When it comes to Christmas, I improvise. I’m as happy celebrating with a South African braai, as I am with a traditional Swedish Smorgardsbord (though the latter is particularly ill suited to the hot and sunny summer days of Christmas south of the Equator). Either way, you tend to eat so much you’ve got no space left for any desserts. This year, however, I decided to make pasteis de nata for a special treat.
I first came across these sweet custard tarts in Mozambique, where they are a clear culinary heritage from the Portuguese colonizers. Sometimes also known as pasteis de Belem, the recipe is said to originate from a Catholic monastery in Lisbon. These days they are widely available and very popular also in South Africa, and one of my favorite places to buy them is the local coffee chain Vide e Caffe.
They are a little fiddly to make, but well worth the effort. You could make your own puff pastry, but the ready-to-bake stuff you can buy frozen in the supermarkets is good enough. Especially if you have plenty of other food to prepare for your Christmas feast. Although not a traditional Christmas treat at all, there’s something very rich, kind and celebratory about these little pastries that make you feel very merry indeed.
For 12-15 pasteis (depending on the size of your cupcake pan).
- 1 packet of ready-to-bake puff pastry, at room temperature
- 100 ml cake flour
- 500 ml milk
- 8 egg yolks
- 300 ml sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
- Grated lemon zest of 1 lemon
Heat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius
Beat the egg yolks lightly in a mixing bowl.
Heat 400 ml of the milk together with the sugar, cinnamon stick, lemon zest and vanilla paste on the stove.
Mix the cake flour with the remaining cold milk, and beat to a smooth paste. Add to the hot milk mixture on the stove and stir until all smooth.
Remove the cinnamon stick and add the hot mixture to the eggs in the mixing bowl, and stir until smooth. Leave to cool.
Cut circles of the puff pastry using an upside down glass or cup, and place in each well of a non-stick cupcake pan (normally there are 12 wells in a pan). Using your fingers, gently press the dough around the well to cover from bottom to top.
Pour custard mixture in each well, to about three quarters full.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the pasteis are nicely browned on top.
Let cool, then remove from the cupcake pan and place in paper baking cups. The pasteis can be frozen.
Merry Christmas and enjoy!