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Remember travel? Remember how exhilarating it was to find your feet in a different place far from home? Here’s hoping that this time next year we’re all free to fly wherever we like, but in the meantime, finding solace in favourite foods from favourite places is what I’m holding onto.
If you’ve ever travelled to Portugal, you’ve likely stuffed your face with ultra binge-worthy Portuguese custard tarts.
These tarts are all about contrast. You have the shatteringly crisp, buttery pastry that holds a sweet and creamy custard filling. The tops of the tarts develop lovely caramelized bits thanks to the blistering heat of a very, very hot oven.
Most of us don’t have trips to Portugal planned anytime soon, but you can make these iconic tarts in the comfort of your own kitchen. Granted, there are quite a few steps involved, especially when it comes to making your own laminated pastry, but the finished product is very much worth it.
There aren’t many ingredients here, but technique is of utmost importance. Give yourself plenty of time, read the entire recipe through first, and be prepared to have your mind blown with the first bite.
Portuguese Custard Tarts
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup very soft unsalted butter (the consistency of sour cream)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon, zest in long strips
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1. Combine flour, salt and water in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until a dough comes together and it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be sticky — you may need to add a little more water. Dump the dough onto a work surface generously sprinkled with flour. Dust a little more flour on top of the dough and knead for a minute to form a round. Cover the dough with your bowl and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
2. Roll the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/8-inch thick, dusting with flour as necessary. The dough is very sticky!
3. Spread 1/3 of the butter over 2/3 of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Flip the unbuttered side over the middle of the square and fold the opposite end over it like a letter. Straighten the edges.
4. Turn the dough 90 degrees and dust it with flour. Flip the dough over and sprinkle with more flour. Roll the dough into a 1/8-inch thick rectangle, repeating the buttering and folding process. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
5. Sprinkle the dough with more flour and roll into a 12-inch square about 1/8-inch thick. Spread remaining butter over the dough, leaving a one-inch border on the top edge. Starting with the side closest to you, tease up the edge of the dough and tightly roll it away from you into a log. Be sure to brush off any excess flour from the underside. When you get to the end of the dough, wet the edge with a bit of water just so the dough sticks. Straighten the edges and roll up tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least three hours but preferably overnight.
6. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the syrup, without stirring until it reaches 210 to 215 F (100 C) on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon peel. Let it infuse for 30 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
7. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to heat.
8. Whisk flour, salt, and milk together in a medium saucepan. Be very thorough with your whisking! Put the pot on medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for five minutes.
9. Whisk the yolks into the cooled milk. Stir in the cooled sugar syrup and vanilla. Mix until well combined, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large liquid measuring cup.
10. Unwrap the dough and slice it into 12 equal pieces. Place one piece of dough into each muffin cup. Dip your thumb into cold water and press into the centre of the swirl, pushing the dough against the bottom and sides of the cup until it reaches to about 1/8-inch above the top. Fill each cup with custard 3/4 of the way up. Try not to get any custard on the pan, as it will burn. Carefully place in the oven on the baking sheet and bake until the pastry is browned and bubbly, and the tops of the custard start to caramelize, about 12-14 minutes.
11. Remove from the oven. Let the pan cool for 10 minutes, then remove the tarts. An offset spatula is great for tart removal. Let the tarts cool 20 minutes before serving.