Today I’m going to serve you a piece of heaven.
Yes, that’s right – heaven. Because if you ever get the chance to eat one of the famous pastels de nata or pastéis de nata – you won’t be able to keep from groaning with pleasure – they are that good.
It’s sweet, it’s light, it’s utterly delicious!
For the history geeks among you, here a few facts:
The pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Hieronymites Monastery(Portuguese: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) in the civil parish of Saint Mary of Bethlehem, in Lisbon. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as friars and nuns’ religious habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closure of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pastéis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day.
I was introduced to this taste explosion by a German television program called The Perfect Dinner (I’m sure many countries have the same kind of program running), where amateur cooks and bakers invite four other people, strangers until this day, to their home to cook and serve them – hopefully – the perfect dinner.
It’s a fun program to watch but I’ve never even thought of trying to reproduce or copy one of the many tasty dishes they shared.
Until one of them made the pastéis de nata a couple of months ago.
I thought, well, that doesn’t look too complicated, I might give this a try sometime.
(That was during the Corona lockdown mind you, where I was more than usual willing to try out new recipes – it seemed like the only thing that provided a bit of change.)
And before I knew what was happening I was knee-deep in puff pastry! (Well, not literally of course, but you get my meaning.)
The funny thing is I actually never liked custard or custard cream (it’s called Pudding in German which is entirely different from what the Brits call pudding).
But these Portuguese custard tarts have changed that forever!
If you want to try this out too, I’ll include a few links to recipes here, here and here. (The last one is the one I use because there’s no need to go all overboard and make your own puff pastry – the ready ones are absolutely fine.)
Have you ever tasted pastéis de nata? Do you like cooking shows? Have ever cooked or baked anything after you’ve watched them? Let me know all about it in your comments!