Cooking time: 25 minutes + Making the syrup
Pastéis de nata, or pastéis de Belém, are wonderful creamy little flans cooked in flaky puff pastry. In Belém in 1837, monks from the monastery of Jeronimos, finding it hard to keep the order solvent, began selling pastéis in a little bakery next to the abbey in order to make money.
At the time Lisbon and Belém were two distinct cities connected by steamboats. The monastery and tower of Belém attracted numerous tourists, who were quickly won over by this delicious pastry. The monks never imagined that one day their sweets would be known around the world with a fame that has never waned. It may even be that the pastel de nata (pastel is the singular form, though it's rare to eat only one!) is Portugal's best foreign ambassador. The best pastéis de nata in the world, the exact recipe for which has remained a jealously guarded secret since 1837, are made and sold at the famous Lisboan pastry shop Pastéis de Belém, beside the Tage, a legendary place.
- Preheat the oven to 250° C/500° F. Butter little individual muffin tins and sprinkle with flour, shaking to remove the excess. Set aside.
- Roll the puff pastry out thinly on a floured surface.
- Moisten the surface of the pastry lightly with a little water.
- Cut the pastry into 7-8 cm diameter discs. Line each muffin cup with a pastry disc, moistened side out. The pastry should cover the bottom and sides completely.
- Press the pastry with your fingertips so that it adheres well to the tin. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the water and sugar in a saucepan. Heat while stirring to form a syrup thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Let cool to lukewarm for 10 minutes.
Custard (same technique than pastry cream)
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the egg yolks until pale and light.
- Mix in the flour. Thin the mixture by gradually mixing in half the milk. Add the remaining milk. It's important to do this gently to prevent the mixture from becoming foamy.
- Pour the syrup in in a slow stream, stirring constantly.
- Heat the custard mixture in a double boiler, whisking constantly and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a wooden spoon. Be careful that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the bowl. Remove from the heat once set and pour into the pastry-lined molds.
Baking and finishing
- Place the muffin tins on a baking sheet. Place in the preheated 250° C / 500° F oven for about 25 minutes or until the flans are nicely browned, even with a slight burnt look here and there.
- Let cool before unmolding.
- Serve the pastéis just warm or cold, sprinkling with powdered sugar and ground cinnamon to taste.
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