If you’ve never eaten a pastel de nata it may be difficult to understand the love relationship that we, Portuguese, have with it. A crispy buttery outer shell and a creamy not-too-sweet filling make it a perfect choice for a number of occasions: 2nd breakfast (yes, that’s actually a thing for a lot of commuters), after lunch dessert, mid-afternoon snack, that coffee date with your friend – you name it.
If you pay attention you’ll notice we can be very particular about the way we like our pastel de nata: some will prefer a darker pastry (those black patches are called caramelization spots, fyi), while others favour a paler one; some people even go to the point of scooping out the custard with a coffee spoon and then either eating or discarding the puff pastry shell.
Although several thousands pastéis de nata are eaten everyday in Portugal it’s not something we bake at home, mostly because we assume it to be too difficult. I used to think that way too, up until a few weeks ago.
I received an invitation to take part in a workshop in Lisbon, at Pastelaria Batalha, where I could learn how to make pastel de nata at home. How could I say no?!
I was in a group with 4 other people from 3 different countries. After being greeted by João, a 5th generation baker, owner of Pastelaria Batalha and pastel de nata baker extraordinaire, we got to sample 2 different types of queijadas and chat a bit. Then it was time to put on our aprons, hair nets and shoe protections: the lunch lady look was complete!
First we learned how to make the puff pastry. Honestly, I thought it would be a lot more difficult. Or maybe João just made it look easy! While the dough was in the fridge we tackled the custard. I suppose my lunch lady look was convincing enough for João to invite me to be the one preparing most of it. Milk, cinnamon, lemon, sugar and flour come together to make a sweet smelling cream. Stirring the pan was a pleasure and I couldn’t help letting my workshop buddies (from France, Ireland and Abu Dhabi) know that that sweet heavenly smell was something they could expect to experience in a Portuguese home while mom or grandma were making dessert.
While the filling was cooling down we got back to the dough. Everyone got to roll the puff pastry, cut it and spread the dough in the tins. There’s a special technique involved but we all managed to make beautiful puff pastry shells for our pastéis de nata. Then we finished the custard by adding the egg yolks and each one of us got to fill three tins – those would be our very own pastéis de nata, marked with our initials on a paper heart (cute!). Pastéis were baking and the workshop was nearing the end.
After they were baked we got to eat them with a drink of our preference. Don’t worry though because they give a paper box to keep the pastéis de nata if they’re not eaten on the spot.
The experience was lovely. Between each step of the baking process João would chat a bit with us, explaining the origin of the pastel de nata, the origin of Pastelaria Batalha, the several awards he’s won and throwing a few personal funny stories into the mix. João answered all our questions, spoke in English the whole time, kept a smile on throughout the entire workshop and was a great host. On the same day of the workshop we got an email with the recipe and all the details and tricks of the trade that João explains in the workshop. All in all, it’s an experience I would recommend!
The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/