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The History Of The Pastéis de Nata: How These Tiny Tarts Became A Country’s Most Iconic Treat

History of Pasteis de Nata

If you’ve ever been to Portugal, you’ve almost definitely seen pastéis de nata lining the windows and displays of any bakery you’ve passed by. You may or may not be familiar with these tiny tarts, but after you take one bite we’re pretty sure you’ll understand why it’s one of Portugal’s favorite sweet treats!

Here’s everything you need to know about the pastéis de nata, and how you can enjoy these delectable desserts without having to hop on a plane to do it.

What are Pastéis de Nata?

Pastéis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts, are sweet egg-based custard desserts. Traditionally, the tarts (individually, “pastel de nata”) are baked for a short time at very high temperatures of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, ultimately resulting in a drool-worthy caramelized custard nestled into a light, flaky crust. They may also be dusted with cinnamon to add even more flavor.

The history of the Pastéis de Nata

The history of the pastéis de nata can be traced back to fairly humble beginnings: the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, near the city of Lisbon, over 300 years ago. This simple but delectable treat was actually created in an effort to prevent food waste: the nuns and monks would use egg whites to starch their clothes, which left an abundance of egg yolks. Thus: the egg yolk-based custard in pastéis de nata was born!

The monastery began to sell these simple but delectable treats in an effort to raise money after the Liberal Revolution in 1820 when religious institutions began to lose funding. When the monastery eventually closed in 1834, they sold the recipe to the owners of the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém … and the rest was history!

Today, it’s become an icon in Portuguese cuisine that draws foodies from around the world to indulge. Pastéis de Belém, with its original recipe, is perhaps most well known for these egg tarts — in fact, the pastries are also sometimes referred to as the Pastéis de Belém because of this! However, the custards are so popular in Lisbon and beyond that you can find them at virtually any bakeshop throughout the country.

How to make Pastéis de Nata at home

While the recipe for the original pastéis de nata is still guarded by the Pastéis de Belém, several different versions have also popped up to make this tasty treat more accessible throughout Portugal and the rest of the world. Even better: you can try your hand at making these custards on your own, no plane ticket needed!

The main ingredients that you’ll need to bake your own pastéis de nata include:

  • Egg yolk
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla

Because they are made in individual tarts, you’ll also need a cupcake tin for each individual portion. You may also need plastic wrap, rolling pins, dough scrapers, and other specialty equipment to replicate this tasty treat at home.

The process

Your pastéis de nata will be made of two separate components: the outer crust and the creamy custard.

The crust should be flaky and light. You can either make this from scratch with flour, salt, water, and butter, or you can buy premade puff pastry to make the process a little quicker.

As a note: making your own pastry dough for the crust can be a little tricky since it requires a lot of rolling and folding to create those flaky layers that you’re going for. If you do decide to make your own dough, make sure that your ingredients are cold! Allowing your dough to get cold ensures that your dough ends up flaky and light.

After you make your crust, you’ll need to whip up your custard filling. Generally, this filling will be made with egg yolk, milk, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. The ingredients are whipped together over a stovetop. The resulting custard should be light, creamy, and sweet.

Once your two components are complete, you’ll then work to assemble each pastel de nata into individual tarts using your cupcake tin. Start by pressing each crust into the cupcake tins, then fill each to the top with custard. Then, the tin is popped into an oven at a very high temperature to begin baking! Remember, pastéis de nata are traditionally baked at very high temperatures for a short amount of time, resulting in that brown caramelized crust. Your home oven likely won’t get any near as high, which means that your tarts probably won’t be exactly the same as the ones you’d find in Lisbon. Make sure to watch your tarts closely to ensure that they don’t burn during the cooking process.

The best way to make pastéis de nata at home.

While the resulting pastéis de nata is a relatively simple sweet treat, the process is fairly involved and requires a number of steps to get right. From rolling out the dough to perfecting the custard, each step makes this a more advanced recipe to master, especially if you’re brand new to tart-making.

So if you’re looking for the easiest way to whip up a pastel de nata at home, we’ve got good news. BāKIT Box has an exclusive recipe for Pastéis de Nata! This recipe kit, which is exclusive to subscribers, comes with detailed instructions and crucial ingredients to make twenty of these iconic egg tarts for you and your loved ones to enjoy.

Try it today!

Few things come together quite as deliciously as a flaky pastry crust and a creamy, caramelized custard. Both components really get to shine when they’re paired up in a delectable pastel de nata. Whether you’ve been craving this tart since you last visited Portugal or are just looking for a brand-new favorite dessert, try your hand at making pastéis de nata by signing up for BāKIT Box’s subscription service! You’ll be enjoying these tasty treats (and plenty more) to satisfy your sweet tooth in no time. Just don’t be surprised if you can’t stop thinking about them afterward!



Featured image credit: Photo by Daria Shevtsova



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