I’m not much of a sweet tooth, and unlike Waz I’m not much of a coffee drinker. But when I do indulge in a proper espresso it’s always lovely to complement it with a sweet little morsel. Just like nata – or proper Portuguese custard tarts. These delicacies are made with a puff pastry base and a vanilla egg custard filling with a hint of orange zest.
They are by no means the only custard tart around. Waz and I are also huge fans of Chinese dan ta – those lovely little glossy-topped, flaky-based tarts you get when you have good yum cha (also known as dim sum).
A proper Australian bakery will stock the Down Under custard tart, which I think has a sweet shortcrust pastry and the telltale sprinkling of nutmeg on top.
But what I love about nata is the delicious caramelised top that complements coffee so well.
And who knew these tartlets were so easy to make? I really thought they’d take ages to prepare – and they probably would, if you were daft enough to make your own puff pastry – but with some decent shop-bought dough and a quick homemade custard you can throw them together quickly.
We made the mistake of whipping the eggs and sugar too much. The mixture was quite aerated when we added the orange-infused vanilla and milk mixture. This left a really frothy topping on our custard that rose up heaps when the tarts were in the oven, but sunk back a lot when we took them out.
Nata filling is supposed to sink down a bit as they cool, but I think we should have taken more care not to fluff up our mixture so much, which meant we couldn’t fit as much custard into our pastry cases.
These little tarts would be a great end to a dinner party with coffee and you can make them the day before, so no cooking on the night.
Thanks to Allegra McAvedy for the recipe, which we got from the Word of Mouth food blog.
250g homemade rough puff pastry ( or 1 packet frozen puff pastry)
zest of 1 orange
vanilla pod, split in half, seeds scraped out and kept separate
4 egg yolks
150g white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
– Grease your tins/trays with butter. You could use cupcake or muffin trays.
– Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick for lining the trays. Then cut circles that will line the holes and press them in. We used a cookie/biscuit cutter of the right size to make our circles – or the open end of a jar might work.
– Preheat the oven to 220°C/435°F.
– Heat milk with orange zest and the vanilla pods, not the seeds. Don’t let it boil.
– Beat egg yolks in a bowl with the sugar until pale. Stir in the flour and vanilla seeds.
– Get the milk to nearly boiling, then strain through a sieve onto the egg mix while whisking. Discard the zest and vanilla pod.
– Fill each of the pastry cases to the top.
– Cook for 15-25 minutes until they are cooked through depending on size. They might puff up but don’t worry, they will flop back down on cooling. If you don’t get the caramelised burnt spots on top, finish them off under the grill – a blowtorch would probably be a bit drastic here!
Allegra recommends eating them within 2 days and best not refrigerated.