Madeiran Custard Tarts – Pasteis de Nata

These custard tarts are very Portuguese ( Madeira is a Portuguese Island) and very delicious.  They put the English custard tart to shame with their egginess and deliciousness.  The many bakeries in Madeira are the best place to buy them, should you find yourself on the island any time soon. The tarts available in the supermarkets (Pingo Doce and SA) are just not as good. But if you find a good bakery then these little treats are divine – crusty flaky pastry filled to the brim with sweet unctuous egg custard and caramelised on top.

I was determined to have a go when I got home so I searched blog sites and YouTube and found this video.  I watched it, tried my best to translate it, and then halved the mixture (because even I can’t eat 24).  I then had a go on Monday afternoon, trying to memorise what she did.  Needless to say I got it wrong.  I forgot the boiling the sugar part and just added the sugar to the milk.  I also didn’t note that she was just using the egg yolks and so I added the whole eggs.  The result tasted pretty good but it wasn’t the same as I had when in Madeira.  So today I watched the video again, took more note of what she is actually doing and then made them again. I am pretty pleased with the result.

I used a lot more pastry than the lady in the video does but then I am a big pastry fan.  You may want to be more light handed with your pastry than I am and make the bases a little thinner.

500g puff pastry or Delia’s Quick Flaky Pastry (recipe below)
250ml milk
A good sized strip of lemon peel (removed using my vegetable peeler)
1 cinnamon stick
30g plain (all purpose) flour
250g sugar
125ml water
4 egg yolks


Place the flour in a small bowl and use about 50ml of the milk to make a smooth paste.  Pour the rest of the milk into a saucepan, add the lemon peel and cinnamon and heat to boiling point.

In the meantime, pour the sugar into another saucepan and add the water.  Place over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Stop stirring, turn up the heat, bring to the boil and let it boil for three minutes.

When the milk has come to the boil stir in the flour and milk paste and using a whisk keep whisking until smooth.  Cook for a minute or two, stirring all the time, to cook out the flour.  Once the sugar syrup has boiled for three minutes, carefully (because it will be very hot) and gradually add the sugar syrup to the milk mixture, whisking all the time.  When it has all been added allow to boil for a minute.  Then strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick.  Allow to cool whilst you put the pastry into a muffin tin.

If you are using ready made puff pastry roll it out into a rectangle and then roll up into swiss roll shape and slice into 12 even sized pieces.  If you are making Delia’s Quick Flaky pastry then form into a long sausage before chilling.

Take each piece and mould, using your thumb and fingers, into the hole of a muffin tray ( if you watch the video you will see what I mean).

Now add the egg yolks to the custard mixture and whisk in well. Make sure that the custard mixture is not still hot or the egg yolks will scramble. Pour this mixture into the pastry moulds and cook in a preheated oven at 250°c for about 15-20 minutes.   (I cooked mine in my Aga which does not reach 250°c, so I cooked them on the floor of the roasting oven for ten minutes to cook the base of the pastry cases, then moved to near the top of the roasting oven for another fifteen minutes before they were cooked to my liking and nicely caramelised on top.)

For Delia’s Quick Flaky Pastry:

When I made these tarts on Monday I followed Delia’s recipe word for word but the pastry only stretched to fill nine muffin holes so I made 1½ times the mixture today which yields nearly 700g of pastry.  This is more than enough for 12 and a bit left over for jam tarts or cheese straws depending on how the fancy takes me later.

350g plain flour
250g butter
pinch of salt (if you are using unsalted butter)
cold water to mix ( I probably used about 1 large wine glass full)


Place the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Grate the butter over the flour and mix with a palette knife.  Add water and continue to mix with the knife until it starts to come together.  Then quickly use your hands to bring it into a sausage shape.  Wrap in clingfilm or a food bag and chill in the fridge for thirty minutes.  The key is to handle it with your warm hands as little as possible to keep it flaky.  When you are ready, take golf ball size pieces of pastry and mould into the muffin holes.



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Lemon meringue

First, I apologise for the poor quality of this photo.  It was after Sunday dinner and I was serving nine people a choice of either baked apples or lemon meringue ( or both if you are Mr OC) and they were anxious to dig in.  I felt bad delaying them whilst I tried to get a decent shot.  So I gave up and took this one. It doesn’t do the pie justice at all.  A lemon meringue is a thing of beauty, a crumbly biscuit base, tangy lemon filling and pillowy meringue – heaven.

I always use Mary Berry’s recipe from her The Aga Book (published by Aga Rayburn) as it is completely fail-safe and makes a very good pie indeed. You can make a biscuit base  or you can do a sweet pastry base.  Both are good but I think biscuit may just have the slight advantage so this is the one I tell you about here. Now, because I always make this in my Aga I am going to concentrate on telling you this method and then tell you how Delia Smith cooks hers so that you can use this information for whatever oven you have.

These instructions are for a 23cm loose base metal flan tin

Biscuit base:

175g (6oz) digestive biscuits
50g (2oz) butter, softened
Mary Berry adds 45g (1½ oz) demerara sugar but I don’t think this is necessary so I omit it.

For the filling:

2 large or 3 small lemons
40g (1 ½ oz) cornflour
300ml (½ pint) water
3 egg yolks
75g (3oz) caster sugar

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
120g (4½ oz) caster sugar


For the biscuit base, place the biscuits in a food processor and whizz to crumbs. Add the softened butter and whizz again until combined.  If you don’t have a food processor, then place the biscuits into a large plastic food bag and bash with a rolling pin (or similarly heavy implement) until crumbs.  Place the crumbs into a bowl.  Melt the butter and add to the crumbs and mix well.

Place the crumb mixture into the flan dish and press down with the back of a spoon until   it covers the base evenly and goes slightly up the sides of the tin. Place the tin onto a baking sheet and place in the roasting oven of the Aga, or into a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6, for 6 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to one side whilst you make the filling.

For the filling:

Pour the water into a pan and bring to the boil.  Place the finely grated zest and the juice of the lemons into a bowl and add the cornflour and stir to blend. Pour in the boiling water and mix well, then return the mixture back to the pan and heat until the mixture thickens. Mix the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and then add to the cornflour mixture and stir on the heat allowing it to bubble a few times.  Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool a little before pouring evenly over the biscuit base.

To make the meringue:

Beat the egg whites until forming stiff peaks and then add the sugar one spoonful at a time beating well after each addition.  You should have a thick glossy mixture when finished.  Spoon this over the top of the filling making little peaks, which will brown nicely and become crunchy, contrasting with the soft meringue underneath.

For the Aga, place the pie (still on the baking sheet) on the grid shelf positioned on the third set of runners of the roasting oven for 2-3 minutes until gently golden.  Transfer to the simmering oven for a further 15 minutes.  You can serve it warm or cold, it’s delicious either way.

For an ordinary oven Delia recommends preheating the oven to 150°c, gas mark two and cooking at this temperature for 45 minutes.

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Mocha Brownies – inspired by Choclette

I have said before how much I love Choclette’s blog about all things chocolate. Well the other week she posted a recipe for Almond Toffee Brownies and they sounded like they may well be the pinnacle of brownies. Today, I felt like making brownies and so I thought I would try her recipe.  Except that I can never really follow a recipe without feeling the need to mess about with it a bit.  So I haven’t yet discovered whether Choc’s recipe is the pinnacle of brownies, but I am sure it is.

My variation is pretty good, with a sugary crust and very moist brownie underneath.  Choclette normally uses duck eggs in her cooking and as my hens lay quite small eggs instead of 3 egg yolks I used 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg.  I cooked my brownies for longer too, I don’t know why this was necessary, maybe it’s my Aga or the different size tin – a mystery to me.

120g butter
50g plain chocolate
2 tsp Camp chicory and coffee essence
225g caster sugar
2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
110g ground almonds


Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl suspended over simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Add the coffee essence.

Whisk together the egg yolk and whole egg with the sugar until fluffy. Fold in the almonds and the chocolate mixture.  Pour into a greased 8 inch square tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or in the baking oven of the Aga for 20-25 minutes.  You want it nicely browned on top but still moist in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into squares and enjoy with a cup of tea.

Thank you Choclette for yet more inspiration.

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Aga meringues

Aga meringues with lemon curd

After I made lemon curd, I had five egg whites ready to make meringues.  They are a real treat and are delicious when made in the simmering or warming oven of the Aga. They don’t last long in our house, as the girls both love them, well they are balls of sugar so of course they love them.

You can either cook them in the simmering oven which takes about two hours or you can leave them overnight in the warming oven, which makes life very easy indeed.  I always make my pavlova in this way too.

For every egg white you will need 50g (2oz) caster sugar.  I always use golden caster sugar (which is less refined than white sugar) which gives them a lovely caramel hue.

5 egg whites
275g (10oz) caster sugar


Line a baking tray with silicone paper.

Whisk the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl (I always wipe a cut lemon around the bowl to remove every bit of grease) until they form soft peaks when you lift up the whisk.  Add the sugar a teaspoonful at a time, whisking in each addition before adding the next.  The mixture will become stiff and glossy.

Place spoonfuls onto the baking sheet.  Place in the simmering oven of the Aga for about two hours and then place on top of a tea towel on top of the lid of the of the simmering plate to completely dry out.  Alternatively place in the warming oven overnight and they will be perfect in the morning.

Serve with whipped double cream, fruit, chocolate ganache or indeed lemon curd.

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Aga method lemon curd

Regular readers of this blog will know that I made lemon curd a few weeks ago. Very delicious it was too, but as I have an Aga it was quite hair-raising trying to save it from becoming lemon flavoured scrambled eggs.  This was because I was trying to save time and I was making it directly in a saucepan rather than in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.

When I went to judge Shropshire’s Tastiest Sausage, the event was held at an Aga shop and the great  thing about Aga shops is that everyone who works there is very knowledgeable about cooking on an Aga.  I spoke to the Sales Advisor, (who is a trained chef and offers one to one demonstrations on how to use an Aga), about my difficulties with my lemon curd and he suggested I read Richard Maggs’ The Complete Book of Aga Know-How as he has a method for making lemon curd in a jar in the simmering oven.  Now, I have cooked on an Aga since 1995 and so thought I knew quite a lot about the art of cooking on an Aga, but this book has been really useful in revealing tips about conserving and controlling heat that I hadn’t really thought about before.

The Aga method for making lemon curd worked really well.  It isn’t a recipe that is done and dusted in half an hour though, but it is one that means you can just leave it to do its thing and it is great if you are doing other things in the kitchen, so you can be there to add the ingredients and give the jar a shake from time to time.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe from The Aga Book, as I think it is a winner, with just the right amount of lemon.  This time though I used 5 egg yolks and made meringues with the egg whites to eat with the lemon curd.

For this recipe you need a sterile kilner or large jar.  If you are using a kilner jar remove the rubber seal whilst making the curd.  Richard Maggs suggests that you can store the curd in the same jar as you make it, but he obviously isn’t as messy as I am, so if you too are a messy cook I suggest sterilising one or two jars by washing them and rinsing them very well and then leaving them in the simmering oven (or a low oven at about 140°c) for twenty minutes.

100g (4oz) butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
3 lemons, the finely grated rind and juice
5 egg yolks or 3 whole eggs, beaten


Put the butter and the sugar in the jar, close the lid and place in the simmering oven for 30 minutes.  Take the jar out and add the rind and juice of the lemons.  Put the lid back on and give the jar a good shake.  Put it back into the simmering oven for another 30 minutes. By this time the sugar should have fully dissolved, if it hasn’t help it along by swirling the jar. Now you will need a small hand whisk or a fork and you will need to beat the eggs quickly into the mixture and continue to beat for one minute.  Put the lid back onto the jar and place back in the oven for a further 1 to 1¼ hours.  Give the curd a gentle shake and then leave to cool.  I was concerned that it wasn’t thick enough but it does thicken quite a  bit whilst cooling. When it is cool transfer to clean sterile jars if you feel the one you made it in is just too messy. Store in the fridge and eat within two weeks.

May 2014: I have been requested to link to Aga Living as this is a recipe from Mary Berry’s Aga Book.

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Scotch egg

The inspiration for making scotch eggs for the first time a few weeks ago was my daughter asking me to buy one when we were in the supermarket.  I didn’t like the look of the orange breadcrumbs and I am fussy about sausages, so I determined to make my own.  Whilst we were making them my daughter insisted that her friend at school had four scotch eggs every lunchtime. Not quite believing this, I told her that no, her friend couldn’t have four scotch eggs, surely she must have only have one.  I had to ask said friend’s mother the next day, and in a way we were both right as she does have four scotch eggs, or at least one quartered, which does look like four.

Anyway, my first attempt was a great success, with Mr O C declaring that they were the best scotch eggs he had ever tasted, which I take as a very big compliment as his Mum used to make them a lot, and it’s always hard for a wife to compare with a mother!

I made them for tea again tonight, with chips and baked beans – now there is a healthy balanced diet for you.  My excuse is that it is winter and it is cold and it is dark – is that enough excuses? Anyway they are delicious.

As they are called scotch eggs I have gone as Scotch as I can and added oats to the breadcrumbs, but feel free to just use more breadcrumbs and leave out the oats.

6 eggs, plus 1 egg for the coating
600g sausagemeat
75g breadcrumbs
25g oats
plain flour


Boil six of the eggs for six minutes.  You want them not quite hard-boiled. As soon as they are done, rinse under running cold water until completely cold to prevent the grey ring between the yolk and white, which will occur if you leave them to cool slowly.  Peel the shell of the eggs.

Divide the sausagemeat into 6 portions.  Take one portion into your hands and flatten into a rectangular shape that is large enough to wrap around an egg.  Take the egg and shape the sausagemeat around it making sure it is well sealed.  Repeat with the rest of the sausagemeat and eggs.

Sprinkle the plain flour quite thickly onto a plate.  Break the remaining egg into a bowl and beat well. Mix the breadcrumbs with the oats and put this mixture into another bowl.  You now need to dip each sausage-covered-egg into the flour until lightly covered, then dip into the egg and then lastly into the breadcrumbs until well covered.

I cook mine in the roasting oven of my Aga, which is equivalent to about 220°c (gas mark 7) placed on a baking tray drizzled with rapeseed oil.  I turn them a couple of times during the cooking and they take about 30 minutes to become golden brown all over. However they are normally deep fried in oil for about 6-8 minutes until golden brown and then drained on kitchen paper.

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