02 January 2008

Pasteis De Nata

“YOU....are barking MAD!” I said loudly to myself.

“It’s over 40 degrees centigrade outside, nearly 50 in the kitchen and here you are flouring your rolling pin and working with puff pastry of all things. It’s just wrong

Talking to yourself. A clear sign that you’re losing your marbles.

In the lounge room in front of the fan, Mr Stickyfingers – just as batty as I – was ironing. A newly acquired skill designed to kill two birds with one stone, resulting in having pressed clothes and the satisfaction of working his way through over 300 Arthouse DVDs in our collection. My beloved was cool as a cucumber and hardly broke a sweat. Onscreen was the enthrallingly balletic cinematography of The Road to Perdition.

Why do so many people always ask me to make dessert? And then why do I instantly feel I must bake? It must be from having been raised part time in the Magyar tradition by my Hungarian Aunty Susi, where to feed is to love. I can hear her say to Uncle Tomy “It’s OK, have some cake Mütze.” Or is it because Dad went to William Angliss to learn to be a Pastry Chef, just for fun?

I hate baking. I should have made Malaysian Gula Malacca. That’s idiot proof. Sago pearls in thick coconut cream with a touch of pandang essence topped with a rich swirl of dark palm sugar syrup. God I’m a dolt!”

The sweat was dripping into my eyes from my brow as I wielded the heavy wooden rolling pin. I dashed back and froward to the fridge. My red Birkenstock thongs were dusted with flour. I would take out a small, chilled cut round of pastry and roll it out. Then back to the fridge to get out the muffin tray and insert the rolled round into one of the cavities. Back into the fridge the tray went and I took out some more pastry to roll.

Back and forth for 24 rounds of pastry, praise the lord that the humidity was down to about 15%. The Convection oven was heated to 230 degrees centigrade; pant, pant. The searing heat of the day had caused the double cream to separate in the custard and I had to rescue the oily mass with a solution of cornflour and milk; BUGGER!

The house smelt wonderful. The ailing custard failed to produce the trademark black blotches. The separation had prevented the smooth tops I am accustomed to. But what else do you serve the Vanilla Slice critiquing Custard Crusaders on New Years Eve, but buttery, eggy, sweet Pasteis De Nata - Portuguese Custard tarts?

They went down a treat. One friend asked to come and live with us and there would be no tarts to bring home. On the verge of heat exhaustion I thirstily settled into drinking champagne. That was to prove to be another crazy decision. New Year’s Day became a nauseous blur.

The history and the how of Portuguese Custard Tarts was eloquently laid out by my blogging friend Duncan Markham of Syrup and Tang in The Age newspaper’s Epicure section. Read it then go to his blog. There you can appreciate the man’s fastidious approach to baking in a way I admire and respect, though have no inkling to emulate.

Given the unpleasant heat of this, the last day of 2007, I opted for Bill Granger’s quickie version and imagined him beaming his pearly white smile and scrunching his cherubic face as I nattered and cursed in frustration.

For Sydney readers, Joanna Savill also wrote a piece for the SMH good Living, which lists some venues from which to buy Portuguese Custard Tarts. She also mentions Darn Tart, the lard based pastry Chinese custard tart I used to eat fresh from the oven for breakfast in Hong Kong. I believe that lard is also employed in the delicious Portuguese tarts made in Macau and it gives the pastry an extra melt in the mouth flakiness.

How was your New Year's Eve?


Pat Churchill said...

Well, guess who was making mango sorbet while you were doin' the pastry thing? I ended up flinging the pulp and syrup in the freezer for a super-chill before putting it in the ice cream machine. Your dessert looks great :-)

purple goddess said...

I feel your pain, darl.

Furry and I were running the oven (all 800degrees C of it) IN 42c heat on NYE.

Barking mad, indeed.

Duncan | Syrup&Tang said...

Oooh, you're a brave one Jane! Pasteis de nata are one of those severely abused dishes -- finding a cookbook with a reliable recipe is very, very hard, and as always there are many unmentioned variables. I was soooo exhausted (and fat) from the research for the article you linked to that I haven't made them since! I've changed ovens twice since then, and I think my baking knowledge has improved, so I should probably look at pasteis de nata redux and see if I can improve on the 1994 version. I have never yet been offered a homebaked nata by a Portuguese grandma... and have harboured a secret suspicion that no-one would be able to get them right in a domestic cooking context. Just lucky that the combo of custard and pastry is usually a winner, regardless of any similarity to a nata!

Anonymous said...

Sticky are thesae the same as the fabled Portugese lemon custard tarts? On the corner of Sydney & Moreland Roads (on the left going way from the city)there ussed to be a small bakery that boasted the first & best authentic (they were Portugese)Portugese lemon tarts in Melbourne. Perhaps it might still be there?

thanh7580 said...

After reading your comments on Duncan's post about Portugese Tarts, I really had a craving for them. So I went to Carrington Cake Shop in Box Hill and got some on the weekend.

Now I feel another challenge coming on, making Portugese Tarts. This could end in tears and triumphant cheers like the macaron challenge.

Y said...

Just recently I happened to choose one of the hottest days in December to bake a chicken pie - just felt like making pie, and we had a guest over at the time. Everyone was sweating while they ate, but declared it delicious all the same... so I definitely know how you felt! The tarts look delicious though :)

tigerfish said...

Thanks to you. Your sweat was worth it! Now I know what goes into a good Portuguese Custard Tart :)