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The Reluctant Traveler Custard Tart Recipe

Pastel de Nata - Portuguese Custard Tarts

If you’re anything like us, The Reluctant Traveler has taken over your screen, heart, and appetite. The show follows comedy king Eugene Levy as he journeys around the world, highlighting luxury hospitality experiences and everything that comes with them. During his stay in Portugal, Levy indulged in one treat that we haven’t stopped thinking about since. You may know it as The Reluctant Traveler’s custard tart. But Lisbon locals know it as pastéis de nata, Portugal’s most famous dessert. We have the recipe for the best one, and the scoop on where to find them fresh in the city.

Pastéis De Nata, The Custard Tart

To recap The Reluctant Traveler’s custard tart history lesson- here’s the full story behind pastéis de nata. The Portuguese delicacy was born out of a need to prevent food waste, originally created at a monastery in Belem. Since the monastery laborers used egg white to starch their clothing, the monks were left with too many egg yolks, and not enough to do with them. So they did what any smart person would do, and turned them into desserts. One of which was the pastéis de nata.

The pastry quickly skyrocketed into being one of the most loved desserts in the country, as the clergy started selling them to a local sugar refinery for consumption. Jerónimos Monastery, the birthplace of the sweet treat, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can check out the history behind the tart, and try the original recipe themselves. In Eugene Levy’s words, “God bless the Monks.”

Portuguese Bakery, pasteis de nata

The Reluctant Traveler, At Home

The proper (really, the only) way to eat one of the famed Reluctant Traveler custard tarts is fresh out of the oven. But we have to admit, the process is certainly a labor of love. That’s where Joey Bats Cafe comes in. With locations on the Lower East Side and in Chelsea Market, the spot is best known for its Portuguese pastries. Once you try for yourself, you’ll understand why. With their crackly crust, creamy vanilla filling, and a shower of cinnamon sugar, it’s the kind of sweet to convert even the most vehement dessert hater.

The recipe comes straight from the owner’s (Joey Batista) mother, who is behind most of the cafe’s culinary operations. If you’re not in the New York area– don’t fret. Joey Bats also offers nationwide shipping of their signature pastéis de nata, ranging in flavors from traditional, to passion fruit, to chocolate. There’s even a vegan option. You can order your own here.

Reluctant Traveler Custard Tart

The Reluctant Traveler’s Custard Tart Recipe (Pastéis De Nata)

There are a few key components to making a great pastéis de nata. A perfectly crisp crust, a not-too-sweet custard, and the right pastry tin. A mini muffin tin will work just fine, but for the most authentic version, we recommend picking up the molds specifically made for this dish. You can find them here.


For the Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt
Cold water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature 

For the Custard

3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole milk
1 ⅓ cup granulated sugar
A pinch of lemon or orange zest

1 whole cinnamon stick
⅔ cup cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
Powdered sugar
Ground cinnamon


Preparing the Dough

To the bowl of your stand mixer, add the flour, salt, and ¾ cup of cold water. Using the dough hook attachment, mix for about 30-40 seconds, or until you have a soft dough. You’ll know you’ve found the right consistency when the dough pulls away slightly from the side of the bowl.

On a clean and generously floured work surface, work the dough into a round shape, using your hands or a pastry scraper. Dust the dough with flour, cover it in plastic wrap, and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes. While the dough rests, whip your room-temperature butter together until it’s a smooth, spreadable consistency.

Pasteis de nata dough

Forming the Pastry

Once the dough has risen, roll it into a ⅛-inch thick square, dusting with more flour as you go. dust with more flour as you go. Next, using a small butter knife or spatula, spread about ⅓ of your softened butter evenly across the left side of the dough, covering about ⅔ of the square. Be sure to leave about a 1-inch clean border around the dough’s edge. Flip the unbuttered side over the middle of the square, and fold the opposite end over it. Straighten the edges as needed, until you have a fairly uniform rectangle of dough.

Next, dust the dough with more flour, then flip it over and sprinkle some more flour on top. Working carefully, roll the dough into an ⅛-inch-thick rectangle. Using about another ⅓ of your butter, repeat the same process of spreading and folding into thirds. Transfer the dough onto a lined baking sheet and freeze for about 10 minutes, or until the butter has chilled.

After removing the dough from the freezer, sprinkle once again with flour. Roll it into an ⅛-inch-thick square, then spread the rest of your butter over the dough. Using a damp finger, lightly moisten the unbuttered border of the dough. Finally, roll the dough into a log, dusting it with more flour as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

For the Custard

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water, citrus zest, and cinnamon stick over medium heat. Let boil, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 215 degrees F. Remove from the heat and set aside. Next, in a cold pot, thoroughly whisk together the flour, salt, and milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the milk has thickened. Remove the milk mixture from the heat, and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

Custard for pasteis de nata

Once the milk has cooled, beat together six egg yolks, then mix them into the cooled milk mixture. Next, mix in the cinnamon sugar syrup and vanilla extract. Strain the custard through a fine sieve and into a glass measuring cup.

To get started on the final steps, preheat your oven to 550 degrees F. Grease a muffin tin or your pastéis de nata molds. Unwrap your chilled dough, trimming off any uneven bits. Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 12 even pieces, or as many pieces as you have molds for. Next, place one piece of dough in each muffin cup or mold. Using a damp finger, pinch the dough against the bottom and sides of the cup until it reaches at least ⅛ inch past the top.

pasties de nata

Fill each cup ¾ of the way with your custard mixture, then transfer to the preheated oven. Bake the custard tarts for about 12 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the custard starts to slightly caramelize. Dust your pastries generously with cinnamon sugar immediately after removing them from the oven. Pastéis de nata are best enjoyed hot, so don’t wait too long before digging in.

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