Pasteis de Belém
There are some experiences in my life that even though I was the one who experienced them, I myself cannot believe I actually did. And some of those experiences I truly wish I had someone with me to share it with. Well actually I did. I had this wonderful man who is my friend’s driver in Portugal with me. He did the driving. And took me to the most amazing bakery in Lisbon.
Now anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with bakeries. I was fortunate to have a grandmother whom I am named after who was an incredible baker. I can still remember the smell of her kitchen 50+ years ago as though it was yesterday. Also, I had the opportunity to work in a great Danish bakery in Oregon when I was barely 18 years old and was a professional baker a couple years later at what I still consider to be the best bakery in the United States. Of course I have not been to all of them but I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced at least a couple hundred by now. That bakery Uppercrust, in Gainesville, Florida still exists and I have spoken to the owner recently. Ah such fond memories…
So when my dear friend Julia said she had a meeting to attend and that I could go with her driver to a special bakery and to look around for a few hours I was very excited.
Our first stop was Pasteis de Belém. It was pretty early in the morning and there was already a line out the door. I had the 180 year-old bakery’s specialty, pastel de nata, along with a delicious cappuccino, both pictured here.
If you ever find yourself in the beautiful country of Portugal, specifically Lisbon, Pasteis de Belém is a must-see and pastel de nata is a must-have. I wish I could have brought Pasteis home with me.
According to Bon Appetit magazine the history of pastel de nata begins with the 16th century Portuguese nuns who used egg whites to “starch” their habits and had, as you would imagine, a growing surplus of egg yolks. So they did what any sensible, waste-fearing people would do, they made desserts.
One of the most beloved of the holy yolk-based Portuguese desserts (and there are many) is the pastel de nata. Its creamy sweet custard is perfumed with cinnamon, vanilla, or lemon, baked in a shatteringly crisp pastry shell, and eaten by the dozens all over the world. But these aren’t the same Portuguese tarts you’d find in a Chinese bakery. Portuguese colonists brought pastel de nata to Macau, and over the years it has evolved into its own particular tart influenced by the British custard tarts that were brought over to Hong Kong. (Macanese tarts look very similar to pastel de nata but are usually less sweet, more eggy, and often the crust is made with lard.)
Recently I came across a recipe for this great pastry and although it is a bit labor intensive I am going to give it a try. The process of making the dough is very similar to that of croissant which explains all the delicious buttery layers! Here’s the recipe: https://leitesculinaria.com/7759/recipes-pasteis-de-nata.html
And here is a link to Pasteis de Belém: http://pasteisdebelem.pt/en/