Pastel de Belem, with added fruit as a breakfast treat
Egg custard tarts, also known in UK simply as custard tarts, are very popular and are available in boxes of 6 in supermarkets, or individually in specialist bakeries. Either way, I have always loved them – the pastry tends to be soft and the custard topped with a touch of nutmeg combine beautifully. I always buy them when in UK and have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version if there isn’t a small bakery or cake shop with fresh stock.
In Brazil, it is often possible to find pasteis de nata in local bread shops (padarias) but, on visits to Lisbon, I found the best of these non-English versions of the humble custard tart – the Pastel de Belem.
Technically the pastel de Belem is another name for the pastel de nata, but the Pastel de Belem has a history going back two hundred years wherein catholic monks prepared pasteis de nata to raise money for themselves, having been evicted in an action against the church. The pastry then became known as Pastel de Belem after the area in Lisbon where they were made and sold mainly to visitors to the Tower of Bethlehem (Torre de Belem), or so the story goes.
There is a bakery, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, that has been selling these tasty tartlets since those times and which, now, is a tourist magnet with crowds queuing to buy freshly baked pasteis.
The Pastel de Belem looks similar to the traditional (and historically much older) English egg custard tart. The pastry is different – the English version is more of a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is a puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.
I like both. No, I LOVE both!!
I haven’t yet tried to make my own Pastel de Belem though it isn’t difficult but, when I get around to it, I shall post the recipe that I use.