People always ask me what I miss most since going gluten free. They assume I’ll say pizza, or beer maybe. But I’ve had spectacular gluten free pizzas, and I mostly just swapped beer for delicious, refreshing cider. No, what I really miss most are things like profiteroles, and baklava, things that seem uniquely designed to take advantage of the transcendent qualities of glutenous flour. Or at least that’s what I thought. But tonight I made another pastry off the ‘things I miss most’ list, and it forced me to think again. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you gluten free pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts)!
Pasteis de nata are made from puff pastry, encasing a beautifully silky custard, which has been cooked and scorched on top. In the last few years, I’ve watched, salivating, as K has devoured more than a few of these in front of me (he felt suitably guilty!). But I always assumed that the blissfully flaky puff pastry that makes these pastries so special would be impossible to make gluten free. And my mantra is I’d rather not eat something at all than eat a pale imitation in gluten free form.
But then I started to wonder. After all, one of the main difficulties of working with gluten free flours is how brittle it makes the finished product, but brittleness is just what you want in a puff pastry! And then I found this recipe for gluten free rough puff, and I decided I had to try. At the very least, I thought, the recipe seemed quick and easy to make, so I wouldn’t have wasted too much time if it turned out to be a total disaster!
Fast forward a few hours, and I found myself face to face with a gluten free custard tart that looked so much better than I had mentally prepared myself for! And when K and I devoured them, still warm from the oven, our eyes widened with joy. Honestly, they really are exactly like I remember them to be from my gluten-eating days, and K can independently vouch for their authenticity. Just one warning though – they’re totally and utterly moreish. We kept finding ourselves loitering by the baking tray, ‘just tidying up’ a crumb, which very quickly escalated into proclaiming whole tarts ‘less than perfect’ and offering to eat them, you know, just to rid the batch of its imperfections.
And now, all I can think about is all the things I can make with puff pastry – that I never thought I would eat again. K’s already put in a request for his nan’s beef pie, and I’m already fantasising about strudel. What will you be making with yours?!
- For the gluten free rough puff pastry
- 250g gluten free plain flour (I used Dove’s Farm)
- 220g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge
- 2 tsp xanthan gum
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 100ml cold water
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- For the custard
- 2 whole eggs (large)
- 4 egg yolks (large)
- 230g golden caster sugar
- 4 tbsp cornflour
- 800ml full fat milk
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- Place the gluten free flour, xanthan gum and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add 70g of the butter, broken into chunks, and rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Cut the remaining 150g of butter into chunks, and add to the mixing bowl, tossing them around with a table knife until they are coated in the flour mix. Do not rub them in – leave the butter as chunks!
- Add the water and lemon juice to the mixing bowl, and stir the mixture with the knife to combine. When it starts to come together, use your hands to mould the mixture into a loose ball of butter-studded dough. Wrap it all in cling film and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to rest.
- Once rested, remove your dough from the freezer, and place it on a well dusted work surface. Roll the dough out in one direction only (i.e. top to bottom, not side to side) until it is about 30cm long and 15 cm wide. You should be able to see the streaks of butter in a rather pleasing marble effect.
- Fold the top third of your dough down, and then fold the bottom third up over that.
- Cover with cling film and freeze for another 15 minutes. Then repeat the rolling, folding and freezing process a further two times, making sure that you continue to roll in one direction only.
- While your pastry chills down for the final time, make a start on your custard: Put the eggs, eggs yolks, cornflour and sugar into a saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the milk gradually, and continue to whisk until you have a smooth, lump-free mixture.
- Place the pan on a medium heat, and stir continuously until the mixture thickens. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Decant the custard into a medium sized bowl, cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming, and store in the fridge to cool until your pastry is ready.
- Once the pastry has chilled for the final time, remove it from the freezer, grease a 12 hole muffin tin, and preheat your oven to 180C.
- On a well floured surface, roll your pastry out to a rectangle approximately 30 x 40 cm in size. Starting at the top, roll the pastry downwards into a tight roll, and use a sharp knife to slice the roll into 12 even sections.
- Using your rolling pin, flatten each slice of pastry into a round roughly 10 cm across. Press it a bit with your fingers to make sure it won’t unravel when you try to pick it up, then press each round into your muffin tin.
- Carefully spoon your custard into each pastry case, then bake for 25-30 minutes until a deep golden brown on top. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. They’re delicious warm or cool – but you might find they all disappear before they’ve had a chance to cold!