cook more in the oven. If it coats the back of a spoon without running straight off, you’re probably good.
- Pour the custard into a bowl and cover directly over the top with cling film. Make sure the film is touching the top of the custard as this will stop a skin forming. Place in the fridge for about an hour to cool.
- Now for the pastry. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of extra sugar and half of the cinnamon over one sheet of pastry (you could combine them first but I just roughly scattered each of them individually). Put the other piece of pastry on top and gently squash them together with a rolling pin. Sprinkle another tablespoon of sugar and the remaining cinnamon over the top, then roll the pastry tightly into a log and put in the fridge to chill until you’re ready to cook the tarts (or until the custard is cool). You can skip the chilling here, but it makes the next step easier, and if you’re cooling the custard anyway then why not.
- When you’re ready to cook, set your oven to 400⁰F/200⁰C, combi steam. If your oven has variable steam settings, use 50-60% steam. If not, don't worry! Just set to combi steam at the correct temperature and the oven will figure out the humidity for you.
- Cut the pastry into 12 even scrolls. Place one, cut side up on the bench and use the heel of your hand to flatten it into a disc which will fit your muffin tin – don’t worry about all your swirls being evenly squashed, the unevenness is part of the appeal.
- Repeat with the other pieces of pastry, then put them into the prepared muffin pan and pour the custard evenly between the pastry cases. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden, and the custard is lightly browned on top. During cooking the tarts will puff quite dramatically, then they'll sink and settle after you remove them from the oven.
- Transfer the tarts to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then turn out and eat warm or at room temperature.
- These tarts are adapted, barely, from this recipe by Anneka Manning
- I found there was a little bit of custard left over, but not enough to reduce the recipe quantity. If you squash your pastry out a little flatter than I did you may find you can make deeper tarts and use up the full amount of custard.
- Don’t be tempted to cool the tarts fully in the pan as you’ll probably find they’re well and truly glued in by the time you want to eat them!
- I really liked this method for sweetening and adding spice to the pastry, but if I were running short on time I'd be happy to just cut out circles from unadulterated pre-rolled puff pastry and forget the extra step.
- These are best eaten on the day you make them, but can be gently reheated in a dry oven if you have a few left over the next day.
But I don’t have a steam/combi-steam oven! You can definitely bake these in a regular oven. Up the temperature to 210⁰C. They might take a few more minutes to cook even with the increased temp, and won’t puff quite as much, but are still excellent.