Spring’s brightness and beauty are blooming on the island. It’s the kind of climate whereby hot soups and iced lattes co-exist. Perfect skies all around means it’s the season of taking long strolls under the sun’s gentle rays, with light breezes along the way.
With the sky’s metamorphosis comes new seasonal picks. After skimming through rows of ice creams and cheesecakes, my eyes fell on a stack of boxes that I’ve never seen in the ‘frozen’ category… these are boxes of Portuguese Egg Tarts! I was especially intrigued with the idea of using an air fryer to heat the tarts. Like excavating treasure from an igloo (if there’s such a thing), I reached into the freezer and grabbed a box.
‘Pastel de nata’ and ‘air fryer’ aren’t words that anyone would string together in the same context. The air fryer is one of my favorite kitchen appliances, and it can be used for preparing desserts too – but I’ve never tasted an egg tart from an air fryer before! Air fryer-heated pastel de nata: sim (yay) or não (nay)? There is only one way to find out.
Although they’re imported and distributed by a local company here on the island, these delightful pastries are made in Portugal. A common find in some bakeries in the region, the existence of egg tarts is a nod to Portugal’s colonial presence in the continent. While egg tarts in Asia are delectable, they tend to vary from Portugal’s egg tarts. I’ve had countless egg tarts from as far as I can remember, and I have always wanted to taste some from the tart’s homeland.
Pastel de nata’s roots date back to the 1700’s, when it was created by Catholic monks in Lisbon’s Jerónimos Monastery. Fast forward to the 21st century, sitting in a small hole-in-the-wall café in the streets of Lisbon, with a cup of café and a plate of freshly-baked pastel de nata for breakfast on a beautifully-sunny day is a bucket list-worthy experience. With that picture in my mind on a gorgeous spring-like Saturday morning, I knew exactly what I wanted for brekkie.
It’s time to pop the tarts into the air fryer! As strange as it may sound for ‘air fryer tarts’, they are cooked and heated beautifully! From my nose’s point-of-view, the air fryer began working its magic after a minute or so: a tantalizing whiff of pastry filled the kitchen. Of course, the final proof is in the pudding… or in this case, the pastel.
In Portugal, pastel de nata comes with a generous dusting of cinnamon powder or powdered sugar. There are times, though, when it’s chomped on without these toppings. As the egg tarts I know and love don’t include additional bells and whistles (with the exception of a quirky boba version back in 2019), I decided to taste my tarts sans toppings.
A filo pastry base with thin, buttery-like layers results in a crunchy effect. This golden-brown pastry leans to the ‘savory’ classification rather than ‘sweet’, and it makes a great canvas to showcase the custard. Like two best friends, thick egg custard (which melts in your mouth when it’s hot) and crispiness from pastry go hand-in-hand.
As the name ‘egg tart’ suggests, a custard comprising of egg yolks sits in the center. With the custard’s signature crème brulee-like effect on top, and a bumblebee-yellow silhouette, these pastéis (the plural form of pastel) look like they’ve just arrived from an oven in a bakery in Lisbon. This is because I felt like I was on a holiday while relaxing on my couch! Add a cup of iced mocha and it’s the perfect vacation-like weekend brekkie or afternoon tea!
The custard is cinnamon-y, and light on sweetness. Cinnamon is a key piece to the pastel de nata puzzle, hence being a standout flavor. I guess this is the reason why some people opt for a dusting of powdered sugar! Since cinnamon and I have become warm acquaintances (for now at least), I savored every bite. I’m dreaming of this egg custard right now, while I’m penning this post!
Along with cinnamon, lemon is included in the custard. From bits of sleuthing, I realized that a touch of lemon zest is used in several recipes (including Paul Hollywood’s pastéis de nata from The Great British Bake Off), but others tend to either omit it or list it as an optional element. As for the tarts on my plate, lemon’s signature citrus taste isn’t as strong as cinnamon to my taste buds.
Even though the experience isn’t identical to having freshly-baked tarts, I reckon these tarts deserve a ‘sim’ for sharing an experience that is adored and cherished by Portuguese foodies with a fellow foodie located over 7,000 miles away.