Pasteis de Nata – A Dessert That Travels The World

A Brief History…

Four centuries ago, the Portuguese set foot on Macau and put the region under their rule. Portugal’s colonization of Macau shaped a unique East-meet-West culture for the city, resulting in the two cultures exchanging and adapting each other’s lifestyles and cuisines. Inspired by the original Portuguese egg tart, also known as Portuguese custard tart or Pasteis de Nata, Macau egg tart has been widely enjoyed by families not only in the region but also in other neighboring countries. The original Pasteis de Nata was believed to be invented by Catholic monks in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Not only were these little lovely custard tarts delicious, but they also have a very interesting history. Due to a shortage of laundry detergent, nuns and monks at the time had to use egg whites to starch clothes, resulting in a lot of egg yolks going spare. To avoid wasting the yolks, monks at Jerónimos Monastery used them to create a secret recipe to make these simple yet flavorful tarts. By the time the monks sold these custard tarts to make extra income to support the monastery, Pasteis de Nata was widely enjoyed by the people. 

Though each tart is small, it packs a sugary punch; that is why Pasteis de Nata is best enjoyed with a cup of cappuccino or espresso as soon as they come out of the oven. The combination of sweet and bitter make the Portuguese custard tarts and coffee a perfect companion. A tip from the locals, use a dessert spoon to scoop out the eggy filling and enjoy while it is still warm. Since the outside of this custard tart is made from a light, flaky pastry, it will get soggy quickly if not enjoyed within a day or so.

Portuguese Egg Tarts by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Macau Egg Tart vs. Pasteis de Nata

Since the Portugueses brought the recipe to Macau, the people of Macau adopted the recipe and added some modifications to adjust to the locals’ taste. In the original recipe of Pasteis de Nata, the puff pastry has a buttery taste while in the Macanese recipe, the puff pastry has a more subtle sweet taste. This is because the Macanese recipe calls for a small amount of sugar added to the puff pastry dough. Another difference between these two recipes is the number of eggs used in each recipe. In the Portuguese custard tart version, the recipe often calls for fewer eggs than in the Macanese egg tart version. I guess that is partly the reason why the Portuguese version is named custard tart instead of egg tart. 

The last noticeable difference between these two recipes is the garnishing or topping. In the original version of Pasteis de Nata, the freshly baked tarts are often garnished with cinnamon or powdered sugar while in the Macau version, the egg tarts are not garnished. The toppings add a slightly different flavor to the tarts. For some people, especially those who are hypersensitive to smells, the cinnamon helps eliminate the eggy taste. For cinnamon lovers, there is no such thing as too much cinnamon. According to some people, both the cinnamon and the powdered sugar garnishing simply make the egg tarts look more appealing. It is also a good idea, especially in today’s social media era, to garnish your dishes beautifully so they look more Instagramable. 

I hope you enjoy this post. If you haven’t already, try an egg tart some days. Though authentic Portuguese egg tarts are harder to find, Asian variations of Portuguese egg tarts are available in almost every Asian bakery.

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