There are some daily routines that defines our nationality. It is not just where we were born, our name, but simple and little gestures that makes us Portuguese or English or Chinese. The way we drink our tea or coffee, how we greet people (one kiss, two kisses or three), how and what we celebrate.
Most of these things we don’t even notice, they’re so imprinted in our souls that we think that the whole world does the same way. We don’t notice or think about until we start living in another country.
When I moved to London I remember, for example, my little, in his first days at nursery, coming back and tell me that he had pasta or soup for tea. I remember thinking “that’s why they (English) are struggling with the child obesity” then someone explained to me: here in England the children eat tea/dinner around 5pm and go to bed around 7pm. So normally the children have three meals a day, while in Portugal we have four meals and the kids go to bed around 9pm.
There are some routines that we can stick with, but there are others hard to keep.
We Portuguese like to drink an espresso at the local cafe before going to work, after lunch, at tea time and even after dinner. Sometimes we like a “bica e um pastel nata”, an espresso and a custard tart. “Bica e um pastel de nata” is such a common sentence in Portuguese daily life.
Pastel de Nata or Pastel de Belém are the most famous Portuguese sweet tarts.
This is a recipe that dates back to the year 1837, where the monks at Jerónimos Monastery started selling these delicacies.
I think that we can say that Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belém are different and only because the recipe for the Pastel de Belém is a well-kept secret. The master pastry who have access to the recipe must first sign a confidentiality agreement and make an oath saying that the secret recipe would never be revealed.
For all my friends in Portugal this recipe doesn’t make sense, since every cafe or bakery sells it.
For all my expat friends or for those adventurous cooks, I bring you this simple recipe for the most famous Portuguese tarts.
Portuguese Custard tart – adapt form here
- 250g caster sugar
- 2 lemon peels
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 250ml semi-skimmed milk
- 30g plain flour
- 20g cornflour (maizena)
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks , plus 1 whole egg
- 375g puff pastry
Tip the sugar, lemon and cinnamon into a pan with 125ml water and bring to a boil. Mix the flour, cornflour and vanilla with a small amount of milk until you have a smooth paste. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil, then pour it onto the flour mixture, whisking continuously. Pour back into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, whisking until the mixture thickens. Remove the cinnamon and lemon then stir both mixtures together. Let it cool a bit and then add the eggs, bring back to a simmer and whisk until smooth. Pour into a jug, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool.
Heat the oven to 220C
Roll out the puff pastry on a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour and icing sugar. Cut the pastry in half and lay one sheet on top of the other. Roll the pastry sheets up like a Swiss roll and cut the roll into twelve slices about 1 cm – 2cm thick.
Put each slice in a hole of a muffin tray.
Dip your thumbs into the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup , then smooth the dough up the sides. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom.
Divide the custard between the pastry cases.
Bake the tarts for 18-20 minutes on the preheated baking sheet, or until the custard has puffed up and is pale golden-brown, and the pastry is crisp and golden-brown.
Before serving dust with some cinnamon and icing sugar.
You can eat warm or not, but I prefer it warm and crunchy.