Forks and Jets

The true story of a couple or amateur foodie travelogues going around the world


Be Still My Beating Heart

July 11, 2009 Portugal


Not along the southern beaches but from Porto to Lisbon, Pastelarias display whole front windows filled with the nightmare of dentists around the world. Beautiful colors and textures show like pieces of art. There are light yellow cakes soaking in a sweet honey sauce, cream puffs overfilled, chocolate topped cakes and toasted nuts crowning glazed bite-size delicacies.

These window displays would have been promise enough, but we often came across these quaint Pastelarias which would melt our hearts and clog our arteries.

These shops are a piece of times past; little smiling women behind old counters, walls covered with beautiful blue and white tiles, and simple pastries delivered in ornately printed paper almost as sweet as the delicacy itself.

Many cities have age old specialties like a long, airy, flaky pastry filled with a light cream or a small round almond custard tart.

Ah, but the how can these sweets be sins? Yes, they shorten your life and taste too good to not be evil — many of these recipes come from servants of God. Monasteries used large amounts of egg whites for daily tasks such as starching clothes, leaving an abundance of egg yolks.

One solution was to create egg-based treats such as the now famous Pasteis de Nata or egg custards. When most monasteries were shut down in 1820, the Pasteis de Nata recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was sold.

Today it is a closely guarded two hundred year old secret, known by only 3 people at any given time. These special custards sell between 8,000 to 14,000 per day at the Pasteis de Belem in the city of Belem, Portugal.

The inexplicable sweet, syrupy, shredded egg yolk

With a variety of egg based desserts ranging from hard candies to ultra-sugary Yemas (chewy yolk candies), our favorite was the Pasteis de Belem. It was warm and flaky with a melt-in-your-mouth lightness that had us buying one of the thousands of fresh from the oven, rapidly packaged boxes of six.

This recipe from the lovely Algarve Buzz for egg custards may be missing the secret ingredient of the famous Belem variety, but should give you a little taste of Portugal at home.

Pasteis de Nata
Makes 12 custards
Baked by Algarve Buzz

Prepared puff pasty – defrosted but kept cold
1 ¾ cups whole milk
¼ cup cream
4 egg yolks
3 Tbsp white sugar
Pinch salt
2 Tbsp Plain flour
½ cinnamon stick
2 strips lemon peel
½ tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream Instructions

In a sauce pan add milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, salt, flour mix well with a whisk to ensure all the ingredients are well combined, do not turn heat on yet.

Once all ingredients are combined and there are no lumps of sugar or flour add cinnamon stick, lemon peel and vanilla.

Turn heat on to low stirring continuously and gently with whisk. It’s very important to heat the milk slowly, if the milk is heated too quickly, egg yolks could coagulate like scrambled eggs and ruin the consistency of the custard.

Continue stirring until it cream becomes quite thick and resembles a rich pudding. Watch for thickening around the edges of the pan, you want a really smooth cream so make certain to get in the sides and bottom edges of the pan.

Let cool completely. When cooled, remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel.

To avoid milk skin from forming on custard you can place parchment paper on top of warm custard and it will lift out easily when you go to use it to fill puff pasty shells.

Preparing Pastry Shells

Preheat oven to 225F (107C) [update: 300 F (148C)

Roll out cold puff pastry dough with pin on floured surface, until 1/4 cm thick.

Once rolled out thin, dusk off excess flour and begin rolling puff pastry like a long cigar. Roll pastry snugly but not tight, just enough to avoid a lot of space or air pockets in roll.

Place pastry roll length wise and cut in 4cm lengths

Then take each cut piece in hand and push down center of roll to meet center of opposite side, gently press pastry with fingers to spread out dough to create what will feel like half of a hallow pastry ball. Work in circular pattern and pastry will start to thin and from a cup shape. If dough gets sticky use a little flour to help it along. Finished shells should be about 1/4cm, thin but not enough to see your hand through. If you like puff pastry you can make the shells a little thicker, but a couple of tries of the finished version will let you know your preference.

Place pastry in muffin tray, and spread out to sides but don’t stretch dough upward, just gently press against side of muffin tin to ensure it won’t shrink too much when baking.

When all pastry shells are ready fill with pastry cream, do not fill to top. Fill to ¾ or a bit more but leaving 1- 1.5cm at top of pastry.

Place custards in oven and bake for 15min, but keep eye on custards as some ovens can burn top quite quickly, while others don’t cook the pastry quickly enough. If pastry around sides looks deep golden colour pastries are done.


  1. jen laceda says:
    July 11, 2009

    I’m crazy about Pastel de Nata! Our former landlady was an elderly Portuguese woman who baked these all the time! I gained 10 pounds living upstairs from her! And as Toronto has a large Portuguese population, pastelerias are everywhere! However, Toronto’s lack that old-world charm and x-factor that so abound in Old Lisbon and Belem pastelarias. Glad to learn that the recipe came from Mosteiro dos Jeronimos! P.S. I like yemas, as well! Ooh-la-la, heart attack in a (beautiful) box!


  2. Julie says:
    July 11, 2009

    I’ve adored following you on your trip around Portugal. I went about–yikes!–10 years ago and just loved every second, for all the reasons you’ve indicated here (I was in Sintra & Lisbon). Can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime, really enjoyed your journey!


  3. Shannon OD says:
    July 12, 2009

    That’s awesome that you posted this recipe!! I have every plan on making this when I get back to the states – they sound delicious!


  4. Geoff says:
    July 12, 2009

    Thank you so much for that recipe! I absolutely adore those things, especially the ones from Belem. Will have to give that a go as soon as I get home


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