Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RECIPE - Pastel de Belém

This recipe makes no claims to authenticity. It's not the recipe used at Lisbon's famed Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, where these sweet-egg custard tarts became famous. It couldn't be, since the recipe used there is a closely guarded secret, supposedly only known to three people in the world. (To read more about the history of this pastry, click here.) In fact, since it's not the authentic recipe, this one shouldn't even be called Pastel de Belém since that name is registered to the Confeitaria alone. The proper name should be the more generic Pastel de Nata (Cream tart). However, this recipe's source, a Brazilian cookbook called Cozinha Regional Brasileira - Rio de Janeiro names it Pastel de Belém, and most Brazilians would call it the same thing. So shall we.

Since this recipe is intended for amateur cooks and homemakers, it uses commercial ingredients, like frozen puff pastry and sweetened condensed milk, neither of which are in the original recipe whatever it is. However, these labor-saving ingredients increase greatly the chances that our readers might tackle these tarts at home. It's worth it, as they are delicious. And maybe, after making them at home, our readers who find themselves in Lisbon will make their way down to the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém to sample the real McCoy.
RECIPE - Pastel de Belém 
Makes 10 tarts

1 package frozen puff pastry
3 cups whole milk
2 cups sweetened condensed milk
6 egg yolks
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
granulated white sugar for sprinkling
Let the puff pastry thaw according to package directions. Preheat the oven to 400F (300C).

In a large pan, combine the milk, condensed milk, egg yolks, the sugar. Mix thoroughly. Put the corn starch in a small tea cup, then slowly add about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, stirring constantly to avoid lumps, until the corn starch dissolves. Pour the corn starch mixture into the pan and stir again.

Put the pan on the stove, turn on the heat to medium and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and reserve.

Roll out the puff pastry and cut out 10 circles, just the size that can fit into the holes of a non-stick muffin tin. Drape each circle over a hole in the tin, and gently press it into place at the bottom of the hole. Spoon in enough cream just to fill the cups of puff pastry. Sprinkle each with a small amount of sugar and put the muffin tin in the oven.

Cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the pastry is browned and fluffy and the custard is semi-solid. Use a toothpick to check for doneness - if a toothpic inserted into the custard comes out clean the custard is set.

Cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack, then remove the tarts.

Serve, sprinkled with powdered cinnamon if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

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