Sunday, 23 October 2016

Pastel de nata

Pastel de nata (or just simply "nata" when you're in a bakery) is the Portuguese name for their legendary custard tarts. Having just come back from Lisbon, I can confirm that they are absolutely delicious (and absurdly good value at less than two euros for a pair of delicious mouthfuls). Best eaten fresh as possible from the oven when the pastry is as crisp as can be and the custard gently warmed. 

Clearly I had to indulge my obsession to the max: a mere two a day (and the rest) was not enough, I had to search out the best!

I went to the two oldest bakeries in Lisbon the Pasteis de Belem and the Confeitaria Nacional both founded in the early 19th century but with the Belem establishment claiming to be the originator of the nata. I had fresh tarts at both as well as taking a half dozen away with me. Let's be clear about this though: these things are not for keeping. They are best eaten as fresh as possible while the pastry is crisp and the inside gooey. Although if you are going to take some home with you, buy them on your last day and warm them in the oven before eating at home.

Now these custard tarts are not an what is known as an English custard tart. You know the dessert with the short crisp pastry and the just set custard served in slices dusted with nutmeg. No, these are made with puff pastry and offer a short, sumptuous, sweet hit, at any time of day.

Natas from Lisbon: On the left from the Confeitaria and on the right from Belem.

The thing is these things are bloomin' lovely. It's a hardly an arduous task to be deciding which of two lovely things is the loveliest. For my money though the Belem edges it. Fresh out of the oven the pastry is impossibly crisp and if you manage not to get any flakes on you, then you're a better person than I. The custard is so rich and only just set. It seems to have a more complex flavour with overtones of caramel. It's entirely satisfying as well as delicious.

Let's face it, if you haven't been to Lisbon them you should. You'll be entirely happy with whichever of these you go to. The Confeitaria is right in the centre of Lisbon if you can't be bothered to get the short train or tram to Belem. Just get yourself to Lisbon and fill your face with as many of these beautiful little delicacies as you can.

One last thing. Don't pretend there's any point in "being good" (or some such similar nonsense) and ordering just a single nata at a time. Quite simply as soon as you've finished the first you will berate yourself for not having ordered another...

Monday, 6 June 2016

Malteser cake: The revenge!

A while ago I tried out a Malteser cake. It was a mixed success:
  • Decoration - epically good
  • Taste - not quite the malty party in your pants I was after, more like a mingle in your mouth
I can't quite remember how a Malteser cake came up in conversation at work, but it did. Never one to shirk an opportunity to right a cakey-wrong, it meant this weekend the time was ripe to give it another go. 


It's fair to say it's not quite such a looker as the previous attempt (do you realise white Maltesers are about as rare as hens teeth?), but in terms of taste I think this is one of those occasions where there's a meme for that:

The flavour profile was everything I had hoped for: deeply malty with a really long finish. The perfect accompaniment to chocolate. I put it down to using malt extract (available from Holland & Barrett) rather than Ovaltine and in particular substituting some of the sugar to reduce the sweetness. This did mean the cakes were more delicate and needed a slightly longer bake, but that shouldn't be any cause for concern. Anyway you'll soon see what I mean >when you try this recipe yourself.

Malteser cake 
For the sponge:
8oz butter
5oz Muscavado sugar
2oz caster sugar
4tbsp malt extract
4 eggs
7oz plain flour, sifted
1oz cocoa, sifted
2tsp baking powder
For the filling:
60g white chocolate50ml double cream
15g butter aka a small nob 
For the frosting (this will make plenty to cover the top and side):
8oz butter
150g icing sugar (approximately)
1.5tbsp malt extract
1tsp vanilla extract
Decorate with as many Maltesers as you dare (I used 6 packs)

1. Make the sponge in the usual way by creaming the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs and the malt extract. Fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and cocoa.
2. Divide the batter between two 8" pans and bake for about 20-25mins at 180°C (or until the top springs back to the touch, the sides are coming away from the tin and a skewer comes out clean from the middle).
3. While the cakes are baking and cooling make the ganache and frosting.
4. For the ganache, melt the white chocolate and cream together in a bain marie. Once melted, take off the heat, add the butter and stir to mix together. Allow to cool..
5. To make the frosting, beat the butter and sugar together until soft. Add the vanilla extract and malt extract and beat together. Add more sugar, if required, to suit your tastes.
6. Once the cakes have cooled, sandwich togther using the white chocolate gnache.
7. Cover the cake in a thin layer of icing (the crumb layer) and refrigerate to set.
8. Once set, use the remaining frosting to ice the cake liberally.
9. Decorate with as many Maltesers as you want.
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