Monday, October 4, 2010

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Who doesn’t feel the magic of a Portuguese custard tart? The sweet, creamy cinnamon- scented custard and the flaky warm pastry is a sensational combination especially when eaten still warm from the oven.

Portuguese Custard Tart   Photo Steve Shanahan
 Many producers of these custard tarts are unwilling to share their recipes and keep the contents a closely guarded secret. I felt very fortunate when a number of years ago, I received this version of a recipe passed on to me from a patissier from Newcastle. Although dedicated to his pastry making craft, rather than making the pastry for these tarts, he recommended buying Careme pastry, which is a high quality commercially produced puff pastry.

These magical little tarts are believed to have been invented by two Catholic sisters in the convent at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Lisbon, Portugal and were called Pasteis de Belem. The recipe was still a highly guarded secret when in 1837 clerics from the monastery set up Casa Pasteis de Belem the first shop to sell the tarts commercially to raise funds for the monastery. The shop was well known by tourists and still exists today.

A good Portuguese custard tart should have a crisp pastry, a firm, smooth-textured custard and caramelised top, which occurs naturally during the baking process due to the sugar content of the custard. At 220C the oven temperature is hotter than usual to produce the golden top. A good tip to remember when cooking custard is - if it boils it will spoil.

There are many recipes for these tarts around but it is by far the best I have found with a 100 per cent success rate. There is some work involved in making the custard, but it is well worth the effort. The recipe makes 12 and is best made on the day of serving.

6 egg yolks
½ cup castor sugar
300 ml pure cream
seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt
3 sheets of butter puff pastry (Careme pastry is best)
2 tsp castor sugar extra mixed with 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

You will need a 12 hole buttered muffin tin and a 12 cm round cutter. Cut 12 x 12 cm diameter circles from the thawed butter puff pastry using a floured cutter. Line individual muffin cases with pastry circles, pushing and folding to fit, and place in the refrigerator until needed.

Preheat oven to 220C. Whisk the egg yolks to break up before beating in the sugar. Gradually add the cream, salt, cinnamon stick and the vanilla seeds. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and stir over a low heat with a wooden spoon, ensuring the heat is kept low. Continue to stir until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately pour the custard into a clean bowl. Remove the cinnamon stick and allow the custard to cool, stirring until the mixture returns to room temperature. Once the custard is at room temperature, spoon the mixture evenly among the prepared pastry shells, filling to just over half full. Place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. When the tarts are caramelised on the top remove from oven and while hot sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Note: Careme pastry can be bought from good delicatessens

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