The message arrived from Zara, from the blog Backpack Me: “I’m helping out with a new project on how to make Portuguese custard tarts, and I’d like you to come and try it.”
I met Zara a few years ago when I came across her ebook Lisbon in 100 Bites – The Ultimate Lisbon Food Guide and I always knew of her taste for national gastronomy, so the connection to this type of activities did not surprise me. And then we’re talking about Portuguese custard tarts, aka pastéis de nata, my favorite cake! Of course, I had to go!
The meeting-point was Pastelaria Batalha, right next to Largo do Camões in Chiado, Lisbon. To receive us was João Batalha, an expert in pastry and bread making and owner of the place.
He began by explaining that this is the third store of a business that started in 1990 in Mafra, at the hands of his parents who dedicated their lives to sweeten the palate of customers with delicacies that made the house famous. In fact, the prizes won are already many.
The recent opening of that space in one of the noblest areas of Lisbon’s downtown and one of the most sought after by tourists is a new challenge. And if the Portuguese custard tart is the most famous cake in the city, why not teach the secret of its elaboration?
But with many little shops and cafes selling custard tarts in the surrounding streets, what makes this little pastry place so unique?
First, the details. Don’t think that the decorating pieces hanging on the walls and ceiling are random. Each has a history that goes back to the family’s past and has now been restored, modernized, and brought to the public.
Also, the friendliness of the service and the quality of the products. After all, they must maintain the levels of demand.
Put your hand on the dough!
Without further delays, and after a little presentation talk, the workshop started in the bakery’s own kitchen. But not before we put on our “battle uniform.”
It was explained that we were going to concentrate on the production of the cake filling since the puff pastry was ready to use. One of the secrets of the Portuguese custard tarts is in its dough, and this is difficult to be prepared at the point. Starting from scratch implied learning challenging techniques, improved with time and experience, which was not possible in a workshop that should last approximately two hours.
It didn’t matter. The dough was there, and we could touch it and work with it.
The various steps of cake making began. The ideal measures of flour and sugar, the boiling of the milk with the cinnamon stick and lemon peel, the techniques to stir and mix, the luscious egg yolk, the cut of the dough and the lining of the forms, the stuffing and the trip to the oven. We tried everything!
And in the end, of course, after watching the little cakes grow in the oven, we can taste the results of our work. And how sweet it was! There´s something special when we produce our own food, in particular, a product we had never done before.
The complicity between all the participants, the tasting of the cake accompanied with a chalice of traditional ginjinha and the relaxed conversation ended this workshop and encouraged, even more, the love that I have for this cake so lisboeta.
(click CC for English subtitles)
Details to consider:
- Take fresh clothes because you’ll be working in the kitchen with the heat from the ovens
- For hygiene purposes, wash your hands before starting the workshop and, if you have long hair, secure it. Besides, it will be much cooler
- Don’t be afraid to join in and participate in every step of the process. It will make the experience even more fun
- And do ask questions. João Batalha is a great talker and will be happy to answer
- Classes take place every day between 17:00 and 19:00.
- The workshops work with groups of up to 10 people. You can request a private lesson for the family or a group of friends
- For more information visit https://www.pasteldenataworkshop.com
How To Make Portuguese Custard Tarts
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