Before talking of the famous Pastel de Nata it becomes really necessary to clarify some doubts between Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belém. There are some similarities or even just a few differences, and we believe, in a wrong way, that Pastel de Nata is a copy of Pastel de Belém.
In fact, Pastel de Belém is made only and exclusively in Pastéis de Belém Factory, since 1837, in Belém (civil parish of Lisbon) and the cooking secrets have been well kept in the pastry’s secrets room. The high quality of the cooking ingredients, the excellent localization in the Lisbon tourist and historical center and their own history, where the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos’s monks found in Pastel an opportunity to subsist their religious order, allowed the Pastel de Belém to become famous and to create a Pastel de Nata’s category which registered trademark belongs to Pastéis de Belém Factory.
And as a matter of fact, Pastel de Nata is a generic and comprehensive term, where the Pastel de Belém is included.
The Pastel de Nata came much earlier than Pastel de Belém, as we can confirm in several documents.
The first register is in the Cookery Book of Infanta D. Maria de Portugal (1538-1577), D. Manuel I’s granddaughter, and D. Duarte’s daughter. She never could imagine that her “Pastéis de Leite” cooking recipe, written in her writing desk shelter in the second half of XVI century, would be the beginning of a new Portugal’s gastronomic saga around the world.
This Pastel de Leite is the connection for the current Pastel de Nata, however it does not have puff pastry on outside. A more consistent pastry, with short crust dough, whose filling is very similar to what we have our days, and inclusively made in the same little moulds.
But the first reference to Pastéis de Nata appears in XIX century, in the Odivelas monastery, written in a book that resisted until our days in the hands on the last Odivelas’s nun, who died in 1886, D. Bernardina da Conceição. In that book, the first page is dedicated to Pastéis de Nata and shows one version to serve hot and another one to serve cold, the difference between them is in the cinnamon added to the filling.
However, and besides the history, there is no cafe or Portuguese confectionery that don’t have Pastéis de Nata in their storefront. They are an important and fundamental touristic attraction, one of the Portuguese favourite desserts and they became famous all around the world, becoming a gastronomic treasure like Oporto wine and Fado music
With the world globalization and the proximity of the markets, these pastries are in Russia, United States of America, China, Japan, South Africa, Australia, available in cafes, pastries, supermarkets and gourmet shops
In the United Sates, for example, Pastel de Nata is known as “egg tarts”. In Asia, as Portuguese “egg tarts” and in Macau streets as “pou táh”. In Australia, as“custard tarts”. In the United Kingdom, as “Portuguese custard tart” or “Natas”. In Brazil, “Pastéis de Belém”. The Pastéis de Nata are, truly, Portuguese and, probably, its greater internationalization (such as Cristiano Ronaldo).
But then what are the Pastéis de Nata?
The “Pastel de Nata” or simply “Nata”, on the balcony of a Portuguese confectionery (and although the name, did not have Nata in the ingredients), is a crisp puffy pastry filled with the typical trio of Portuguese confectionery, sugar, milk and eggs yolk. We can also add flavouring, for example, lemon zest or vanilla. The filling can not be too much sweet and must present the right taste, the dough has to be “browned” and little greasy
The Pastel de Nata has to be so good straight from the oven than cooled down to room temperature. Usually, is served with sprinkle powdered sugar or cinnamon dust on top. Its production requires a good pastry knowledge.
How to make a Pastel de Nata?
“It is difficult do the simple”, is a very appropriate expression when we talk about making a Pastel de Nata. These are the main steps:
- Put flour, water, margarine and salt in the spiral mixer and mix during 10 minutes;
- Add margarine and roll (and roll again) the dough in the dough sheeter, to obtain a thin paste;
- Prepare the dough rolls, cut and put in the pie-tart machine, where the dough is moulded into the metal or aluminium moulds;
- Take the milk, cinnamon stick, lemon peel and salt to boil;
- Add sugar with flour, let it boil. After cooled down, add the yolks, and fill the moulds
The typical Pastel de Nata must be well cooked between 300 and 500 degrees, to become with a “burnt” aspect, making black marks on top of the custard (like a buble). However, many people choose to eat the pastel less “burnt” and with a less cooked custard.
The versatility of the Pastel de Nata
One of the curiosities of the Pastel de Nata is that is a sweet pastry that it can be adapted to the gastronomic culture of each country, region, consumers and even to the confectionery that makes it.
In several Asiatic countries, the Pastel de Nata has less sugar. In Brazil, is the opposite, it has more sugar. There are some people that likes to add lemon to give a more refreshing flavour to the pastel, but the trick is in the puff pastry.
The Pastel de Nata miniatures became very famous in thematic events, the most greedy choose xl version ant those who like to share choose boxes with 6 unities to give to their friends.
Besides the dimension, the mould of Pastel de Nata is also different, there are short and small moulds, and bigger ones, with the base diameter smaller or bigger, or also with several slopes that can transform the product.
During the last years, other references of Pastel de Nata have been created, for example, Pastel de Nata with codfish, that puts together the most popular Portuguese specialities; Pastel de Nata with chocolate, Pastel with Fundão cherry, with passion fruit, with lemon, without sugar and vegan version with more natural ingredients
The Pastel de Nata is a speciality based on Portugal history, entirely dominated by the Portuguese confectioners and promises to sweeten the countries all over the world.