I love when I cook something out of necessity and it becomes a household hit.
To be fair, these had a head start given my husband adores anything involving custard. And maybe making custard tarts when you find the milk is about to expire isn’t strictly the only thing you could make, but still. In other ‘not very necessary ways to use up almost-expired milk’, I used the rest of mine to try making ricotta. Let’s just say that won’t be blogged about anytime soon.
I’m not sure how I’ve made it so far on this site without discussing the merits of puff pastry and combination steam ovens, so today seems a good day to address it. If you haven’t discovered so already, the wet/dry heat combination is absolutely the best thing ever to happen to a piece of puff pastry. The dry heat lifts and separates the layers and makes the outside golden and crunchy. And the wet heat means instead of all the little pockets of moisture inside (from the water content in the butter) drying and disappearing during cooking, those internal layers stay tender and slightly chewy. That exact thing is why a combination steam oven is so good in general, but especially so where you want a big counterpoint between crunchy outsides and soft, moist insides. And who doesn’t want that in many aspects of their life?!
So, custard tarts. These are based on the Portuguese pastéis de nata, though I’m not sure how true to type they are as most of the other versions I found didn’t have cinnamon in the pastry. Authentic or not, they are very good – and I don’t even care that much for custard based desserts. They’re not difficult but you probably will want to set aside a relaxed weekend hour or two to get through the steps (if you have such a thing as a relaxed weekend hour or two).
Not confident making custard (there are a surprising number of you!)? I can’t give you instant kitchen self-esteem, but I will say two little things which might help avoid lumps or sweetened scrambled eggs. One, whisk the first bit of milk into the egg and sugar mix slowly. If you get it smooth right from the start your chances of success are far better. And two, LOW stovetop temperature. It’s so tempting to just turn it up a bit because things are moving so slowly and you don’t want to keep stirring. And stirring. But trust that when it finally thickens, it’ll go pretty quickly. That low temperature will help you control exactly how thick you want the final result.
Happy weekend all. I plan on getting outside with my little people (and a custard tart or two) while the sun is shining. Hope it’s good wherever you are.
Little custard tarts
Adapted, barely, from this recipe by Anneka Manning
As usual, a few notes:
I found there was a little bit of custard left over, but not enough to reduce the recipe quantity. If you squash your pastry out a little flatter than I did you may find you can make deeper tarts and use up the full amount of custard.
Though nobody else in my house agreed, I found the custard itself to be too sweet and have reduced the sugar quantity in the recipe below.
Also, I really liked the method below for sweetening and adding spice to the pastry, and it did give a different, chewier texture, but if I were running short on time I would definitely be happy to just cut out circles from unadulterated pre-rolled puff pastry and forget the extra step.
2 eggs - for a richer custard use 4 yolks, or 2 yolks and one whole egg
80g caster sugar plus a couple of tablespoons extra for the pastry
1 ½ tbs (25g) cornflour
1 ½ cups (375ml) whole milk - I’m sure reduced fat milk would still work ok
¼ cup (60ml) cream
1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 sheets store bought frozen puff pastry – I used the regular supermarket stuff and it was just fine
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin with oil spray or melted butter (mine is a ‘regular’ sized muffin tin, each hole has about 1/3 cup capacity).
Get your pastry out of the freezer and put it on the bench to defrost while you make the custard.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan until smooth. Gradually whisk in the milk, cream and vanilla – if you dump it all in at once you’ll have lumpy custard. No-one wants that.
Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until it thickens and comes to a simmer. It doesn’t need to be really thick as it’ll cook more in the oven. If it coats the back of a spoon without running straight off, you’re probably good.
Pour the custard into a bowl and cover directly over the top with cling film (not over the bowl, make sure the film is touching the top of the custard as this will stop a skin forming). Place in the fridge for about an hour to cool.
Now for the pastry. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar and half the cinnamon over one sheet of pastry (you could combine them first but I just roughly scattered each of them individually). Put the other piece of pastry on top and gently squash them together with a rolling pin. Sprinkle another tablespoon of sugar and the remaining cinnamon over the top, then roll the pastry tightly into a log and put in the fridge to chill until you’re ready to cook the tarts (or until the custard is cool!). You can skip the chilling here, but it makes the next step easier and if you’re cooling the custard anyway then why not.
When you’re ready to cook, set your oven to 200⁰C (combination steam). If your oven has variable steam settings, use 50-60% steam.
Cut the pastry into 12 even ‘scrolls’. Place one cut side up on the bench and use the heel of your hand to flatten it into a disc which will fit your muffin tin – don’t worry about all your swirls being evenly squashed, the unevenness is part of the appeal. Repeat with the other pastry, then pour the custard evenly into the pastry cases. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden, and the custard is lightly browned on top. During cooking the tarts will puff quite dramatically, then sink and settle after you remove them from the oven.
Transfer the tarts to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, and eat warm or at room temperature. Don’t be tempted to cool them fully in the tin as you’ll probably find they’re well and truly glued in by the time you want to eat them! These are best eaten on the day you make them, but can be gently reheated in a dry oven if you have a few left over the next day.
But I don’t have a steam/combi-steam oven! You can definitely bake these in a regular oven. Up the temperature to 210⁰C. They might take a few more minutes to cook even with the increased temp, and won’t puff quite as much, but are still excellent.