It all started at 8am on a Monday morning with a simple agenda to go and taste ( supposedly ) the most authentic Pasteis de nata this side of Belem, Portugal (the home of this famous pastry.) Ultimately a custard tart, but when fresh out the oven with a superior flaky crust and vanilla but not too sweet custard filling – it is the ultimate star of Portuguese confectionary. I was so inspired by this three bite pastry delight that i made it my mission to find out if it really was the best one to be found in the Mother City.
Naturally, the only way to do this was to taste as many as i could in a week . 9 bakeries around the city were visited & their versions tasted. I tweeted my progress (@amcopam), took instagram pictures as evidence & finally even made my own attempt to make these morsels of heaven to see if homemade wouldn’t actually be the best.
Here are the results and a recipe for you to try on the weekend. Let me know what you think.
THE BEST & THE REST:
1) Giovannis, Green Point. My authentic Pasteis de Nata winner!!!!! Ironically they probably don’t make them in house but first thing in the morning with a good espresso it stood leagues above the other contenders (except for #2)
2) Jason Bakery, Bree Street, Town. The only one i ate two of. Seriously yum diggity yum! It’s not truly authentic in style (its like a deep dish pasteis) but wins in flavour & satisfaction factor!
3) Broadway Bakery, Salt River. / Authentic. Superior flakey pastry. Possible best only let down by curdled custard of batch tasted. Yum
4) Woolworths in house bakery, Gardens. Pretty delicious, especially when still warm.
5) Oakhurst Farmstall in house bakery. Kenilworth. More authentic in flaky pastry. But custard pretty bland. Okay.
6) Olympia Bakery, Kalk Bay. / Not authentic either. Strong lemon flavor with lots of zest. Fabulous when fresh, mine was questionably so.
7) Coimbra Bakery, Claremont. / Authentic. Strong vanilla. Pastry to custard ratio too high. But not bad.
8 ) Cassis Bakery, Newlands. / The worst one tasted. In fairness not sold as a pasteis but as a vanilla flan. Still terrible speciman. Yuk!
9) Spar in house bakery, Vredehoek. / I had high hopes as i was put on the trail to this Spar by a guy named Joaquim. Disappointingly they sucked. Pastry was more chewy than flaky & the custard curdled & very eggy. No good once you’ve tasted the best!
10) Home made by me. Proud of these. Not truly # 10. The recipe is definitely worth making if you can’t get to Jason or Giovannis. Pretty yum!
PASTEIS DE NATA / PORTUGUESE CUSTARD TARTS
When asking fellow folk for a good recipe i was instantly directed to seek Bill Granger’s (online resource.) I ended up finding another blogger’s experiments with such recipe, which was useful as she provided feedback on what were her not so successful attempts. Your main concern with these little pastries is not to curdle the egg custard. Luckily, over the experience of eating that very first Pasteis of the week with Jason (of #2 fame) i learned some insight into the secret art of making them. So i have adapted Bill’s recipe (or what another claims it to be) to include this little trick to lesson your chances of curdling the tarts on baking.
makes 12 regular size / or 36 bite size
1 roll ready made all butter puff pastry
3 egg yolks
115g icing sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 thick strand of lemon / orange peel
Heat your oven to 190deg.C
Spray a muffin tray with a non-stick spray. Remove the pastry from it’s box & plastic lining. Now re-roll it up again (without the plastic) lengthwise so that you have a nice, long sausage shape. Divide the pastry into 12 pieces (or 36 if you making bite size ones.)
Flip each circle of rolled pastry on its flat side, squash it slightly down using your thumb then transfer it to a muffin casing. Using your thumbs press the pastry into the casing to form the crust, getting it up the sides and as evenly distributed as possible. Repeat with the remaining pastry. If your oven has reached temperature pop the pastry casings in. If not, pop them in the fridge & when ready put them in the hot oven & pre bake for 15 minutes (10 minutes if you making the bite size.)
While the crusts pre-bake make the custard filling by pouring the cream & 90% of the milk into a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the lemon peel, vanilla & sugar and whisk the mix to dissolve the sugar. Form a thickening paste by mixing the remaining 10% milk with the corn flour (you want it lump free.) Slowly pour this paste into the warm sweet milk mix, whisking constantly. Keep whisking until the milk thickens, about 5 -8 minutes. You need to keep it on the heat to cook the starch, but constant whisking is important to stop the milk mix from burning or forming lumps. You should have a velvety smooth & viscous mixture that doesn’t taste of corn starch. When done, remove the thickened milk from the heat. Whisk out some of the heat & then whisk in the egg yolks one at a time.
Remove the pre-baked casings from the oven & turn it up to 280deg.C. Use a teaspoon to push back the puffed out pastry to make room for the custard filling. Spoon in enough of the custard into each pastry casing, filling it up generously. Now pop the filled casings back into the very hot oven & bake for 10-12 minutes ( only 5 minutes if you making the bite size ones.) The tops should get a trademark dark blistered look & the custard should softly set on cooling.