How to Make Portuguese Egg Tart (Pastel de Nata)
For a fun and rewarding weekend baking project, try your hand at this Portuguese egg tart recipe.
You can’t visit Portugal or even research a trip to Lisbon without stumbling over one of the country’s best-known dishes: Portuguese egg tart.
Known by locals as pasteis de nata or pastel de nata, these humble-looking tarts are anything but. Enjoyed typically with coffee and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, they’re a pastry deeply rooted in Portuguese tradition, culture and daily life.
Keep reading to learn more about these custard-filled pastries and how you can bring a little bit of Lisbon into your kitchen with our made-from-scratch Portuguese egg tart recipe.
For more elegant delights, don’t miss these other beautiful tart recipes.
What is an egg tart?
Lauren Habermehl for Taste of Home
Imagine if the best burnt basque cheesecake recipe you’ve ever made had a baby with classic creme brulee and got wrapped in a buttery, flaky puff pastry blanket. That, my friends, is perhaps the simplest way to describe the magic that is a Portuguese egg tart.
Hailing straight from the heart of Lisbon (along with Malasadas), these warm, custard-filled tarts were invented by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the 18th century and are truly a gift from the heavens. Subtly spiced with cinnamon and just a whisper of vanilla and lemon, the silky filling paired with the buttery bliss of the pastry is enough to make anyone want to hop the pond to enjoy a freshly made Portuguese egg tart.
Portuguese egg tart vs. Hong Kong egg tart
Portuguese egg tarts may seem familiar to you if you’ve ever tried a Hong Kong egg tart. These two pastries are, in fact, related. Portuguese and other European egg tarts served as inspiration for Chinese egg tarts, which were eventually adapted for the Hong Kong market in the 1940s.
The primary difference is that Hong Kong tarts are typically smaller than Portuguese tarts and lack their iconic “burnt” patches on the custard and crust. Additionally, egg tarts in Hong Kong are often available in other flavors, such as chocolate or green tea.
Want to try another custard tart from across the pond? Look no further than this treacle tart recipe.
How to Make a Portuguese Egg Tart
This recipe makes approximately 24 Portuguese egg tarts using a standard muffin pan.
- 2-1/2 cups (312g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
- 6-8 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 cup (120g) unsalted butter, frozen and grated
- 1/3 cup (41g) all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cups (300ml) whole milk
- 1-1/3 cups (266g) granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup (165ml) water
- 6 large egg yolks, beaten
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Peel from 1/2 a lemon, cut into ribbons
Step 1: Make the dough
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Work in the chilled butter using clean fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand. Add the cold water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until a soft dough forms.
Editor’s Tip: Portuguese egg tarts can be finicky to make for first-timers. Therefore, as professional bakers do, we highly recommend using a food scale and measuring your ingredients using the metric units provided, as they are far more reliable and accurate. They will help ensure you get the best results on your first try.
Step 2: Grate the butter
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle that’s about 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle the frozen, grated butter over the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Then, fold the top third down and the bottom third up as if folding a brochure.
Editor’s Tip: Be sure to keep your grated butter frozen until you use it. Cold butter is the secret to achieving perfectly flaky pastry. If your kitchen runs hot, consider investing in a marble pastry board, which we consider an essential pie and tart-making tool.
Step 3: Fold, rest and repeat
Turn the folded dough 90 degrees and roll it out into a rectangle again. Repeat, adding the remaining frozen butter to the bottom two-thirds again and folding like a brochure again. Wrap the folded dough tightly in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this process again, rolling, turning and folding the pastry twice more, before wrapping and chilling the dough again for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Make the custard
While the dough chills, prepare the custard. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 1 cup (245ml) of milk to a simmer. While the milk heats, whisk together the flour with the remaining 1/4 cup (55ml) of milk until smooth in a separate large mixing bowl. Add the hot milk to the mixture and whisk until fully combined. Set aside.
Step 5: Prepare a syrup
Next, in a separate small saucepan, combine the sugar, cinnamon stick, lemon peel and water and bring to a boil. Continue to heat until a candy thermometer registers 220°F. Remove from the heat, and then discard the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
Editor’s Note: Resist the urge to stir the syrup as it heats. This can cause the syrup to form crystals, which can impact the final texture of the custard filling.
Step 6: Combine
Carefully pour the hot syrup in a thin, steady stream into the milk/flour mixture while whisking continuously until no lumps remain. Stir in the vanilla and then quickly whisk in the yolks until the custard is smooth and evenly mixed.
Step 7: Strain and cool
Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a large glass measuring cup, then cover with plastic wrap resting directly on the surface of the custard. Set aside to cool slightly.
Editor’s Note: When making custard from scratch, tightly covering it with plastic that rests directly on top of the custard helps prevent a skin from developing as it cools. It’s important not to skip this step.
Step 8: Roll and slice
Remove the pastry from the fridge and divide in half. Roll out one portion of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12×8-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. From the short side, tightly roll the pastry up into a log. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the log into 12 equal discs. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Step 9: Shape the pastry
Place a single disc of dough into each well of a standard muffin tin (the spirals should be facing up). Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes at room temp. Once the dough is pliable, use wet fingers to carefully press each pastry up the sides of the muffin tin until it is even with the top of the rim.
For perfectly shaped Portuguese egg tarts, start by pressing a wet thumb into the center of each pastry disc to make a deep depression. Then use your index fingers to gently and evenly pull the dough out and up the sides of the muffin tin. The first few may look a bit sloppy, but with practice, you’ll get better. Once baked, you ideally want to still be able to see a subtle swirl pattern on the bottom of each tart.
Repeat with all of the pastry discs, then cover the pans with plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Step 10: Fill and bake
While the pastry chills, preheat the oven to 550°. When ready to bake, divide the custard into the chilled pastry shells, about 3/4 full. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the pastry is deeply golden, and the custard is set with tiny brown spots on top. Trust the process; you may fear the tarts are burning, but they should have some darker patches visible on both the pastry and custard. For best results, keep a close eye on them and pull shortly after the custard begins to spot.
Step 11: Cool and enjoy
Let the tarts cool in the pan for about five minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, if desired.
Tips for Making Portuguese Egg Tarts
Lauren Habermehl for Taste of Home
Do egg tarts need to be refrigerated?
Yes. However, keep in mind that egg tarts are best enjoyed fresh the day they are made. If you do have leftovers, they may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Warm in a 350° oven on a baking sheet until the pastry is crisp and the custard is heated through before serving again.
Can I freeze egg tarts?
Believe it or not, you can freeze a Portuguese egg tart (just like you can freeze cheesecake) for up to one month in the freezer. Let defrost overnight in the refrigerator and then warm in a 350° oven on a baking sheet until the pastry is crisp and the custard is heated through.
While far from traditional, they’re also pretty tasty straight from the freezer. We may or may not be speaking from personal experience.
Can I use store-bought puff pastry for egg tarts?
Yes! While nothing beats homemade pastry, if you’re short on time, this recipe can be made with store-bought pastry. You’ll likely need three to four sheets of the best frozen puff pastry to yield enough shells for the amount of filling this recipe produces.
Can I make egg tarts ahead?
Yes! After making the custard and covering it with plastic, it may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days before filling and baking the tarts. The rough puff pastry can also be made ahead and refrigerated for up to one month and frozen for up to six months.
Defrost frozen pastry overnight in the refrigerator and allow the thawed, chilled pastry to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before trying to work with it. When ready to make, shape, fill and bake the tarts as directed starting from step eight of the directions.