Pastel de nata

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I travelled to Brazil last week on a research trip, and was warned beforehand that Brazil as a country is all about the bums and the meat. As a vegetarian, and someone who only jogs in a fit of panic because jeans have shrunk in the drier, I was a little apprehensive to say the least. And I was not disappointed, there was steaks on every street corner and chicken snuck into the most vegetarian-looking dishes (I won’t go into anymore details about the bums). However, on the first morning I did find a strange bakery-come-sushi-bar, selling the most gorgeous pastel de nata. These little gems are the portuguese version of custard tarts, and this was the first time I had actually eaten them, despite seeing them in every Nandos across the country. Flaky puff-pastry (well rough-puff) and delicious custard is a certain winner.

Ingredients
makes 12

For the pastry

225 g plain flour

250g unsalted butter

pinch of salt

3 tablespoons of cold water

For the custard

450ml milk

2 and a bit tablespoons of cornflour

1 vanilla pod

1 egg and 2 egg yolks

115g caster sugar


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1. The first step I took towards making these little tarts was to make the pastry and get it chilling in the fridge. Measure out flour and add a pinch of salt to it. Chop the 250g block of butter in two. Continue to cut the two halves into small cubes, whilst keeping the halves separate. One half is going into the pastry straight away, the other is going to be flaked over the pastry later to make a rough-puff. Bit of a cheat, but I am a working girl.

2. Add half the butter cubes into the flour mix, and place the other half on a plate and back into the fridge. Rub the flour and butter together with the ends of your finger until resembling breadcrumbs, then add the water a bit at a time until you can bring the mix into a neat pastry dough. You want it to be relatively smooth but not too wet. Wrap in cling film and chill.

3. Next make the custard as this will also need to be chilled. Whisk the 2 egg yolks and one egg with the caster sugar until light and fluffy and the sugar is incorporated.

4. Cut a vanilla pod in half with a sharp knife. Pour the milk into a pan and add the vanilla pod whilst you heat the milk until it is scalding. Then add half the milk to the egg mix and whisk. Pour the milk and egg back into the remaining milk and continue to whisk over a medium heat. At this point, add the cornflour. Continue whisking as the custard thickens. Remove it from the heat when it can coat the back of a spoon without dripping off entirely.

5. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge to chill.

6. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to a rectangle about 15cm x 30cm. Sprinkle 1/2 of the  remaining cubes of butter over the middle section of length. Fold down the top third of the pastry, add the remaining butter, then fold up the bottom third. Using a rolling pin, gently squash the butter in and roll out into a squat square. Again leave to chill for approximately 20 minutes.

7. Roll out the pastry again, and repeat the book-fold, this time with no butter being added. Leave to chill for a further 20 minutes.

8. During this time, grease a 12-hole muffin tray. This is a trick I learnt off the bake-off, but it really is a great idea! Cut 24 strips of baking parchment, long enough to place across and in the muffin hole, with two little grab-handles poking out. These will act as a hammock for your tarts, allowing you to easily lift them out of the holes with no need to get a knife or any other implements involved.

9. Roll out the pastry until it approximately 3mm thick. Stamp out 12 circles of pastry using a cookie cutter, that are large enough to fill the muffin holes. Press two strips of baking parchment on the back of these (i.e. not the side being filled with custard), and gently press into the holes.

10. Spoon in the custard until the pastry cases are nearly full.

11. Preheat the oven to 200•C. Bake for 25 minutes. After about 15 minutes you may wish to turn the oven down t 180•C, but remember you are trying to get a bit of colour on the custard.

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