IF YOU haven’t tried a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart) before – the best-kept secret in Portugal – where have you been?

We hear Portuguese monks from Lisbon came up with the recipe back in the 17th century when they were left with a lot of egg yolks after the egg whites were used to starch cloths, such as nuns’ habits.

Waste not, want not.

The monks came up with a custard tart, I hear you say. Yes, to sell and bring in revenue to help support the monastery. They’re still made to the 300-year-old recipe today.

Anyone who’s been on holiday to Portugal will have sampled one or two Pastel de Natas with a cup of coffee.

But when you return to the UK, seeking out the bright creamy custard tart with perfectly flaky pastry, finished with a deliciously caramelised crunchy top, can be hard.

So, let the custard tart fight begin: can the British shortcrust and nutmeg version ever compete with Portugal’s Pastels de Nata?

It’s hard to imagine British custard tarts inspiring such passion. You can find the Portuguese version across the UK if you look hard and wide in the high-end patisserie shops, but I do wonder if we have a worthy home-grown opponent?

The local independents and Gregg’s, the biggest British bakers, stock only the British custard tart. In Portugal, Pastels are found on every street corner. They are reputed to be the best in the world, being slightly salty, with crisp puff pastry and sprinkled with cinnamon when ready to eat.

They also have a secret. Don’t tell anybody but shop-bought puff pastry provides excellent results and is the only practical way for the home baker in a small kitchen to make one.

This is the perfect cheat recipe, being straightforward to make, but be warned you will need nerves of steel and an exceptionally hot oven for this recipe to work.

Back to the custard fight, where us Brits are taking a pasting.

Our custard tarts have survived since the Middle Ages using less-flavoursome shortcrust pastry with the odd soggy bottom, which doesn’t provide as much textural contrast with the smooth custard. It is baked with a sprinkling of nutmeg on top.

This fails to bring the tart alive in the same way as Portugal’s cinnamon version does. Worse to say, the British tarts are almost all mass-produced with palm oil-based soft pastry, yet we still love them with our afternoon brew.

So, finally, who would win this custard fight? If it was a team sport, the Portuguese would thrash us hands down and win the gold medal. But in a one-on-one, I’d back the British classic custard tart to defeat all-comers any day.

This is one contest, however, you’d be well advised to judge for yourself!

lHave you missed any of Baker Mike’s previous Friend In Need articles? If so, they can still be viewed on the Keighley News website at keighleynews.co.uk by clicking on the What’s On heading at the top of the homepage, then Food & Drink and finally Friends In Need. Here you will find all his past articles and recipes.