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...

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