Pastel de Belém – The Proud Pastry of Portugal
Pastel de Belém
Also known as Pastel de nata, is a traditional Portuguese custard tart made with fresh egg custard poured into a flaky, crispy pastry that you must try if walking the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago. It is usually served piping hot topped with icing sugar and cinnamon powder. The scrumptious dessert (which is also regularly eaten at breakfast time) is a specialty of Portugal that has successfully made its way into other parts of the world such as Brazil, France, Canada, Mozambique, Australia, Cape Verde, Malacca and Canada.
While it was created in Lisbon, the pastry has various regional variations. Different bakeries and pastry shops sell their own version of Pastel de Belém. You’ll find a creamy, curdly tart in some towns while in other places, you’ll come the across puffed up, jiggly pastries. Those of you who are following Caminho Portugués or Portuguese Way, will have plenty of opportunities to try out the traditional warm tarts of Portugal. The route to Camino de Santiago in Portugal begins from Lisbon. Not only it offers pilgrims a great rustic experience, it also lets you enjoy the delightful sweet pastries.
The History of Pastel de Belém
Lisbon is the original homeland of Pastel de Belém. The pastries were invented in the beginning of 18th century by Catholic monks of Jerónimos Monastery, at Santa Maria de Belém, Lisbon. The monks had moved from France where similar pastries were commonly found in the bakeries. But here comes the interesting part… In the 18th century, it was common for convents and monasteries to use large amount of egg whites for starching clothes. Pastel de Belém were actually made from the leftover egg yolks. The practice continued and in a very short time, the recipe of sweet pastry became popular throughout the country.
After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the religious orders faced extinction and many convents and monasteries were closed down. The monks of Jerónimos Monastery began to sell Pastéis de Belém at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some money. In 1834, unfortunately, the monastery was shut down and the ‘secret’ recipe was sold to that sugar refinery. The owners of the refinery opened their own pastry shop by the name of Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém n 1837. The business is still in the family and is one of the most popular sweet shops in Lisbon today.
It’s hard to believe but since 1837, people from all over the country make sure to pay a visit to the bakery when they are in the city. They wait for hours to be served with warm and gooey Pastel de Belém fresh from the oven sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Enjoy Pastel de Belém on Your Way to Camino de Santiago
If you are taking the Portuguese Way to Camino de Santiago, you will have a number of chances to satisfy your sweet tooth at various places. It is surprising for people to know that Portugal makes some of the best pastries in the world – Pastel de Belém being the most renowned one. The Portuguese Camino begins in Lisbon, the stunning capital of Portugal featuring numerous UNESCO sites, scenic forests, a river, quiet villages, and spectacular vineyards and fields.
For the taste of original pastry, head over to Pastéis de Belém, the famous bakery that follows the ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos since 1837. The secret recipe is closely guarded till this day. Currently, there are only three chefs who have been entrusted with the recipe. They blend the ingredients behind the closed metal door and later, the rest of staff assemble and shape the pastries. Once cooked, they are served to eagerly awaiting customers. Other specialties in the bakery are marmalade, Bolo Ingles, Salgados, and Bolo Rei and Bolo Rainha which are available during the Christmas season. Other pilgrim-friendly eatery that have Pastel de Belem include Paco Real where they serve the pastry at room temperature.
Make the Portuguese Custard Tarts on Your Own!
If you take a fancy to Pastel de Belém and want to sweeten up your day, follow the below-mentioned recipe and bake your own delicious Portuguese custard tarts.
Here are the ingredients that you will need to make Pastel de Belém:
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
115g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp. corn flour
400ml full fat milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
• Preheat the oven to 200C, and lightly grease a muffin try.
• Add egg, yolks, sugar, corn flour and milk in a bowl, and mix until it is smooth. Place the mixture on medium heat and stir constantly until it has reached a thick consistency. Remove from stove and add vanilla extract. Let it cool.
• Cut the pastry sheet into two and place the pieces on top of each other. Roll the sheets into a log and cut into 10 to 12 round discs. Place the discs into the muffin tray.
• Pour in the custard atop each pastry disc and bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle cinnamon powder and icing sugar.
Eat your Pastel de Belém right away or let it cool down.
Enjoy, preferable with a hot freshly ground coffee!
For more information on food and drinks along the Camino de Santiago see here:
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