A little secret!

Pasteis de nata

When in Portugal, you just have to visit Belem and of course taste the famous “Pasteis de Belem”. Little delicacies that you bite into and before you know it…gone in four bites…or two if you’ve been waiting all-day and are really hungry. People wait in long queues to get hold of these babies. You can’t have a “bica” (espresso) and not order a Pastel de nata at any coffee shop in Portugal. Pasteis de nata are the ‘imitations’ – you can find them at any confectionery in Portugal but there is only one place where you can taste the “Pasteis de Belem” originals.

“Pasteis de Belem” date all the way back to the 1820’s. During the revolution, money was tight, so the nuns who originally baked them at a monastery nearby, caved in. They sold the secret recipe to a confectioner! The secret remains closely guarded within the family in Belem. Read more here.

Does the secret lie in the pastry shell or is it in the custard filling?

My little secret – I like to eat them cold. Somehow they taste better that way.

As promised, here is the recipe for those legendary little custard tarts. Nothing tastes like the originals, but  these come close to it.

I have mentioned before that I am no “Masterchef” when it comes to baking and pastries, so I have taken the easy route and bought some good quality, ready-made butter puff pastry. You can try the recipe from “Leite’s Culinaria if you are up to the “pastry challenge”.

I used the same recipe but changed a few ingredients – cream and lemon peel.

I thought making ‘Pasteis de nata’ was going to be a daunting task, but they were actually quite simple to make.

Here are some tips:

1. I would let the syrup stand for at least an hour or more so as to absorb the cinnamon and lemon flavour.

2. Be careful when baking the ‘pasteis’, not to burn the custard and shell around the edges.  They should bake quickly at a high temperature: turn the grill on and put the rack higher to let the custard brown on top. Alternatively use a torch to toast the top like you would a creme brulee.

Pastry dough

Pastry in cups

Pasteis de nata

Recipe: Pasteis de Nata


  • 1 package butter puff pastry (makes 18)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups milk, use 1/4 for mixing with the flour.
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 strips lemon peel
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks, whisked
  • Powdered sugar
  • Cinnamon


  1. Roll out the pastry onto a floured surface.
  2. Roll the dough lengthways into a log, dusting the flour from underneath as you roll.
  3. Trim the ends off and cut the log in half.
  4. Wrap in plastic and chill it for 2 hours or overnight.
  5. Whisk 1/4 cup of the milk with the flour until smooth. Set aside.
  6. To make a syrup: put sugar, cinnamon, water and lemon peel  in a small saucepan and bring to boil without stirring.
  7. Warm the rest of the milk and cream in another saucepan. Whisk this into the flour mixture.
  8. Slowly add the syrup to this mixture, whisking briskly.
  9. Next, add the vanilla and stir but do not allow to boil.
  10. Whisk the yolks in and stir until custard thickens then pour into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Assembling and baking Pastry shells:

  1. Heat the oven to 250°C.
  2. Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and place onto a floured surface. Stretch the legth slightly if it looks too thick.
  3. Cut the roll into little pieces of about 3 cm long, depending on the size of the muffin cups.
  4. Place the pieces into the muffin cups, cut-side down(with the spiral facing the top)
  5. Leave for awhile so that the dough softens slightly and is ready to be worked.
  6. Wet your thumbs with some water and use it to flatten the dough. Work from the middle towards the sides and up. Leave a slight lip on the edges.
  7. Fill each cup with the custard until 3/4 full.
  8. Place the pasteis in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until you see the edges turning brown and flaky.
  9. Pay close attention not to burn the pastry.
  10. Turn the grill on and brown the top for a while longer, keeping a close look so as not to burn.
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. They will start to sink in the middle.
  12. Remove the pasteis gently onto a cooling rack.
  13. Serve on a plate and give it a good sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 18

Culinary tradition: Portuguese

Enjoy !

Take a peep at this short documentary on the Pasteis de Belem.


9 thoughts on “A little secret!

  1. I made a version of these tarts (by far not as beautiful!) for a cultural blog post I did last year and they were absolutely delicious! Definitely will have to give this recipe a try very soon!

  2. The video is so lovely! Makes me think of my family and how we often rush for the last of the best from a store in rosettenville. I am definitely going to try your recipe! 🙂

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