Of the all places I have had the good fortune to visit, I consider Hong Kong to be my favorite city. It is the quintessential East meets West, and the juxtaposition of the Eastern Medicine pharmacy (with the jars of insects and bones) beside the classic pub (with the bangers and pints) is a thrilling spectacle. As you can imagine, the food is unreal. From the most humble of noodles eaten while standing at a small street-front eatery to the five star restaurants that are rapidly appearing on the social scene throughout the city, there is always a culinary adventure waiting.
We had breakfast at the same little bakery most mornings. There, when you ordered “coffee with cream and sugar” you were given a cup that contained three shots of espresso, heavy cream and simple syrup. When you ordered French Toast, you were given a battered and deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And there, at the pastry counter, you could find the small tarts filled with a sweet and lightly flavored egg custard.
Nearby Macau was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century. While it is no longer a colony, much of the influence remains and has permeated the culture of Hong Kong. Pastel de nata is a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart. It took some research to figure out what those wonderful little pastries I had each morning were, but once I did they became a favorite treat and a perfect way to relive the memory. This time of year I find myself craving them, as the warmth is able to satisfy the lingering chill of late winter and the delicate pastry and light flavor is an enticing reminder of the approaching spring.
One note—I leave it up to you how you choose to create the vessel in which to contain the custard. I make a “rough” puff when I fix these, following the fairly standard instructions that can be found with minimal Internet or cookbook research. If you are more ambitious than I am go ahead and make an authentic puff pastry, and if you want to avoid pastry-making altogether than buy a good quality package pastry. With any of those methods the pastry will be shaped like a rectangle when you are going to start working with it, or at least it should be. The custard portion of this recipe makes 12 individual tarts in a muffin tray that makes 3-inch wide muffins. Again, I leave it up to you to decide how much pastry to make. This recipe is merely a suggestion. - checker
If you like custard and flaky pastry together, this is the tart for you. The custard was very simple to make and creamy but not too rich. I got a kick out of the instructions and the self-deprecating humour within. Fun aside, the procedure was very clear. I took Checker's advice and did 'minimal internet research' and found a Gordon Ramsay rough puff pastry recipe that worked perfectly here -- and with no ranting or swearing. Rather than flattening the circles of pastry by hand, I used my tortilla press and then finished them by hand, it only took a few minutes. My custard came out very orangey, despite only using a 1-inch square piece of peel for a half recipe. Forgetting about the icing sugar to go atop the tarts, I doubled the sugar in the custard as I didn't think it was sweet enough. The finished tarts, even with the sugar on top, were not too sweet -- so keep that in mind, and taste the custard when you take it off the stove. I brought most of these tarts to a friend and asked her for a detailed tasting report, but all I got was 'yum'. I second that, and I'll be making more soon to use up all the leftover pastry.