Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pastel de nata - Portuguese tarts

This week we lunched out to celebrate H's birthday. We like to go to one of our favourite little country restaurants. It wins lots of prizes for its food, this is not gourmet food, but good homemade delicious cooking. There is no use just turning up, a reservation is always required.
Choosing from the dessert cabinet, where everything is home made, is always difficult, but this week I spied something I have not seen in the café before - Portuguese tarts - Pastel de nata also known as Pastéis de Belém from their association with the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, and the renown Bakery in Belém. These small individual golden tarts immediately transported me to Lisbon.
The owner of our local café is an Austrian, and he often produces a wonderful Apfelstrudel for the menu. I asked him about the Portuguese tarts and how he had learnt the recipe, the answer 'Google'. He too had enjoyed them on a trip to Lisbon and wanted to replicate them on his return to the Cotswolds.
The Bakery in Belém where a continual stream of people trot in and out all day long carrying out boxes of the tarts. Behind the blue blinds there is a warren of rooms where customers can sit and enjoy a leisurely drink and a chat accompanied by a Pastel de nata.
It is believed that these sweet pastries were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks a the Jerónimos Monastery which lies a short walk from the Bakery.
During Portuguese medieval history, the convents and monasteries of Portugal produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for starching the nuns' habits and also in wineries where it was used to clarify wine, such as Porto. It was quite common for these Portuguese monasteries and convents to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Following the expulsion of the religious orders, and later closing many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the former religious clerics, in order to keep producing the secret and distinct recipe, patented and registered the confection. The secret was transmitted to five master pastry chefs who guarded this original recipe, under the Oficina do Segredo, which later passed into the hands of familial descendants.
Since 1837, locals and visitors to Lisbon have visited the bakery to purchase the oven fresh tarts sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
However, in this age of the internet, the religious clerics secret recipe has now spread to our little corner of the world, and I can confirm that they look and taste exactly like the ones we enjoyed in Lisbon.

The cloisters in the monastery - The monastery was designed in a style that later became known as Manueline: a richly ornate architectural design that includes complex sculptural themes incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions, all carved in limestone.
Portuguese images and some information via wikipedia

46 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday to H then and what a lovely place you visited!
    There is something very exciting, I think, about the history of food. Where and how things started...

    Have a lovely day Rosemary : )

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    1. Thank you Demie - I will pass your greetings on to him. The more you look into the history of food the more interesting it becomes. Most national dishes are actually based on peasant food - meals to stretch the food and make it go round more people. The Cassoulet from France, Cottage pie from here, Irish stew, Italian Fritta etc.

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  2. Hi Rosemary, you're a master in serving us the little interesting things of history we didn't learn in school way back and illutrating it all with magnificent pictures. Thank you! This was very interesting again, I had never heard of these tarts but then I've never been in Spain or Portugal ever. Thanks for taking us there today.
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - I never imagined that I would write a post about these little custard tarts from Portugal, but seeing them this week just send me back down memory lane.
      Glad you enjoyed learning about them, and now if ever you visit you know to give them a try.

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  3. Dear Rosemary, Happy Birthday to H. You write the most interesting and lovely posts. Thank you for sharing the history of these delicious looking Portuguese tartlets. Would love to pop one into my mouth right now. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - Thanks for the birthday greetings. Glad you enjoyed the post - if you go to Lisbon, do try these little custard tarts.

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  4. Hi Rosemary,

    Thanks for taking me on a "virtual" trip of my home country through your post. The tarts are delicious, we always have some when on holiday in Portugal. Have you tried them warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon?

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    1. Dear Paula - yes, that is the way to eat them - warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
      I did not know that you came from Portugal, hope you felt I did your lovely home country justice.

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  5. Happy Birthday to Mr. H.
    What can I say about this fantastic post Rosemary.
    I am off to Lisbon tomorrow.. and now I feel i have to visit O pasteleria do Belem..!
    We often go there of a cold winter morning for pasteis and the best hot cocoa this side of Jamaica.!!
    Great post Rosemary.
    I love the area near Jeronimos. "Illustrious 6" is moored across the other side of the rail tracks near the Belem tower.
    Like Paula wrote..Pasteis absolutely great with cinnamon.
    wishing you a happy day
    xx val

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    1. Dear Val - so pleased that this post is sending you scuttling off to get your Pastéis de Belém tomorrow - enjoy.
      Thank you for the birthday wishes.
      Seeing the Portuguese tarts in the Cotswolds took me back to the Bakery in Belém and the visit we made to the Jerónimos Monastery.

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  6. Hello Rosemary, Those tarts are absolutely ubiquitous here in Taiwan (also at any Asian bakery or dim sum place in America). I checked on the internet to make sure they were really the same; some Asian recipes even use the word Portuguese. I guess this is not too surprising; the Portuguese were big explorers in this region, and even gave Taiwan its earlier name of Formosa.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Dear Jim - the secret recipe is a secret no longer - it is a worldwide secret. I wonder whatever the religious clerics would think.
      It is probably a bit like the secret Bakewell Pudding from my home county of Derbyshire. Nobody is supposed to know apart from two bakeries in Bakewell. Everyone knows how to make Bakewell tarts but do they know how to make the pudding?
      By the way I think that Formosa is a much prettier name. It conjures up an island of flowers.

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  7. The Portuguese tarts are delicious. They are popular here in Toronto too, mostly made by Portugese bakeries here. Another popular dish here is their Portugese chicken. Thank you for sharing the history of the tarts and the architecture. Happy Birthday to Mr. H.

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    1. Thank you for the birthday greetings Pamela - as I mentioned to Jim, the religious Catholic clerics secret recipe is obviously not a secret anymore.

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  8. We have egg tarts of which origin is thought to be Portugal. Egg custard is filled in pastry crust and is baked. Probably the recipe would have Japanese twist. There are popular recipes brought into Japan by Portuguese missionaries. Castella is a type of sponge cake introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the mid-16th century. The first castella recipe continued to be improved today’s moist Japanese castella. “Tempura” is thought to be typical Japanese dish, but it is originally from Portugal. I enjoyed this sweetly interesting post and beautiful architectures.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - it seems that these little pastries are known world wide, the Portuguese were such a great nation of navigators around the globe. It is interesting that you mention the Castella sponge cake being introduced by the Jesuit missionaries from Portugal, and it fits in with what I have learnt about the monks and nuns making lots of different sweet pastries and cakes made with the left over egg yolks.
      Glad you enjoyed the post, lovely to hear from you.

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  9. Surely this story about a secret recipe passed on to, and guarded by, master pastry chefs belongs in The Da Vinci Code novel - how exciting! Now that's a dessert with history :) Happy Birthday to H, what a fantastic way to celebrate.

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    1. Does sound to be rather Da Vinci Code stuff doesn't it Rosemary. However, it appears that someone did not keep the secret. Perhaps they had their palms crossed with gold!!!
      Thanks for the birthday wishes.

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  10. Dear Rosemary - Happy Birthday to H — if I were celebrating in your area, I'd want to go to that wonderful dining spot, too. I've never had any Portuguese tarts, let alone pastry, but I can see I haven't lived fully. But your posting (which I'm reading at 11:00 a.m.) puts me in the mood for a trip to my own deli, Mazzaro's!

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    1. Dear Mark - I have been living under the impression that these little pastries were a secret recipe, but it seems that whole wide world knows about them.
      Thanks for your birthday wishes - it is nice to have a lunch time outing from time to time - do hope you visited your local deli today.

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  11. Looking at those last two photos makes me wonder what on earth happened to craftsmen built architecture!

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    1. It makes me think of filigree work done in stone.

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  12. The tarts are lovely. I like custard recipes and can actually pull them off.

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    1. I can make them with a shortcrust pastry, but these look as if they are made with a more flaky pastry.

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  13. Wow ...what amazizing photo's some stunning architecture

    Annie

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    1. Dear Annie - Lisbon is a very interesting city to visit with some spectacular architecture especially the monastery.

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  14. Hallo Rosemary!Happy birthday to Mr,H!Lovely tarts!Wonderful photos and beautiful plases!I hav'nt visit Spain!Maybe in the future!Wishing you a lovely evening my dear!
    Dimi..

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    1. Thank you for the birthday greetings Dimi - I loved your last photo of the wild sea.

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  15. Oh, I can taste them now. I was introduced to them on my trip to Portugal a year ago, and they were warm and delicious. Lucky you, finding them so close to home!

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    1. Dear Debi - it is interesting how food can conjure up places, and atmospheres for us. Glad you were reminded of your trip to Portugal.
      Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving day.

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  16. A fascinating culinary and historical lesson! Must be a delightful place to browse and also buy from. The monastery architecture is stunning.

    Rosemary, in reply to your comment - you are so correct - Indian women are dignified and nearly always spotless too, even if their surrounds are filthy. Quite amazing.

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    1. Dear Karen - I never imagined that this week I would write a post on Lisbon - just shows where a custard tart can lead you.

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  17. Dear Rosemary,
    Those little tarts look delicious! Thanks for the interesting history and wonderful photos. The cloisters are beautiful.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed seeing the cloisters Betty, and learning the history of the Portuguese tarts.

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  18. Interesting that a meal out in a local restaurant should lead to an informative post about tarts and Lisbon!

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    1. You are right, I certainly didn't set out that day thinking I would end up writing about Lisbon either.

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  19. Dear Rosemary,
    Please add me to the long list of your readers who wish H a very happy birthday! It looks as though, given the loving company, beautiful setting, and delicious pastry, that you had all of the ingredients for a perfect birthday celebration. I've been craving pastry and custard and a trip to Lisbon since reading your wonderful post- thank you!
    Best regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika - Lisbon is a must if you have the opportunity to go. Wonderful little yellow trams to travel on, the mystical hills dotted with fairytale palaces in Sintra just a short train ride from the city, the Gulbenkian Museum, Tile Museum - I could go on and on.

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  20. Dear Rosemary
    I am the last person that I wish to your H ,Happy Birthday ! You had a good time at this shop !The tarts look delicious and the history very interesting !Thank you for this sharing !I wish to both of you love , happiness , healthy and lovely moments !
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - thank you so much for your very kind and generous comments. Seeing the little Portuguese tarts sent me off down memory lane for the time we spent 5 days in Lisbon - a great city to visit.

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  21. Hi Rosemary,
    I am getting so behing in catching up with blogs so a very belated birthday to H. That dessert cabinet looks amazing and what a wonderful surprise for you both to be reminded of your trip to Lisbon. The architecture looks amazing and I enjoyed finding about the orgins of the tart.
    Sarah x

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    1. Thanks Sarah - I will pass your birthday wishes on. It is strange how seeing something out of context can take you down memory lane which is what these little Portuguese tarts did.

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  22. What a surprise! I expected a visit to a charming little restaurant and found I was on a magical trip to Portugal! Thank you, Rosemary.

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    1. It took me by surprise too Nilly .

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  23. In two weeks I will taste those lovely little tarts :) Thank you for the story, dear Rosemary !

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    1. I don't know how you found this old post Dani but so glad you saw it before your trip to Portugal - have a wonderful time - Lisbon is a wonderful city to visit, and the tarts are delicious.

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