One of the ports we stopped off in on our Mediterranean cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. It was a short day excursion but while we were there, we tasted one of Portugal’s specialty desserts – Pastéis de Nata – custard tarts. My life was forever changed. I’m not a huge dessert eater but I could have eaten them all day long. It inspired me to create the recipe at the bottom of this post. And Lisbon is absolutely magical. We were only there for a few hours but what we saw made us never want to leave.
Our tour guide took us to Belem outside of Lisbon to visit the Jeronimos Monastery and suggested that we take the time to meander to the bakery down the street with the blue awning, to taste their specialty custard tarts.
We dutifully obeyed and are glad we did. The old bakery called Pastéis de Belem has been in operation since 1837.
A short history of Pastéis de Nata
From what we were told, there are several “secret” recipes for their mind-blowing Pastéis de Nata. Almost every bakery in Portugal competes to out-do each other with their own unique version.
During the revolution of 1820, many of Portugal’s religious orders were dismantled. In order to survive, the monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in Belém began to sell pastries. That’s where Pastéis de Nata custard tarts originated. The monastery closed down in 1834 and the building was later revamped as a school and orphanage.
The monks sold the recipe to Rafael Domingos Alves, a Portuguese businessman who had recently returned from Brazil. He opened the bakery in 1837 and Pastéis de Nata has been served there ever since. The monks “secret” recipe has been handed down to generations of the Alves descendants and is prepared in a secret workroom at the bakery.
The recipe I’m sharing with you below is not the “official” secret recipe of the monks, but it’s close, fairly easy and so good you can’t eat just one.
I used frozen pie crust cut in rounds as the cup for the custard because I couldn’t find puff pastry, which is more authentic. You’re welcome to make your own crust if you’re a “baking aficionado,” but I’m not and I wanted to keep it simple. In fact, I didn’t realize until I started making this recipe that I didn’t own a rolling pin. I had to use a piece of PVC pipe I found lying around to roll out the crust. LOL (I have since bought a rolling pin.)
The beauty and romance of Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is an eclectic and intriguing city. I wish we had more time to explore, but our cruise ship only docked there for part of the day. In the central downtown section of Lisbon, the buildings are piled up on steep hills. Lisbon or Lisboa, as it’s called in Portugal, is called the City of the Seven Hills. It’s a fabulous aerobic workout if you have time to walk up and down the tiered streets.
Residents of the old city walk up flights of stairs, take elevators, or ride charming funiculars, and trolleys on a daily basis, to commute to elevated parts of the city. Tourists love to hike to the city’s vast lookout points.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the oldest in Western Europe. It predates London, Paris, and Rome by several centuries. The city was almost completely destroyed when an 8.5 – 9.0 earthquake hit and a massive tsunami swept through it in 1755.
The downtown area, called Baixa is a shopper’s paradise filled with smart boutiques and outdoor cafes. I picked up a silk blouse while I was there.
We stopped at a cafe off the Rua Augusta and had a little snack. Okay, it wasn’t that little but it was good!
Enjoy this deliriously delicious Pastéis de Nata recipe with a hot cup of coffee or tea and dream of pretty Portugal.
- 1 package of frozen pie crust or puff pastry thawed (puff pastry is more authentic but if you can't find it, pie crust works fine.
- 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup of milk
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 6 egg yolks whisked slightly
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees
- Grease a muffin pan with butter (to make 8 tarts)
- Unfold pie crust or puff pastry and cut out 8t four inch rounds (you may have to roll the crust a couple times to get 8.
- Insert each pie crust round into a muffin tin to create a cup for the custard, pressing in each tin from the center to the brim.
- Mix the cream and milk in a large saucepan
- Add the grated lemon peel
- Whisk the egg yolks
- Blend in the cornstarch
- Blend in the sugar.
- Heat on a low heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
- Take the mixture off the heat.
- Pour the mixture into 8 muffin tins
- Place the muffin pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry and cream is lightly browned.
- When the pastries are done let them cool.
- Mix together the powdered sugar and cinnamon
- Using a sifter, lightly sprinkle the tarts with the sugar and cinnamon mixture
- Serve the tarts lukewarm
Book a Trip to Lisbon
Hotels in Lisbon
- Booking.com – find a hotel in Lisbon.
Flights to Lisbon
- Skyscanner – Find the most affordable flight to Lisbon on a search engine you can trust.
Car Rental in Lisbon
- Auto Europe – This site offers the best auto rates in Europe.
Tours in Lisbon
- Tour Lisbon – Book a tour on Viator to see the amazing sites of Lisbon.
What would you like to visit Portugal? Please leave a comment and tell us.