Great British Bake Off: Pasteis de nata
The technical challenge for Pastry Week on the Great British Bake of was the little Portuguese custard tarts made with puff pastry: pastéis de nata. Delicious. At least the ones we used to buy from The World Café in Crouch End back in the day were. I’m not sure whether my attempt would be as good.
Here are mine. I was pretty pleased.
I got a bit ahead of myself when I decided to make the pastry in advance. It was obvious from the Pastry Week trailers that the technical challenge involved puff pastry, so I made it before the recipe was available on the GBBO website.
Should I make “proper” puff pastry or go with rough puff though? I know they are made using different methods, but, taste-wise, I’ve never been sure of the difference (a quick look at wikipedia suggests that rough puff is just quicker).
Since I’d never made it before (although I did have a disastrous attempt at something similar, but with yeasted dough when I tried to make pain au raisin), I decided to try “proper” puff pastry.
Proper puff pastry
The Bake Off recipe was yet to be published, so, to make my “proper” puff pastry, I used the recipe in James Martin’s book, Sweet. It’s also available online at cooked.com. James Martin says that, when making puff pastry, it’s very important to keep all of the ingredients cold. This applies to everything. Even the flour. I put mine in the fridge while I sorted everything else out.
When I was ready to go, I put plain flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. The recipe says you can mix the pastry on the work top. If I tried that, it would go everywhere. I added 50g of butter that I’d cut into cubes, and used the pastry blender to get to the breadcrumb stage. I added cold water to bring my mixture together into what should have been a soft dough. Mine was a bit on the sticky side. I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of adding just enough water to pastry.
I put a bit more flour in to make the dough a bit less sticky and a bit more soft. When it was workable, I tipped the dough onto my marble slab and, as per James Martin’s instructions, patted it into a 2cm thick rectangle. I even got the tape measure out.
I got a block of butter out of the fridge, put it between two sheets of clingfilm – the recipe says use silicone paper, but I still don’t have any – and bashed it with a rolling-pin. I was aiming for a 15cm x 10cm rectangle.
Once I had my butter rectangle, I dusted the worktop with flour and rolled the dough out to a 30cm x 20cm rectangle. With the long side of the rectangle facing me, I put the butter into the middle and folded one of the short sides of the dough rectangle over it. I folded the other side of the dough over and then sealed the top and bottom so that the butter was fully encased. Finally, I folded the dough in half lengthways.
I turned my pastry envelope through 90° and rolled it out to a 30cm x 20cm rectangle again. Next, I folded the edges into the centre and folded the dough in half lengthways. I turned the dough again and repeated the process. Then I wrapped the pastry in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.
The tart cases
To make the cases for the pastéis de nata, I got my pastry out of the fridge.
James Martin’s recipe made 550g of pastry which would be far too much to make 12 pastéis de nata. I wasn’t sure exactly how much pastry I’d need so I went with half.
I rolled the pastry to another 30×20 rectangle, and, starting with the short side, I rolled it up. The worktop could have done with more of a dusting of flour, because the pastry started to stick to it – aagh! Using a knife, and shoving a bit more flour underneath, I coaxed the pastry into a roll and cut it into rounds. Well, I wouldn’t really call them rounds because they got a bit squashed. Here they are.
The next step was to get the pastry into a muffin tin. According to the recipe, you wet your fingers and press the pastry up the sides of the muffin holes. I don’t think my rounds were big enough, because my pastry got extremely thin towards the top. I was supposed to have enough so that the pastry came just over the top of the holes. Mine were very lucky if they reached the top.
Oh well. I put them into the fridge and started on the custard.
I’ve made custard a lot. Sometimes it’s worked out, and sometimes it hasn’t and I’ve ended up with scrambled eggs. I’ve never made custard the way that this recipe does.
Custard – step one
Step one was to whisk flour into some milk, add lemon zest and a cinnamon stick, heat everything up and cook it until the mixture thickens. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I whisk the flour into the milk over heat? Should I whisk the flour into the cold milk and then heat everything up? I decided to whisk the flour into the milk over a low heat and then turn the heat up until the milk started to simmer. I whisked away until the mixture thickened and then took it off the heat.
Custard – step two
The second thing to do was to heat caster sugar and water until the “soft thread” stage, which is between 106 and 112°C. I put my sugar thermometer into the pan, and also used an electric one to tell me when my mixture got there. The two were several degrees out of kilter. I think it would have taken all day to reach 106 on my sugar thermometer. It seemed to be permanently stuck around 80. When the electric thermometer reached 107° I gradually poured the sugar into the milk mixture. Whether or not the sugar had actually reached, or gone over, soft thread stage I don’t know.
Custard – step three
It was lucky that I’d read the recipe in advance, because the third stage has you pouring the milk and sugar mixture over egg yolks. I had my egg yolks ready and waiting. Actually, the recipe tells you to “strain over the milk mixture, whisking continuously until combined.” How was I supposed to do this?
To me, straining something involves pouring liquid through a sieve. A sieve needs a hand, so does pouring something from a saucepan into a bowl, and so does whisking. So, this is a recipe for the three-handed is it?
I paused and had a little think. What was the point of the straining? I’d assumed it was so that the lemon peel and cinnamon didn’t end up in the finished custard. But no, the recipe says that you don’t take them out until the custard is cool.
Given that I couldn’t see any point in straining the mixture, I just poured it directly onto the egg yolks. I poured it very slowly and whisked very hard. I put some clingfilm over the top and left it to cool. It was a very, very runny custard.
I turned the oven on to 240° top/bottom heat. The last time I tried this setting was with my cottage loaf when I nearly smoked myself out of the kitchen. I have cleaned the oven since then though and, when I came back into the kitchen after catching up on an episode of Home and Away (which, strangely, is just long enough for the oven to reach 240°) the air was perfectly clear.
I poured the custard into the tart cases and put them into the oven. The recipe said they’d need between 15 and 18 minutes and that they’d be done when the pastry was golden and crisp, and the custard was bubbling with tiny brown spots.
I had a feeling that mine wouldn’t take as long, because my tart cases hadn’t made it to the top of the holes in the muffin tin. As a result, they’d have less custard. I checked them after ten minutes and the custard was bubbling away nicely. I gave them a couple more to get a bit more colour on the pastry. After they came out of the oven, I left them to cool in the tin for five minutes, and then put them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Was it worth it?
The children were the first to try them. There was a very satisfying crunch with their first bite, and they were gone with the second. The puff pastry worked. It had layers and was very flaky and light. Making it wasn’t too much of a chore, but I do think Jus-rol probably tastes better. The custard was beautiful. Very smooth, with a delicate lemon and cinnamon flavour.
I think it was worth making these and, given than I have half of my pastry left, I may well try them again. Next time, I’ll make sure that I have enough pastry to reach to the top of the muffin moulds so that I can fit more custard in. The only downside of the pastéis de nata is that they don’t keep too well. We’re going to have to eat them quickly. I don’t think that will be a problem.