Rhubarb Pasteis de nata


In my defence, I didn't mean to spend all day in the kitchen. I was going to just make one quick little pudding. Something easy using the rhubarb growing rampantly in the garden. I meant well.

An hour later I am left with custard, stewed rhubarb and a large measure of frustrated anticipation for tonight's pudding. What am I going to do with this, I wondered, poking a bowl of unappetising rhubarb slop and trying to ignore the gross skin beginning to creep acrosse the surface of the custard. Nigel said it would work, but where ever it was that I'd gone wrong, I'd gone badly wrong. Mushy rhubarb topped with some mushy custard ain't pretty and after the taste test, I wasn't even going to try my trusty flaked almonds to tart it up.

Cinnamon saved the day; in desperation I added a dash to the custard I'd used to hide the stringy rhubarb goop, and suddenly my taste buds rushed to another memory of custard and cinnamon. Pasteis de nata. As I've encountered them, these are essentially little mini custard tarts with that memorable dash of cinnamon on top I so fondly remember. However.....

Pasteis de nata or Portuguese custard tarts. This lovely photo is by psd
...let me mention that I hate making pastry. I hate getting dough between my fingers and under my nails and despite always being cold my hands are perfect pastry melters and I'm generally too impatient (impulsive) to follow any recipe which calls for resting to the letter. Fifteen minutes in the freezer is surely worth a hour in the fridge, right? Pastry making is time wasted that I'll never get back, I thought, so I'll just use some of that lovely pre-made stuff and get on with my life.  However, when I searched in my trusty freezer I found no puff pastry. Shock. Horror. I am never out of anything and if it has the word 'puff' in the title, I'm likely to keep in in store just for that tiny bit of amusement it gives me.
So, in a fit of over-caffeinated bravery, I googled and made rough puff pastry, even going so far as to properly refrigerate and keeping the butter cold. Hell is a long way from freezing over but there may be a mild frost warning tonight.

I folded and counted and rested, getting braver and more confident as each step was reached. I made the custard (Bird's - I know, it's not hard to make the proper stuff but I was already in over my head with making pastry that puffs while rhubarb goo coagulated in a messy sulk on my counter tops), and carefully spooned a little bit of rhubarb into each cup, then topped off with the custard and a dash of cinnamon.

The only recipes I followed to the letter were the rough puff pastry recipe and the Birds custard recipe (on the back of the tin). Then I baked for 15-20 minutes at 240*, which in hindsight, might have been a bit too hot. As you can see much of my custard has escaped, although the rough puff worked brilliantly, much to my surprise.

So in summary:

Preheat your oven to 220* C

Make the pastry

Make the custard of your choice (heres' a nice one if you'd like to have a go from scratch) while the pastry rests. I worked from the same quantity and had more custard than I really needed but unfortunately I got a little excited and forgot to measure how much I actually used.

Mix 3 tsp water with 3 tbsp sugar (or honey) and 250g of roughly chopped rhubarb. Cook over a medium heat for 15 min or until the rhubarb is tender but not a stringy mush. If, like me, you go too far and make stringy mush, that's okay. Just whatever you do, don't let prospective dinner guests see it because while rhubarb mush is actually perfectly tasty and will be hidden under the custard anyway, it looks très gross.

Flavour with 1 tsp of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon, cover with clingfilm (helps to minimise a skin forming on the top, then set aside.

After the pastry has rested (this helps to keep it from shrinking back as you roll it out) use a cookie cutter and cut out rounds to fit your tart or muffin trays. The diameter of the cutter I used was 3.5" or 9cm.

Using your fingers, squish the middle of each pastry disc so that the centre is thinner than the sides and the whole thing is slightly bowl shaped. Braver souls can experiment to see if this is necessary ; I was a chicken and concerned about lack of crisping on the bottoms. My thoughts were that thinner bottoms means a reduced risk of uncooked, mushy pastry.

Pop a bowled round of pastry into each muffin pocket (technical term for 'holes in a muffin tin'?) and gently press the pastry so that the tops of the pastry are around the tops of their respective pockets. Over shooting should be okay, mine were all slightly under the lip but everything worked fine.

Spoon about a tablespoon of rhubarb into each pastry case (should be about 1/4th full) then top up with the custard till about .5 cm from the top.

Bake at 220* C for 15-20 min or until the pastry is golden brown and the custard is firm. Beware munching them right out of the oven! The outsides may be of eating temperature but inside the custard is lava hot. Serve warm (at least a ten minute wait, then bite carefully) with a dash of cinnamon. Mine kept for a week in an air tight container and were lovely popped back in the oven for five minutes or so to re-crisp their cases.

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