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June 2010

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Pastéis sem Nata (Portuguese custard tarts)

Pastéis sem Nata

While we visited Lisbon last year, P. developed a serious addiction. From the second day of our vacation, we had to stop at a bakery once or twice a day and get “um pastel de nata, faz favor“. Pastéis de nata (pastries with cream) are little egg and cream custard tarts sold at every bakery in Lisbon. It is said that they were invented by nuns in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belem, close to Lisbon. Therefor they are also called pastéis de Belem.(The bakery claims to sell the original version. After waiting in line for a long time to finally taste one of their pastries, P. claimed he liked the ones in Lisbon much better.)

These pastries are very small with a crust made from puff pastry and a filling that consists of mostly eggs and cream. Usually Portuguese pastries rely on huge amounts of eggs or egg yolks. The reason for this might be that  them monks used the egg whites to filter the beer they were brewing. At least I was told so.

Pastéis de nata are always sold very fresh, sometimes they are still warm. Their tops are usually slightly burnt, because they are baked at a very high temperature. I read something about 400° Celsius (no, this is not a typo, it’s 750°F).

Obviously I never tasted a pastel de nata. Thinking about all those eggs which are used every day to make huge amounts of tarts is not a good idea. You all know how horribly chickens are treated. When we left Portugal I forgot about the pastries until a couple of months ago when I was experimenting with making a cheesecake from coconut milk and soy yoghurt. It came out of the oven with a burnt top. It looked exactly like a huge pastel de nata. A vegan pastel de nata. I was exited and saved the recipe. I didn’t know if I’d ever blog about it because I thought that no one might know about these pastries.

When a couple of days ago someone asked about a vegan recipe for pastéis de nata, I thought I could dig out the recipe again and tweak it a bit. I call these pastries pastéis sem nata, pastries without cream. My taste tester P. said the pastry itself was like the original (which is not too difficult, I used prepared puff pastry). The filling is different from the omni-version. Competing with all those eggs is not an easy task. But I think I came up with a wonderful substitute. No, these cream tarts are a wonderful and special treat on their own and not a substitute. They may not look like much but they are perfect.

They have a wonderful creamy vanilla coconut flavour and the pastel has an absolutely amazing soft and creamy texture. These little gems are addictive. If they were made in a bakery here in Dresden, I’d get one every day. I’d develop a serious addiction! Fortunately I made only 12 pastries. They take a little bit of work but of course they are worth it.

Pastéis sem nata (makes 12)

To make the custard:
200 g coconut milk (half a 14 oz can)
140 g plain soy yoghurt (1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon)
120 ml plain soy milk (1/2 cup)
100 g sugar (1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
30 g cornstarch (1/4 cup)
1/8 teaspoon kala namak (black salt, optional, use regular salt instead)

In a small saucepan combine all ingredients except for black salt. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute or until the mixture (stir constantly) turns into a thick custard:

Custard filling

Stir in black salt. Let cool completely, stirring from time to time. This will prevent a skin to form on top of the mixture. If your mixture gets lumpy, use an immersion blender or a strainer to get rid of the lumps.

To make the crust:
While the filling is cooling, preheat the oven to 250°C (480°F) and have a 12 cup muffin tin ready.

For the crust, I used store-bought puff pastry, you can also make your own, if you don’t have access to vegan puff pastry.

The puff pastry I use comes in individual sheets, each is 10 x 17 cm (4 x 6 3/4 inch).

Roll out each sheet until it is 15 x 25 cm (6 x 10 inch) in size. Carefully roll into a log, starting with the short side. Don’t roll it up too tightly.

Puff pastry rolled into a log.

Cut each log into four equal pieces:

Cut dough pieces

Pinch the edges, bring them together and carefully form them into balls:

Preparing the crust

Flatten the dough balls into disks and shape them into cups. Don’t stretch the dough too  much and use a splash of cold water to prevent sticking rather than flour:

Preparing the pastry

Transfer them to an ungreased muffin tin. You don’t have to cover the whole tin with dough, 3/4 is enough. Fill each tin with 2-3 tablespoons of custard. Only fill 2/3 of the pastry shells. If you use too much custard, it will overflow when baked.

Transfer to the oven and place on upper rack, close to the grill. Bake for 5 minutes, reduce heat to 230°C (450°F) and bake for 11 more minutes. Always keep an eye on your pastries and make sure they don’t burn too much. Some dark spots on top are okay and part of the fun.

Remove from heat and let cook for five minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely. The custard will sink and set. Serve when cooled completely.

Pastéis sem nata

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35 Comments

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