Pasteis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts, are a popular Portuguese pastry that have given rise to a liqueur that is reminiscent of Bailey’s Irish Cream, only richer, lighter, silkier, and more nuanced.
The liqueur, 35 Licor de Pastel de Nata, was introduced at WineAsia 2017 in Hong Kong and should soon be available in Hong Kong and neighboring Macau.
Pasteis de nata are popular in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries as well as in communities with large numbers of Portuguese immigrants in such countries as Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, and the United States.
Pasteis de nata date back to the 17th century, when convents and monasteries in Portugal used large quantities of egg whites to starch clothing.
The leftover egg yolks were used to make cakes and pastries. Of the various recipes that were invented, pasteis de nata were among the most popular. Cinnamon and powdered sugar were sprinkled on top.
According to legend, the recipe for pasteis de nata was perfected by monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem section of Lisbon, the nation's capital.
The monks were actually from France, where similar pastries were popular. Did they bring the recipe with them? Did they enhance it?
After the monastery was closed in 1834, the monks started selling them at a nearby sugar refinery. A factory producing pasteis de nata was opened three years later, and it is still owned by descendants of the original owners.
Pasteis de Nata were introduced to Macau in the 1990’s by Andrew Stow, an English baker at his popular bakery, Lord Stow’s in Coloane.
They took the enclave, which was still under Portuguese administration, by storm.
The pasteis de nata that emerged from the ovens at Lord Stow’s were not only a hit with home-sick members of the Portuguese expatriate community.
They also proved popular with members of the Chinese community because of their similarity to Cantonese style egg tarts, which were among the most popular types of dim sum served at Cantonese tea houses.
Macau had a newly opened airport, and it is said that some people from Taiwan actually flew to Macau for the express purpose of purchasing pasteis de nata to take home to family and friends.
When Lord Stow’s opened a branch selling pasteis de nata in Hong Kong, long lines quickly formed, and copycat bakeries started popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.
For a few heady months, pasteis de nata were all the rage, but their intense popularity didn't last. The Lord Stow outlet and the numerous copycat bakeries disappeared almost as quickly as they opened.
But they are more than just a memory. The concept lives on.
The recipe for pasteis de nata was purchased by Kentucky Fried Chicken and marketed as Portuguese Egg Tarts. They have been in the menu in Hong Kong, Macau, and nearby communities ever since, where they enjoy on-going popularity.
It was against this backdrop that I discovered a booth promoting 35 Licor de Pastel de Nata at ProWine Asia 2017, a trade fair in Hong Kong for the beverage industry.
The event was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 8 to 11 May 2017.
I was fascinated by the concept, so I stopped to practice my rusty Portuguese and – hopefully – be offered a taste. I must say, it was love at first sip!
I’ve always been a big fan of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and I think I like 35 Licor de Pastel de Nata even more.
It is richer, lighter, silkier, and more nuanced. The taste evolves on the tongue the same way a sip of well-aged Port does.
I’m sure Licor de Pastel de Nata would go very well with a bica, the very strong Portuguese version of espresso.
Inspiration for the beverage, which is pronounced trinta e cinco, came about when its creator visited a similar trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2016.
A conversation about pasteis de nata with a local liquor producer gave rise to the question: why not create a beverage that combined the two flavours?
And thus, 35 Licor de Pasteis de Nata, or Liqueur of Portuguese Eggs Tarts, was born. It has an alcohol content of 14.5%.
Will the product prove as popular as Portuguese egg tarts? Will it be to sold at supermarkets and wine shops? Will it be served at cocktail lounges and wine bars?
More importantly, could 35 Licor de Pastel de Nata possibly challenge Bailey's Irish Cream for global supremacy? I think it could do so on taste. But first you've got to get people to try it.
One of the challenges I foresee is nomenclature. Marketing the product should prove a piece of cake in Portuguese-speaking communities, where pasteis de nata are a known - and well-loved - entity.
But what about in other linguistic realms? I'm afraid the brand needs a catchier, more memorable name if it is to catch on in non-Portuguese-speaking environments.
Bailey's Irish Cream rolls off the tongue. It is easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and - most importantly - self- explanatory.
If 35 Licor de Pastel de Nata can overcome this obstacle, I'm sure it will have a rosy future.