Limoncello-Laced Pasteis de Nata (Portugese Custard Tarts)


Last Thursday rolled around, and once again it was time for the monthly cake party. As the host, I had to impress - and these little beauties are certainly impressive. Light, crispy puff pastry, sugary lemony custard, all dusted with icing sugar and eaten in a few sweet bites. I have always loved custard tarts, but have traditionally only eaten British ones made with a nutmeg topping. My love affair with nutmeg is well documented on this here blog, but what you might not know is that there is nothing I wouldn't do for a glass of limoncello. Portugese custard tarts (or pasteis de nata) are made with lemon and cinammon - a surprisingly pleasing flavour combination that I think I might actually prefer to my beloved British nutmeg, especially when laced with a big glug of limoncello for added sweetness and sharpness. I adapted this recipe from the one on the BBC Good Food site, and it's not for the faint-hearted - there are a lot of different pans going at any one time but I think you can do it!

You'll need:

  • 30g plain flour
  • 20g cornflour
  • few drops of vanilla extract
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 125ml water
  • 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
  • a big glug of limoncello
  • a pack of puff pastry (around 350g)
  • flour, icing sugar and ground cinnamon for dusting
  • margarine or butter for greasing your cupcake tin

eggs1. First thing's first - do a little prep. Pre-heat the oven to 220oC and pop in a flat baking tray; if you put your tarts on this to cook, it will heat them from the bottom more efficiently and stop you from having soggy-bottomed tarts. Make sure you've got your eggs ready (I always forget and then have to rush around, getting shell everywhere!). Put your flour, corn flour, vanilla extract and a small splash of the milk into a mixing bowl and combine into a gooey paste.

mixing bowl2. Pop your sugar, water, lemon slices and cinnamon stick into a pan and pop on the hob ready to go (not turned on yet!).

face3. Put the rest of the milk in a separate pan and bring to the boil. BE CAREFUL because burnt milk is a devil to clean, tastes foul and smells just as bad. Pour the boiling milk onto your floury paste and whisk until smooth.

4. Pour back into the pan. This is the tricky part! You'll need to gently heat the milky-floury mixture until it thickens, but at the same time pop the sugar mixture onto a medium heat and wait for that to boil. Keep an eye on both so that nothing burns. You can do it!

5. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon slices (give them a squeeze so you get extra lemony goodness in the mixture) and combine the contents of both pans. Whisk constantly until you get a nice smooth liquid. Use a metal whisk if you can - I tried with plastic the first time and it was impossible to get the mixture smooth.

6. Add in your eggs and your limoncello and whisk to combine into a lemony sugary delicious custard. Pop into a jug, cover with cling film and set aside to cool a bit.

rolling pin and flour7. Dust the side with flour and icing sugar in equal parts. Get out your puff pastry sheet and cut into halves. Dust with cinnamon and sandwich together. Roll into a swiss roll shape, and then cut into twelve equal pieces.

pastry rolls8. Roll out into 10cm-wide disks (or there about). Grease up a cupcake tin and press the disks into the holes. If you have some spare pastry, use a small ball of it to push the pastry disks into the holes - this will stop it tearing and all your delicious custard leaking out.

9. Pour the custard into the tarts and brush the edges with some melted butter so that they go crispy and brown.

custard tarts10. Pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. They're done when the pastry is crispy and brown, and the custard is puffed up and slightly caramelised. Keep an eye on them, because they can go pretty quickly! Leave to cool in the tray and then pop out and enjoy!

pasteis de nata