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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Portuguese Egg Tarts/ Pastéis de Nata

Okay, I've to admit that these are not exactly in the style of Pastéis de Nata, otherwise known as THE Portuguese egg tarts or Pastéis de Belem (Belem pastries), since my crust is a pâte brisée whereas the 'correct' crust should be a pâte feuilletée (puff pastry). Nevertheless, I find that the custard is really quite close in texture and taste. A little more about the names - Nata is basically means cream in Portuguese (and Spainish as well) whereas Belem means well, Belem, a place in Lisbon (not the one in Brazil) where these egg tarts supposedly originated, hundreds of years ago. I'll post about them in my Travel Tuesdays segment on Tuesday since I realized I've a lot to say about them!

I'm proud to announce that this is an original recipe by yours truly, although it was the largely the result of lack of ingredients that led me here. I did look at several recipes for Cantonese egg tarts online, and I found that many of them required evaporated milk, which I didn't have. So like how I did for my blueberry cream cheese tarts, since I saw that the purpose of evaporated milk was to thicken the custard, I decided to substitute it with heavy cream which I had on hand (about 30-48% fat content is fine). I also note that Duncan has a similar recipe here, but he uses flour and milk to thicken the custard instead. I actually have a lot of what I term 'original recipes' - since I like to brainstorm a lot and I tend to cook and bake by feeling (I know it's quite blasphemous for pastry making but I'm quite guilty of making cakes and breads without proper measuring instruments and they've turned out pretty well) and I'm finally confident enough to put this recipe up, mainly because I've made these tarts many many many times and each time my mom literally BEAMS from ear to ear because she says that these are the best things to come out of my oven and the best tart she's eaten :D But of course, she hasn't tasted the wonders which is Pastél de Belem - which is truly amazing I tell you but like I said, sans the crust, this is pretty close to the real deal!

Recipe for Portuguese Egg Tarts
For the crust

Use the Foolproof Pie Dough recipe here or use your favorite pie crust recipe, or better yet, use a puff pastry recipe for a more authentic egg tart!

For the custard filling
20g egg yolks (or 1 egg yolk equivalent)
10g castor sugar
20g heavy cream
20g milk


Preparing the tart crusts. If preparing from frozen tart dough, thaw the dough until malleable, before pressing the dough into the tart moulds. Once done, place the tart moulds into the fridge while preparing the filling. 

Preparing the custard filling. Making sure that all ingredients are at room temperature, add the sugar into 
the egg yolks and mix well with a fork. Add in the heavy cream and milk and mix well. 

Making the tarts.
 Pour the filling into each tart pan, making sure each is about 80% or 90% full. 

Bake the tarts in a 170 degrees preheated oven for about 12 minutes for the smaller tarts and 15-20 minutes for the larger tarts. Once the custard starts to brown, the tarts are done. 

    Janine's jots: 
    • Taste: If you are fond of an eggy-tasting tart, do follow the recipe to a T! If you are not particularly fond of the eggy taste, do add some vanilla extract to the mixture (up to 1 tsp per 80ml of milk) - it'll help mask the eggy taste a bit. 
    • Texture: If you want a smooth textured custard, do take the time to strain the filling before filling up the tarts. Alternatively, you can use a hand blender to mix up the ingredients if you so prefer. 
    • Serving size: Note that for the amounts I've stated above, it is only enough to make 2 large tarts that you see in the first picture above, so do double or triple or quadruple the recipe to meet your needs. If you quadruple the recipe, it'll be enough to make about 10 large 6-cm wide tarts.  
    • Modifications: Note that the sugar amounts are quite low in my recipe, so if you like a sweeter tart, you can double the sugar amounts and it'll still be okay. Also, if you are not particularly fond of a wrinkly texture (the Belem tarts are wrinkly - gives it that rustic feel), do pre-bake the tarts first and then lower the temperature to continue baking the egg custard - just like how I did my blueberry cream cheese tarts (but with a lower temperature!). 
    • Storage: These tarts taste the best on the day they are baked. Store in an airtight container for a maximum of 2 days, unrefrigerated. I have kept it in the fridge for a maximum of a week, giving it a quick zap in the microwave or in the toaster oven to heat it up again and it tastes almost as good as a freshly baked one. 
    • Would I make this again? Definitely - in my mother's words, these are my 拿手好饼 =D

    I've been very intrigued about the chemistry behind cooking and baking, from a really young age, but what I particularly remember is a number of lessons I had during my JC times. I was doing Chemistry for my As, and my option topic for the paper was naturally, food chemistry, and my awesome chemistry teacher actually played a video of Nigella Lawson, the domestic goddess, pottering around her kitchen baking. I don't remember what dish she was doing, but I vividly remember what my teacher wanted to illustrate - the Maillard reaction, which is basically a browning process when heat is introduced to a food. Of course this was translated into a reaction between the carbonyl ground of the sugar and the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acids (I don't actually remember this chemistry portion, it's from my good friend Wiki), but it just goes to illustrate how important teachers and teaching methods are to your learning, doesn't it? 

    Anyway, the point of talking about the food chemistry portion is that understanding the purposes of why certain ingredients are being used or certain techniques being done are key to better baking, in my opinion. This is the reason why I like this recipe, because it represents how far along I've come in baking - putting together ingredients based on an understanding of what I want and a vision of the end product. This is also the reason why I've written down the recipe down as such, for it to act as a ratio for those who are courageous enough to try the recipe. I doubt you can make any less than what I've stated, and it's multiplied easily - I've baked quadruple the recipe and the end product is still fine. And the exciting thing about food chemistry I think, is the flexibility you have. For instance, I can foresee a time when I might not have cream available, so this can be easily substituted with evaporated milk, or even butter (in smaller amounts) with additions of cornstarch or even more egg yolk! This is the reason why I love baking so much - following recipes and replicating masterful creations is one thing, but what I love best is the ability to create your own - to channel your own creative juices into making a masterpiece you can call your own. 

    What usually happens is - I get a craving to eat egg tarts - so I head to my freezer to thaw my pie dough (sometimes I freeze the dough in the tartlet pans themselves, which speeds up the process even more), while making the filling at the same time. The 20g portion is sufficient to make myself 6 mini tartlets, just for your information :] Preheat the oven in the meantime, and press the thawed dough into the pans, fill them up about 80% full, and they're ready to be popped into the oven. After about 10-15 minutes, they're done and after cooling for a little while, they're ready to be eaten :] The whole process takes probably 30-45 minutes MAX, which is probably equivalent to the time that is required for me to drive out to get a good egg tart to satisfy the craving. The pictures below are two separate occasions when I decided to make large and mini egg tarts. 

    Occasion #1:

    A failed attempt at a styled shot :/ Just look at those horrible shadows!!

    Occasion #2: 

    You can bake it rustically - by placing the pie dough into a muffin pan like I did for occasion #1, or you can use proper tart pans - large or small. Do try this recipe should you have an egg-tart craving one day! And let me know how the recipe goes! ;p


    CaThY said...

    I love egg tarts! Tks for sharing the recipe ;)

    thecoffeesnob said...

    Oooh I love egg tarts and these look exactly like the ones I used to have at my favourite dim sum place in Melbourne!

    The Sweetylicious said...

    you remind me fond memories of chem (: what you mention was organic chem right. love those reaction :D anyways, those egg tarts look so lovely!! (: great job!

    Min {Honest Vanilla} said...

    I think the colour looks great! Looks pretty authentic :)

    Janine said...

    @cathy, thecoffeesnob and min: thanks :)

    @jasmine: nope during my time (lol not that long ago actually) - after inorganic and organic chem there was a compulsory 'option topic' that everyone had to choose - I think there was other topics but I only know I took Food Chem :)

    lena said...

    they look beautiful! i guess i would have to learn more from you when it comes to substitution, that will probably saves us some penny too!

    j3ss kitch3n said...

    ahh my favorite! i'm craving for some now do you mind passing me some? lol!

    Spear said...

    Portuguese egg tarts have been on my to-do list for as long as I can remember...but never got around to baking them. Looking at your lovely tarts tempts me to give them a go!
    During my A's, my school didn't give us the option of food chemistry =(. I took biochemistry instead. Food chem sounds more fun to me! Did you further your studies in food chem after your A's?

    hanushi said...

    I love portuguese egg tarts and yours certainly made me crave for them... :)

    Janine said...

    @lena and hanushi: thanks for your kind comments :)

    @jess: sorry none left for you - all in my tummy already :p I finished them the moment they came out :/

    @spear: ooh so biochemistry was the other option heh. Nope as much as I liked food chem, I disliked the organic and having to memorize all the reactions, so I'm actually doing something totally unrelated to science now :)

    evelyn said...

    Hihi. i got a question, hope u can help me.

    what type of milk are you using?

    msihua said...

    They look beautiful! And I do like the shadows.. makes it seem like a mysterious hidden gem :)

    Janine said...

    @evelyn: just normal fresh milk will do :) I use Meiji fresh milk! But if you want a more full-bodied and creamier taste, use the UHT full cream milk instead.

    @ihua: thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on the photo :)

    OohLookBel said...

    These look gorgeous! It's got me in the mood to whip up a batch this weekend. I use Bill Granger's recipe and it's fantastic.

    Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    Aw, hooray for making your Mum beam with your beautiful tarts :)

    Love the comments about food chemistry too. I've been meaning to teach myself more about this (apart from just what I've been learning from cooking over the years)..might have to investigate if there are any interestingly written books out there! You aware of any?

    Janine said...

    @conor: I find bakewise by Shirley Corriher pretty informative for a start, and there's a bunch of books called "What Einstein told his cook" by Wolke - he's pretty entertaining while informative at the same time. I hope this helps! I too am on a lookout for such books!

    @bel: will definitely be on the lookout for your post/recipe!

    Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    Ah, yes! Thanks Janine! I've been told about "What Einstein told his cook" before, but couldn't remember the name or author. Excellent, thanks! Will check out Shirley Corriher too.

    ovenhaven said...

    My mom's a big portuguese egg tart fan, so I can imagine her absolutely loving this! I'll be sure to give it a try next time I get hold of cream :)

    pigpigscorner said...

    This is in my to-make list! Time to get some egg tart tins! Bookmarked!

    Janine said...

    @conor: no prob :)

    @ovenhaven: if you don't have cream, you can follow duncan's recipe which uses flour and evaporated milk - I've linked it up above!

    @ann: don't need to get egg tart tins - muffin tins can do as well ;p

    No-Frills Recipes said...

    These tarts look delicious to me, have kiv this recipe!

    Xiaolu said...

    Oh lord do these look good to me! I love egg tarts and these have just the right amount of color on top to make me drooool.

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