The last international trip I took on behalf of the record company I used to work for, a week before I left my job, was to Lisbon. I had never visited Lisbon before so I decided to stay an extra day and explore the city before heading back to the States.
It was love at first sight. On my last day there, all alone, the band I was working with safely shipped to another leg of the European tour, I meandered around the narrow, cobbled streets; I climbed up to the ramparts of the castle and, looking over the ocean, I vowed to return.
And return I did, with my husband, a few years later, on the way to Andalusia. I had booked a boutique hotel tucked away near the castle, where cars couldn’t even reach, and our luggage had to be ferried on golf carts.
I had already started cooking professionally by then and I was eager to try the pasteis de Belem in the original location where they were first invented or, at least, where they became famous. I forced my husband on the bus to Santa Maria de Belem and we alighted right by the cavernous patisserie of the same name, a white and blue tiled beauty where the little pasteis fly out like hot cakes, and are served with two little bags: one of powder sugar and one of cinnamon.
The recipe is secret and, as imitated as they are around the world, those little custard cakes at Santa Maria de Belem have an edge, they simply taste better than any I have ever tried anywhere else.
The original recipe was perfected by monks in the 1800s who, to raise money, opened the original Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem in 1837, in the same location where it still stands today. The descendants still own it.
This week, maybe while Skiping with Sue and debating European vacation destinations, I got to thinking about those pasteis and decided to make them. I examined various recipes and ended up with my own variation.
I am not sure they taste exactly like the originals from Belem but they do look the part and they are beyond delicious. So good, in fact, you won’t be stopping at one.
RECIPE – Yields about 20/24 pasteis made in mini-muffin tins
1 sheet all butter puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
1/2 C Sugar (100 g)
1/2 C + 3 T Milk (165 ml)
1/4 C Flour (33 g)
1 Stick of cinnamon
Ground cinnamon and powder sugar to serve
- Unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and, using a 2 in x 2 in cookie cutter, cut 20 to 24 squares or rounds (or use the size appropriate for your mini-muffin tins or similar pan). Spray or lightly butter the muffin tin and press the pastry into the cup. Refrigerate.
- Make the custard. Combine sugar, 1/3 C water and the cinnamon stick in a small pan. Bring to boil and let cook for a minute so the sugar will dissolve. Remove from the stove and let sit.
- Heat 1/2 C of milk over low heat until it bubbles at the edges.
In the meantime, whisk the flour with the remaining milk until you get a thick paste. Add the hot milk in a steady stream, whisking all the time. Discard the cinnamon stick from the water syrup and add the syrup to the milk. Return everything to the pan and cook over medium heat, until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly, about 5 minutes.
- Place the yolks in yet another bowl and add the hot milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking vigorously. Strain.
- Pour the filling into the prepared puff pastry cups and bake at 450/500F (220/240C) until the cups are golden brown and the custard is darkened in spots.
- Let cool and sprinkle with powder sugar and cinnamon before serving.