Saturday, May 23rd 2020 – Recipes (Pasteis de Natas, Baked Custard, Meringues, Naan Breads)
I know, I know. Are we doing nothing apart from baking? Well, no, we’re also working full time, running, cycling, walking, so cake is essential to break up the day! For a while I’ve been wondering if I could make the wonderful Portuguese egg custard tarts which I have been obsessed with since we first went to Macau and later to Lisbon. I know a lot of people who have tried, and it’s caused them a world of grief. However, nothing daunted… I did cheat and buy ready made frozen puff pastry, because even in lockdown life is too damn short. That was the only cheat.
I dug around for recipes for a while, not finding any anywhere I would normally go to. A Portuguese recipe book that I brought home from Porto had a recipe but gave no ideas of oven temperatures, how many it was meant to make, or any of those useful things. Plus all the quantities were in cups, and while I have a set of measuring cups, I’m not America and I decided I couldn’t deal with it along with a tricky recipe.
I eventually found a recipe from Nuno Mendes, a Portuguese chef who is fairly famous in UK culinary circles. Surely he’d get it right? Well… actually… not so much. Let me tell you the tale, starting with the ingredients and quantities listed in his recipe.
Pasteis de Natas (Portuguese Custard Tarts)
Time: Depends how good you are at making custard. Say 30-45 minutes plus 13-15 minutes in the oven.
- 1 x 320g sheet all-butter puff pastry
- Melted butter, for greasing
- Sugar and ground cinnamon, for dusting
For the custard:
- 250ml whole milk
- 1 x cinnamon stick
- A few strips of lemon zest
- 20g butter
- 2 x tablespoons plain white flour
- 1 x teaspoon cornflour
- 2 x egg yolks
For the sugar syrup:
- 225g caster sugar
- 1 x cinnamon stick
- A few strips of lemon zest
OK, makes six. Riiiiight! 6 giant tarts perhaps. More of that in a moment. You can’t get 320g puff pastry. You can get 400g, in two blocks of 200g, so theoretically, that’s 8 tarts. I got 15 out of that quantity of pastry and if/when I do it again, I shall roll it even thinner. I imagine I will get around 16-18 tarts and that might actually mean all the custard gets used, rather than me having at least 50% of the custard left!
- Brush six individual muffin tins or a 12-hole tin with butter. Chill in the fridge. Roll the pastry into a 2–3mm-thick rectangle and roll lengthways into a tight sausage, about 5cm in diameter. Slice into six discs, 1–2cm thick. Press discs into the tins, and chill them while you make the custard.
Note: Unless you have the 320g block I fail to see how this is possible, and it really is going to leave you with vast amounts of unused pastry, which will also mean you have vast amounts of custard left. I’ll come to that, but even with 15 cases I still had loads left.
Also, right now and so you don’t forget about doing it, prick the pastry all over with a fork. If you don’t, when you put them in the oven, the tarts will rise, and rise, and rise, and will then topple over and spill custard everywhere which will then bake in situ. You will then spend a considerable amount of time scraping custard off various surfaces, while cursing in several languages!
- Heat 150ml of the milk in a pan with the cinnamon, lemon zest and half the butter, heat to just below boiling point and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Remove the cinnamon and lemon zest.
Note: I doubled the quantity because of the amount of pastry cases I now had. I should not have done!
- In a bowl, mix the flour and cornflour to a thin paste, gradually adding the remaining milk. Pour the warm milk over the paste, stirring well, then pour it back into the pan. Cook, stirring gently, over a low heat for a few minutes until it thickens to a double cream consistency. Whisk in the remaining butter and remove from the heat.
- To make the sugar syrup, put the ingredients in a pan with 75ml water and cook over a medium heat for five minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Cook over a low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until you have a light brown caramel.
Note: I would recommend doing this before you carry out any of the custard making steps!
- Add 75ml water and return the pan to a gentle heat to dissolve any solid caramel. Strain it into a heatproof bowl. Pour half the syrup into the custard and whisk well.
- Preheat the oven to its highest setting and put a baking sheet on the top shelf.
Note: Preheat the oven to 260ºC. “Highest setting” is really not helpful!
- Just before cooking the tarts, pour the custard into a measuring jug and stir in the egg yolks. Add a splash of milk to bring the quantity up to 300ml.
- Pour the custard into the pastry-lined muffin tins and bake on the hot baking sheet for 9–13 minutes, until the tops are dark.
Note: They’ll likely need at least the full 13 minutes.
- Brush the tarts with the remaining sugar syrup, leave to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to serve.
Notes: The custard is well nigh perfect (despite there being too much of it). The pastry isn’t right. I’m not sure quite why, possibly because it’s pre-bought, but it was not sweet and I think it should be. More experimentation is clearly going to be necessary!
So, now I have vast quantities of custard left over. So what to do with it? After a bit of thought I wondered if I could make some pseudo-creme brulees. Actually, yes I could. In this instanced the recipe is very simple indeed.
- Custard (see the Pasteis de Natas recipe)
- Demerara sugar (1 teaspoon per custard)
- Pre-heat your oven to 200ºC.
- Grease sufficients ramekins to take all the custard.
- Top the ramekins up with custard.
- Place a bain marie in the oven (I used a large shallow casserole dish) filled with enough hot water to come two thirds of the way up the outside of the ramekins.
- Put the ramekins in the bain marie and then cook until the custard is set (this took around 20 minutes for me).
- To serve, scatter demerara sugar over the tops of the custards and warm them under a hot grill until the sugar bubbles.
- You can finish them with a blowtorch should you happen to have one.
So, that was the custard. I also had 4 egg whites left over. Now I could have just frozen them but I already have 12 egg whites in the freezer and frankly how many more do I need? There aren’t that many things you can do with just egg whites, apart from an egg white omelette (and why would anyone do that?). So meringues it had to be.
Time: 20 minutes preparation, 90 minutes cooking
- 4 egg whites
- 115g caster sugar
- 115g icing sugar
- Make icing sugar because it cannot be had for love nor money at present. To do this place caster sugar or even granulated sugar into a food processor and whizz and whizz until it turns to powder. Sift it to make sure it is of the correct consistency.
- Heat the oven to 110ºC/100ºC fan/gas Mk ¼.
- Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick liner or parchment paper (meringue can stick on greaseproof paper and foil).
- Tip the egg whites into a large clean mixing bowl (not plastic). Beat them on medium speed with an electric hand whisk until the mixture resembles a fluffy cloud and stands up in stiff peaks when the blades are lifted.
- Turn the speed up and start to add the caster sugar, one dessertspoonful at a time. Continue beating for 3-4 seconds between each addition. Adding the sugar slowly at this stage helps prevent the meringue from weeping later. Don’t over-beat. When ready, the mixture should be thick and glossy.
- Sift one third of the icing sugar over the mixture and then gently fold it in with a big metal spoon or rubber spatula. Continue to sift and fold until all the sugar is used. Don’t over-mix. The mixture should now look smooth and billowy.
- Scoop up a heaped dessertspoonful of the mixture and ease it onto your baking sheet to make an oval shape.
- Bake for 90 to 115 minutes in a fan oven, 75 minutes in a conventional or gas oven, until the meringues sound crisp when tapped underneath and are a pale coffee colour.
- Leave to cool. They will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.
I served some with the lemon ice cream I made a few weeks back, a sort of deconstructed lemon meringue tart if you will! They’re good with a coffee too!
Finally, the same weekend, we had an Indian “takeaway” from the local supermarket so I figured I’d try making naan breads. I turned this time to the BBC Good Food site.
Time: 20 minutes preparation, 35 minutes cooking plus rising and proving time.
Serves: 6 – 8
- 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
- 2 tsp golden caster sugar
- 300g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 25g butter or ghee, melted, plus extra 2-3 tbsp for greasing and brushing
- 150ml natural yogurt
- 1 tbsp nigella seeds
- Put 125ml warm water into a bowl and sprinkle over the yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar. Leave for 10-15 mins or until frothy.
- In a larger bowl put the flour, remaining sugar, ½ tsp salt and baking powder. Mix together then make a well in the centre into which you pour the melted butter, yogurt, nigella seeds and yeast mixture.
- Stir well, then start to bring the mixture together with your hands. If it’s very wet add a spoonful of flour but if it’s dry add a splash more warm water. It should be a very soft dough but not so wet that it won’t come together into a ball of dough.
- When you’re happy with the consistency, start kneading, first in the bowl then transfer the mixture onto a well floured surface and continue to knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic but still soft.
- Grease a large bowl with extra melted butter or ghee then shape the dough into a ball and place in the prepared bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 1 hr or until doubled in size.
- Divide the dough into 6 balls and put them on a baking tray dusted with flour, then cover the tray with a damp tea towel.
- Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Take one of the balls of dough and roll it out to form a teardrop shape that’s approximately 21cm long and around 13cm at the widest part.
- When the pan is very hot, carefully lay the naan bread into it. Let it dry fry and puff up for about 3 mins, then turn over and cook on the other side for another 3-4 mins or until cooked through and charred in patches.
- Heat your oven to its lowest setting and put the cooked naan bread on a baking sheet. Brush with a little melted butter and put it on the baking sheet and cover with foil.
- Keep warm in the oven and layer up the cooked naans one on top of each other as you make them, brushing each one with melted butter or ghee as you go.
- Serve warm with curry or dips.
I used strong brown flour (you use what you can get, right?) and wasn’t able to leave the dough to double in size because we needed dinner! Mine did increase in size, though not by anywhere near that much, but I think I need a warmer place than the airing cupboard! They were good and I froze the spares.