There is no sweet treat so distinctly Portuguese as the Pastel de Nata, a simple egg custard tart that has become a Portuguese favorite.
The confection goes back over three centuries, to the active days of the historic Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belém district. The monks and nuns there used egg whites to starch their vestments. To not waste the yolks, they were used in various desserts.
When the monastery needed to fundraise, they sold what came to be known as Pastel de Belém, these simple, scrumptious rich tarts. When the monastery closed, it sold its recipe to bakers who opened a bakery in 1837 to make and sell the delicacy, Pastéis de Belém.
In Belém, you can visit this Pastéis de Belém, the beautiful historic bakery, very close to Jerónimos Monastery. It is probably the most famous and popular place to buy them, the original bakery! But the pastry is now made throughout Portugal, with small variations from region to region.
One can find a delicious Pastel de Nata at bakeries all over Sintra and Porto. In Lisbon, one of the most popular and best reviewed shops is Manteigaria (pictured above and in the video below), where they have perfected the flaky, buttery crust and bake the custard to a caramelized perfection. They consistently win “Best of Lisbon” awards.
Like many of my favorite dishes from my travels, Pastel de Nata is at its core a very simple treat. The ingredients are basic, but they must be fresh and local. The preparation is key, from the texture of the crust to the optimal baking time to brown the custard filling.
And the best shops serve enough of these, that you can buy on that is still warm from the oven, so that the butter of the crust coats your lips as you sink into its sweet, creamy center.
These pastries are small but rich. Start with one. Consider enjoying it with a cup of coffee. Some people like a dash of cinnamon with their as well, though that is up to you.
We hope you can join us soon on a Portugal Untour, either in the north in Porto, or in Sintra, in central Portugal, just outside of Lisbon and a stone’s throw from Belém, the birthplace of this national sweet.
In the meantime, we plan to offer a Weekend in Portugal experience, live on Zoom, which will include a lesson on how to make the Pastel de Nata from scratch in your very own kitchen! Check back on our Virtual Events page for details, or sign up for updates on this and other virtual events that we have in the works.