Today I felt proud of my Portuguese origins. Pasteis de Nata from Belem were voted amongst the best foods in the World by a whole host of Chefs that I admire and respect. Pasteis de Nata are as intrinsic to the Portuguese culture as Fado or Bacalhau. Originally conceived by the Monks based at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in 1832 as a means of surviving once they'd been evicted from their monastery by the Revolutionaries, they were offered to the Sugar cane factory shop opposite for sale. Soon the word spread and in 1837 they officially began baking them in the buildings adjacent to the factory and the Cafe de Belem was born. Today an extraordinary 12,000 Pasteis are baked each day and I'm positive none go to waste.
To this day no one but the actual Confectioners knows the secret recipe and, they are sworn to secrecy. The recipe has been interpreted by many others and these imitations are sold throughout Portugal and Europe, the best in London are baked at a tiny cafe in Golborne Road, Lisboa. The cafe opened in the 1970's by a friend of my Fathers for the Portuguese community, but it now crops up in every guide book to London and is known the world over. The Portuguese are well known for their sweet tooth, cakes, biscuits, puddings and tarts feature heavily in any family get together. Children are taught from a very young age to bake, I baked religiously every Saturday afternoon with my Mother. It's a tradition I've already started with Matilda, she loves seeing Mummy mix and scrape then squeal's with amazement when the cake comes out of the oven ready for her to dig in.
The Cafe in Belem has become a tourist attraction as big as the important monuments nearby. Crowds flock there each day, every Summer we too go on a pilgrimage to its doors for a coffee and a handmade Pastel sprinkled with icing sugar and Cinnamon. I quite often daydream about the crunch of that first bite followed by the sweet custard spilling out into my mouth - as good as a Laduree Macaron!
If you want to have a go at making them yourselves here is a recipe that comes straight from the Portuguese equivalent of Delia's Complete Cookery Course.
Pasteis De Nata (makes around 10-12)
300g of Filo pastry
250ml of Full fat milk
100g refined sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of Corn flower
Zest of 1 lemon
Preheat your oven to 250-300
Unroll the filo pastry and cut in half length ways then roll up one sheet then roll the others one by one on top, as shown in the photo below. Cut into 1 cm slices and fill a tin muffin tray as shown below, then chill in the fridge whilst you make the custard.
For the custard place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan except for the lemon zest. Heat gently whilst stirring until you have a thick Custard consistency (try not to let it get too lumpy). Let it just about come to the boil, take it straight off the heat and stir in your lemon zest. Let the custard mixture cool down then pour into each muffin hole and place in a very hot oven 250-300c until they're golden and firm. The oven needs to be piping hot so that the pastry comes out very crispy. You see very easy, I'm off now myself to give it a go!