The pastel de nata is one of the most delicious simple treats my taste buds have had the pleasure of discovering in a very long time. This delicious Portuguese egg pastry dessert is crunchy, creamy, and wonderful anytime of day.

It's an unexpected thing when you travel around the world and a foreign bite reminds you of home. I couldn't help but laugh to myself when first biting into a pastel de nata, in Portugal, with how it oddly reminded me of Maysville, Kentucky's own transparent pie. However, as anyone from the river valley knows, something about home has a way of following us wherever we go.

Created by the Monastery of Jeronimos in the 18th century, monks began the tradition of these unique custard treats. Convents and monasteries used egg whites for starching clothes. With so many egg yolks leftover, nuns and monks would sweeten the day with cakes and pastries.

The popularity of sweet pastries grew and grew as the monks started selling to a sugar refinery for revenue in 1820. Since 1837, locals and visitors to Lisbon, Portugal have enjoyed these creamy custard treats lightly adorned in powdered sugar and a traditional Portuguese touch... cinnamon.

Variations of the pastel de nata can be found all over the world. Every Portuguese pastelaria (pastry shop) or padaria (bakery) make dozens or even hundreds a day. In fact, these custard treats are so popular the minute you step off of the airplane in Lisbon, you can find them in the first Starbucks left of the baggage claim. Train stations, gas stations, it doesn't matter, they all have them. I can tell you this for a fact because I have been eating them everywhere humanly possible. It's hard to get enough. They're crunchy, creamy and irresistible.

They are such an accurate representation of the Portuguese culinary world , the pastel de nata was chosen in 2006 to represent Portugal in the European Union Cafe Europe held under Europe Day.

Some learn to make them through cooking school or pastry classes, but for many the tricks of this custard trade are passed down generation to generation.

The original recipe is still highly guarded by the monks, however different variations and recipes have been created and modified by different regions and cities throughout Portugal. Some are curdled and some are burned, creating a more rustic appearance. Regardless, they are a simple delight that can be finished in several bites or one large gobble.

Pastel de Nata ( Portuguese custard tart):

Pastry

When using puffed pastry:

This dessert shell can be made from scratch or, if you're in a bit of a hurry I recommend using thawed frozen puff pastry.

- Lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Cut out four and a half inch circles using a cookie cutter. If you don't have a cookie cutter, use a wide-mouth jar. That works just as well. Ease the dough circles into 12 muffin cups, placing one in each cup. Place in freezer for five minutes. Remove and fill each cupcake circle with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to ten minutes to set.

Puff pastry from scratch:

20 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

10 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

5 - 7 tablespoons ice water

-Make in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flower, salt, and sugar to combine.

-Add the butter and pulse until the flower resembles coarse uneven cornmeal (10, one second pulses).

-Drizzle 5 tablespoons of ice water over the mix, pulsing several times to work the water into the flour.

-Add remaining water, one tablespoon at a time, and continue pulsing until the mix develops small curds.

-Turn the dough onto a floured work surface, shape into a disc and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

-On a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to 1/16 in thickness.

- Lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Cut out four and a half inch circles using a cookie cutter. If you don't have a cookie cutter, use a wide-mouth jar. That works just as well.

-Ease the dough circles into muffin cups, placing one in each cup. Place in freezer for five minutes.

-Remove and trim any overhanging dough with the back of a knife so the pastry is evenly distributed into the cups and none is hanging over the top of the tin.

-Fill each cupcake circle with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes to set.

Filling:

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1 cup milk

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Half a vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon of vanilla

1 cup white sugar

6 egg yolks

-In a saucepan combine milk, corn starch, sugar, and vanilla. Cook stirring constantly until mixture thickens.

-Place egg yolks in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk half cup of hot milk mixture into egg yolks. Gradually add egg yolk mixture back to remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly.

-Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove vanilla bean.

Filled pastry lined muffin cups with mixture and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is lightly browned on top.

Hints:

- make sure dough is layered evenly

- flour is removed

- dough is rolled neatly

- best eaten warm

- sprinkle with cinnamon before serving

Today's recipes can be found at All recipes.com and were contributed by John J. Pacheco.

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