Friday, 6 January 2012

El Día de Los Reyes

It's January (in case you hadn't noticed). 

Not only that, it's El Día de Los Reyes. Huzzah?

Now, that might not mean a huge amount to you and it doesn't really mean a massive amount to me. I'm not Spanish (despite pretending to be on occasion) but after years of living and working in Spain & Portugal the date has become imprinted on my mind.  

Across the Spanish speaking world it represents another day of feasting, family, gift giving and general all round loveliness. Now, this may jar a little with our Anglo-Saxon and vaguely puritanical instincts. In January, we expect to be hunkering down to grimly endure our winter of discount tents and deny ourselves all but the dryest morsels of fat-free, sugar-free, fun-free foods.

But, I'm sitting here in my slightly chilly office in our oh-so-English timber frame home and thinking about what we would be doing if we still lived in those warmer climes. For one thing, I wouldn't be so bloody cold. Need to get the fire lit. And for another, I'd probably be sitting in some lovely little street cafe listening to the hubble bubble of voices, drinking the most perfect coffee and ideally eating a Pastel de Nata.

Pasteis de Nata. Mmmmmmm.

They are little pockets of heaven, which sounds much better than a mini custard tart.

Crisp, squidgy pleasure with the added risk of leaving your smile like that of a bit part player in a Dickensian winter scene - beware the slightly blackened topping on the custard filling... you have been warned.

Now, the only place I know in Blighty (and I want to be vigourously disavowed of this assertion) that makes really good Pasteis de Nata is Bar Italia on Frith Street in Soho. Excellent coffee and a damn fine pastry to go with it.

So, in an effort to recapture that singular oral sensation closer to home, I have hunted for a recipe.

This one from Olive Magazine feels like it will give the closest authentic experience - obviously I could have asked one the Portuguese mothers of one of our Portuguese friends. 

But I didn't. Tudo bem.



  • 250.0g golden caster sugar
  • 2 lemon slices
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 250.0ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 30.0g plain flour
  • 20.0g cornflour
  • few drops vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks , plus 1 whole egg
  • 375g puff pastry
  • flour , icing sugar and ground cinnamon, for dusting
  • butter , for the muffin tray

  1. Tip the sugar, lemon and cinnamon into a pan with 125ml water and bring to a boil. Mix the flour, cornflour and vanilla with a small amount of milk until you have a smooth paste. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil, then pour it onto the flour mixture, whisking continuously. Pour back into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, whisking until the mixture thickens. Remove the cinnamon and lemon then stir both mixtures together and add the eggs, bring back to a simmer and whisk until smooth. Pour into a jug, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool.
  2. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7 and put a baking sheet in the oven for bottom heat. Roll out the puff pastry on a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour and icing sugar. Cut the pastry in half and lay one sheet on top of the other. Roll the pastry sheets up like a Swiss roll and cut the roll into twelve slices about 1 cm - 2cm thick.
  3. Lay each of the pastry slices flat on the work surface and roll them out into 10cm discs. Press a pastry disc into each of the wells of a buttered muffin tray. Divide the custard between the pastry cases.
  4. Bake the tarts for 18-20 minutes on the preheated baking sheet, or until the custard has puffed up and is pale golden-brown, and the pastry is crisp and golden-brown. Allow to cool in the tin. Before serving dust with some cinnamon and icing sugar.