The Occasional Epicure

Occasional updates on my eating and cooking adventures...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sugar High Friday #12 - Custard

I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of custard. Besides the egg tarts at yum cha, I usually only eat custard once per year - and that's the ready-made kind poured straight from the carton onto my plum pudding on Christmas day.

Which is why the Sugar High Friday theme chosen by Elise at Simply Recipes was good. It gave me the motivation to try out a recipe for Portuguese Custard Tarts, which is something that I wouldn't usually get around to making.

The whole tart making experience was fun, even though it seemed to take forever and mess up my whole kitchen. I'll tell the story using photos and the recipe (from Sweet Food, published by Murdoch Books)...

155g (1 1/4 cups) plain flour
25g copha (white vegetable shortening), chopped and softened

Hold on! What on earth is copha? Well, non-antipodeans, I am pleased to reveal that this strange Australian ingredient is vegetable shortening made of solidified coconut oil. Mmm, sounds delicious doesn't it?

Actually, I was really annoyed when I saw copha on the ingredient list! I only needed 25g, but it only comes in a 250g packet. And the only other recipe that calls for copha is
chocolate crackles! What a shame! I will have to whip up a batch of these top Aussie treats to use up the rest of my copha block.

Also, how authentically "Portuguese" can this recipe be? I get the feeling that copha is not stocked by the shopkeepers of Portugal/Macau/other famous custard tart destinations...

30g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
250g (1 cup) sugar
500ml (2 cups) milk
3 tablespoons cornflour
1 tablespoon custard powder
What a gourmet rebel I am - using a recipe with custard powder!

4 egg yolks

Apparently you can freeze the whites, so I did that and I'll use them in my next batch of friands.

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Sift the flour into a bowl.

Goody! This is the easy bit.

Add 185ml (3/4 cup) water, or enough to form a soft dough. Gather into a ball, then roll out on baking paper to form a 24cm x 30cm rectangle.

This is when I started to realise that these custard tarts could turn into quite an interesting part of my baking self-education. The dough was not really all that dough-like, but I rolled it out anyway.

Rolling the dough

Spread copha over the surface.
Hmm. The copha didn't want to melt in the microwave! I thought it would melt like butter but even after a full 60 seconds it was still hard. I nuked it a bit longer and finally spread it over the "dough". There were some significant copha lumps.

Melt, damn copha!

Roll up from the short edge to form a log.

Right-o. I sprinkled a bit of flour around so I could get a grip of the edge. The quick'n'easy rolling that the book seemed to describe did not occur. It was more like squishing the dough back into a big lump.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle again, and spread with the butter.

At least the butter melted in the microwave!

Roll into a log and slice into 12 pieces.

My 12 pieces weren't very uniform in size! Oops!

Working from the centre outwards, use your fingertips to press each round out to a circle large enough to cover the base and sides of twelve 80ml (1/3 cup) muffin holes. Press into the tin and refrigerate.

I just whacked each lump of dough into the muffin tin and pressed it onto the base and up the sides.

Pastry shells

Put the sugar and 80ml (1/3 cup) water into a pan, and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Mix a little milk with the cornflour and custard powder to form a smooth paste, and add to the pan with the remaining milk, egg yolks and vanilla. Stir over low heat until thickened. Put in a bowl, cover and cool.

It seemed to take forever for this custard mixture to thicken. Just when I started to think I'd done something terribly wrong, it finally thickened up!

Preheat oven to 220C (425F). Divide the filling among the pastry bases.

Custard-filled shells ready for baking

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the tops have browned. Cool in the tins, then transfer to a wire rack.

Fresh from the oven!

The finished product

Makes 12.

Overall these were pretty tasty. The pastry was hard and crunchy and I don't think that's how it's supposed to turn out. The custard filling was sweet and delicious. If I could just improve my pastry-making skills, I'll be onto a winner!

Check out the round-up of all the custardy recipes from around the world now up at Simply Recipes.


  • At 8:05 am, Anonymous McHills said…

    KJW. You're mad. Hilarious. But quite mad... :)

  • At 11:45 am, Blogger Niki said…

    Heh hehe - I did laugh! :-) I had a similar pastry experience when making my SHF Nuts entry back in January. God, I went crazy.
    I have that Sweet Foods book, published by Murdoch, but mine is really small - like pocket size. Would it be the same version? Cos, I actually created a real index for it, if you want it.I was shocked their index was so bloody pathetic that it was impossible to find anything, and the recipes in the book are 'arranged' in totally random order!
    I think copha was in the ingredients bc it's easier for us to get than lard, which is the usual ingredient in Portugese custard tart pastry (it's why they're so flaky..and healthy!). Do we have any other form of vegetable shortening available in Australia? We don't seem to have an equivalent to the US Crisco or UK Trex, which are often in recipes - and copha just isn't an acceptable substitute at all (plus it tastes BAD!).
    You could also make White Christmas with the leftovers? I used to do it as a kid, even though I hated it. Copha, sugar, rice bubbles, dried fruit etc... I'm positive your copha will still be ok to use by Christmas, processed to within an inch of its life, as it is!

  • At 11:58 am, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hey McHills, being mad and hilarious are two things we have in common - that's why we're friends ;)

    Hi Niki, it's a small book, but it's about an inch thick. It sounds like the same one because there is no order to the recipes.

    That'd be great if you could send me a copy of your index - thanks very much for the offer! You've obviously found your true calling as a library cataloguer if you go around making up your own indexes - sorry, indices - for books! How cool!

    On that note, the index in my edition of The Cook's Companion (the multicoloured one) sometimes doesn't match up to the actual content - I dare you to DIY an index for that huge book! :)

    Mmm, white Christmas. I do love that stuff. I think I will save up my copha stockpile until the end of the year!

  • At 1:41 pm, Anonymous augustusgloop said…

    lol. A hilarious write-up and a thoroughly entertaining read! But these turned out a winner so hurrah!

    I love those caramelised tops. They just scream 'eat me!'

  • At 8:39 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hey AG, glad you liked the post! Can we expect a SHF entry from you? I've been keeping an eye on your blog all day!

  • At 4:03 am, Anonymous joey said…

    Your tarts look perfect :) And your post was hilarious! I felt I experienced the recipe right there with you :)

  • At 3:19 am, Blogger Nic said…

    This sounds like it was a lot of fun, Kelly, and the final product certainly looks good! I know the appeal of flakey crusts, but I think a crunchy one might have been a nice contrast with the custard.

  • At 8:48 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hi Joey, thanks for the compliment! I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    Hi Nic, yes, it was fun :)

  • At 12:45 pm, Blogger blazing_star_racer said…

    Haha - now I wish that I was home while you were making the custart tarts. Sounds like you were having a great time! All the effort that you went to has paid off though - they truly were a tasty treat. How lucky am I to have a handy baker as a wife? :)

  • At 12:46 pm, Blogger blazing_star_racer said…

    Whoops..I meant "custard" not "custart"!

  • At 5:05 pm, Blogger Lori said…

    Your tarts look so perky and yellow. I can almost taste them...

  • At 10:20 am, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hi B_S_R, yes you are a lucky guy! :p

    Hi Lori, thanks for dropping by! They did turn out looking cute didn't they? Thanks for the compliment!

  • At 10:36 pm, Blogger pseudo chef said…

    This is one of the funniest entries I've read and yummy looking tarts!

  • At 3:25 am, Blogger Jennifer said…

    Wow! Those tarts look amazing...and your write-up was truly hilarious!
    Thanks so much for joining in on SHF...!

  • At 12:59 pm, Blogger Meena said…

    Hi !

    I would like to invite you to participate in "I Like 'em Spicy!", a fortnightly food event, where all participants have to come up with a spicy recipe using the Star Ingredient (which is different every fortnight)!

    The rules are simple:

    1. The recipe has to use the Star Ingredient as the base of the dish
    2. It has to be SPICY!!
    3. Dishes can be of any form you can imagine, appetizers, mains, desserts, drinks...whatever you can come up with!

    On the 1st and 15th of every month, I will the post the Star Ingredient and you are expected to email your entries to by the next two weeks.

    At the end of the two weeks, I will post all the recipes on a special blog built especially for "I Like 'em Spicy!" so you can all view the fabulous entries!

    For further details do drop in "Hooked on Heat", at and join in on the fun!

    - Meena

  • At 2:16 am, Blogger Princess said…

    I love your honesty. Sounds like too much fun!

  • At 7:35 am, Blogger boo_licious said…

    Yummy, they look like portugese egg tarts with their caramelised tops.

  • At 2:24 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hi Pseudo Chef, glad you liked my post! :)

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for dropping by - can't wait to see what the next SHF theme is!

    Hi Meena, I love spicy stuff too! I'll check it out.

    hi Princess, yep it was heaps of fun :)

    Hey Boo, thanks! I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out looking so nice!

  • At 1:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    these portuguese pastries are called natas - they are simply divine!
    nata lover from Montreal


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