Pastéis de Nata
Sorry if I've been away for a while (yes, 3 days is a while in our world, isn't it?). Last Saturday I got a massive headache from fatigue which was a sure sign that I'm on the edge of illness so I took it easy the next day. The good news is that it worked.
Now, what was I sick about? Oh, yeah, I went from mall to mall and virtually spent the remainder of the time in a car. I obviously love to shop but I like to do it at a leisurely pace, at only one place, and in a relatively quieter area. But of course, you won't get any of that these days, as there's only 2 weeks till Christmas. I'm all for the spirit of Christmas-- giving, sharing, spending time with family, being thankful for my blessings-- but not this mad rush. And it's not just about the materialism. Even when I look at the offerings they have on the shelves, it's one of three things-- expensive, ugly, or uninspired. Here's an excerpt of an e-mail I wrote to a friend of mine:
I suppose I would enjoy shopping more (and really, I normally do) if I had money to buy gifts for my family. Everything seems either expensive or ugly. Nothing is calling to me, inspiring me to buy it because the recipient would really like it. Everything seems rushed, fake, ordinary, unnecessary. I swear, I'm going to shove wads of money into envelopes and give them away on Christmas.
And here is my friend's (partial) reply to that:
Your expensive/ugly/uninspiring gifts thing finds resonance here. I hate how the shelves are suddenly laden with all the trash that nobody would buy as gifts under normal circumstances (here he proceeds to name a few hilarious things which I WON'T share with you because it's too mean/might hit a nerve). And people will buy them and give them without a flicker of concern that the gift was a duty.
It'll be my birthday in two days (the not-so-big 2-7). I remember when I was very young (in "Prep", the grade level between Kindergarten and First Grade-- dunno what the system is now), I made the "mistake" of telling my teacher that it was my birthday (shouldn't she have known?). She gave me these tiny horse figurines (at least two of which I still have here). When I'd told my parents about it, they very gently told me not to go around telling people it's my birthday next time, because they'd feel like I was asking for loot.
The truth is, I think I've come to a point where I don't get too excited about my birthday or Christmas, at least not for the gifts. I feel incredibly lucky to have the blessings that I do on a daily basis, and content with whatever I have. Gifts are pleasant surprises-- extras. I feel like I annoy plenty of people (parents included) when I'm asked what I'd like as a gift, and I say "nothing, it's okay." Because it is okay. And I annoy even more people when I receive gifts like it's the most fantastic thing that's ever happened to me and I end up embarrassing them by gushing too much. But friendship and love? That's enough. Maybe that's more precisely what I'm excited about.
On that note, I'd like to gush like a fool for the gifts my dearest Deeba sent me all the way from Gurgaon-- SPICES, baby! It was a very fragrant day when DHL stopped by my front door and gave me a bag full of lovely things: saffron (ooooh), garam masala, darjeeling tea, raita mix, and special cloves. (No, "special" isn't code for anything, you naughty things!) From the bottom of my heart, thank you (embarrassing you yet?), and may your days be filled with passion-- for baking!
Burned, baby, burned!
Pastéis de Nata
Warning: if these aren't one of your favorite things already, be prepared to add it to the list... I essentially followed Duncan's excellent recipe here almost to the letter, with a few adjustments:
- Since I wanted to replicate the pasteleria experience and used disposable (yeah right) foil pie pans (actually I think they're really baked in individual pans and sold naked) that measured 11cm diameter x 2cm high (4-1/4" x 3/4"), I baked them for only 6 minutes.
- My oven does too good a job at broiling and warps my precious baking sheets. I instead used a turbo broiler. Mine could only reach 250°C (480°F) but it's a convection cooker, and probably the best way I have at home to achieve the delightful brown spots you usually find on top. I only achieved it partially, but I didn't want to curdle the custard or burn the pastry, so I stopped short of that.
- I used my thumbs to squish the pastry into the form as thin as I could, getting it almost to the rim.
- I used ready-made puff pastry since it's not really possible to make it in this climate. I used a single 24cm (9.5") square. However, it was only about 2mm (between 1/16 and 1/8 inch) thick, so I cut it into two rectangles and stacked them on top of each other (forming a single 12x24cm rectangular stack) and rolled it up as per the instructions. I was able to make five tarts this way.
- You'll notice it doesn't rise quite as well. My puff pastry is more than a year old, ha ha ha! Tasted great though :P
- The custard in Duncan's recipe is good for 10 tarts if using my pan size.
- I tried using a blowtorch (yeah, baby) to create the dark areas but I ended up making a charred, rough surface. Tasted the same but I wouldn't do it again: my intended result was a shimmering surface, with the char appearing to come from under the sheen. Obviously the flame of a blowtorch is too harsh to accomplish this.
Oh, PS (if you're still reading), I passed the Step 2 CS exam (what I went to El Segundo for). Residency interviews, here I come!