Pastel de Belem, a special brand of pastel de nata

How could my Personal A to Z of Portugal not include the nation’s most famous cake, pastel de nata?

A light, slightly flaky, crispy pastry cup holds a sweet, smooth creamy custard filling which is browned off in the oven, giving them a home-made, slightly burnt appearance.

They may not look especially appetising to the uninitiated but trust me, these little custard tarts taste delicious.

Pasteís de nata
Pasteís de nata

Pastel de nata or pastel de Belém?

Many of Portugal’s best cakes were originally baked by monks and nuns, and the original recipe for pastéis de nata came from the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon.

Language note: pastéis is the plural of pastel

These days, people queue outside the most famous specialist bakery Confeitaria Antigua Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon which began producing these cakes using the monks’ secret recipe after Portugal’s monasteries and convents were closed down in the 19th century.

They are the only ones that are allowed to call this, original, version of the tarts pasteís de Belém. All others are imitations and the filling is supposed to be slightly different, too.

All I can say is that they are rather delicious, especially when still warm.

Want to try your hand at baking a pastel de nata?

This Hands-On Pastel de Nata Cooking Class at a local bakery will teach you the secrets and of course, you get to eat the results of your hard work.

Alternatively, you’ll find the recipe in more than one of these books about Portuguese food.

Famous beyond Lisbon

Don’t worry if you can’t get to Lisbon, pastéis de nata seem to be the nation’s favourite cake and you’ll find them in almost every café, pastry shop and bakery across Portugal.

In fact, the Portuguese are so fond of their little custard tarts that they can be found pretty much anywhere where there’s a strong Portuguese presence.

The first time I tried one was in a little Portuguese café cum delicatessen in Barcelona’s Gràcia district where they just couldn’t bake them fast enough to satisfy the queue of people. Pastéis de nata gained such popularity in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, that they’re also loved on mainland China and sold in places like KFC!

Other variations on the classic Portuguese pastel de nata

Back in Portugal, if you’re looking for a bit of variety, during the annual chocolate festival in Óbidos, you can even get freshly baked chocolate pastéis de nata. I’ve even had cherry flavoured ones but to be honest, I prefer the original.

Chocolate pasteís de nata, Óbidos
Chocolate pasteís de nata, Óbidos

Looking for other Portuguese food to try? Check out this post.

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13 Comments

  1. Even here in London is easy to find some, and they are as delicious as in Portugal. Just sprinkle some cinnamon on top and you have it perfect!

  2. Hi Julie,
    I live in Mexico and here they often sell gorditas de nata – little flat round cakes which are absolutely delicious! They usually sell you a paper bag with 5 of them, which is way too many, but I eat them anyway.

  3. Hi Julie! I was drowning in “nata” last week but more often the savoury variety in bacalhau or with peru or frango. One of my favourite restaurants in Tavira, “A Taska” is run by a guy from Santarem and he does delish port and whisky cream sauces.

  4. This is the event to go for “doces conventuais” meanwhile, until November 2012, you can go to Pastelaria Alcoa in Alcobaça to have a taste…
    I like “Queijadas” and “Travesseiros de Sintra”, “Encharcada”, “Fatias de Tomar”, “Pastéis de Feijão de Torres Vedras”, “Dom Rodrigo do Algarve”, “Clarinhas de Fão”, etc, etc, etc

    1. Author

      Hi Fernanda, I’ll have to go to one of those cake fairs, you’re right. I love queijadas too and will have to try the other cakes you suggest…

  5. Just been here 7 days and have scoffed loads of Pasteis de Nata love ’em and am going to e big as a house if this carries on….. they are soooo good! slightly warmed
    total bliss!
    Dee

  6. Hello!!! The ones that came from the Monks of Monastery of Belém are Pasteis de Belém. Pasteis de Nata are most commonly found in Portugal, but these ones (Pasteis de Belem) are only found at Casa dos Pasteis de Belém, very close to the Monastery. Although Pasteis de Nata and Pasteis de Belem are very similar in appearance, they are different. No one has the recipe of Pastel de Belem. They are made in a secret place inside Casa dos Pasteis de Belem, known as “Oficina do Segredo” (The Secret’s office) by confectioners who have signed an official document to not reveal the recipe to anyone!
    Otherwise, many portuguese make pasteis de nata even at home, there’s a lot of recipes to make pasteis de nata. Both are delicious, but Pasteis de Belem are unique!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Ana. I knew the monks had passed on their secret recipe to Casa dos Pasteis de Belém and had it patented but I didn’t realise that their pastéis were distinguished by a different name.

      1. They are distinguished by a different name, because they are different as well. The filling of a Pastel of Belem is made, as far as I know, only with eggs. The filling of a Pastel de Nata is made with cream. Other major difference is the cup: pastel de nata has it thicker.

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