Portuguese Custard Tart (soon available online)
Product Description: Called “Pastéis de Belém”, “Pastéis de Nata” or simply “Nata” in Portugal, it’s most iconic Portuguese sweet: a traditional custard pastry that consists of a crème brûlée-like custard caramelized in a crust of puff pastry, as created over 200 years ago by Catholic Sisters at Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.
Ingredients: milk, wheat flour, corn flour, eggs, lemon, cinnamon, sugar, salt, butter, vegetable oil, water, and heaps of love :)
Allergens: milk, gluten, eggs
The History of the Portuguese Custard Tart
At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, in Belém, next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery) there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store. As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and labourers expelled.
In an attempt at survival, someone from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop; pastries that rapidly became known as ‘Pastéis de Belém’.
At that period the area of Belém was considered far from the city of Lisbon and mainly accessed by steam-boats. At the same time, the grandeur of the monastery and the Torre de Belém (the Belém Tower) attracted visitors who soon grew used to savouring the delicious pastries originated in the monastery.
In 1837, the baking of the “Pastéis de Belém” began in the buildings attached to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe` from the monastery. Passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the ‘secret room’, this recipe remained unchanged to the present day.
In fact, the only true ‘Pastéis de Belém’ contrive, by means of a scrupulous selection of ingredients, to offer even today the flavour of the time-honoured Portuguese sweet making.
Fun Facts about the Portuguese Custard Tart
At the time, Convents and Monasteries used large quantities of egg whites for starching of clothes, such as nuns 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 Portugal.
Traditionally the Custard Tart is sprinkled with cinnamon (and powdered sugar for the sweet tooth!) before serving. Adding cinnamon to the Custard Tart is mostly due to a gastronomic tradition, however, it could also be seen as a “nutritional measure” because cinnamon has been scientifically proven to aid the management of blood glucose. This means that the absorption of carbohydrates and sugars present in the Custard Tart is slowed, allowing the body to metabolise the energy produced from them and regulate appetite.
“The Observer” roamed the globe with a few top experts in world cuisine in search of the best delicacies, and among 50 other best things to eat, the Pastéis de Nata were listed in 15th place, described as “Creamy, Flaky Custard Tarts – served warm with cinnamon – are one of Portugal’s great culinary gifts to the world.”