Portugal has always been known for its desserts, among many things. In a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, hot summers and beach days are the norm, and nothing tops off a hot day of beach hopping like a cold and delicious dessert sent straight from heaven. Which is exactly what this name translates to. Natas du céu translates as cream or custard from heaven. Now, most people are far more familiar with the traditional Portuguese Pastéis de Nata, a wonderful custard tart that has won the world over as visitors sing its praises, but don’t let this fool you; Portugal has many more delicious desserts to share.
This dessert is easy to make and can be stored in the fridge if you like it softer, or it can be frozen for something resembling ice cream, only better. It consists of layering crumbled cookies and cream and topping it all off with a thin layer of egg yolk and sugar that will make you question where this beautiful concoction has been all your life.
1 package of Maria cookies (Marie biscuits)
2 cups of whipping cream
6 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar and 2 tbsp.
1 lemon (optional) 1 orange (optional)
Take the Maria cookies and crumble them. You can use a cheese grater or food processor if you have one.
Separate the eggs into yolks and whites and set aside.
You will only need one small two-inch piece of peel from the orange and or lemon. This is not a must, so if you are allergic or don’t care for the taste of citrus, feel free to omit the peel entirely.
Beat the whipping cream with 1/4 cup of sugar until it is at full volume. Set it aside.
Next, beat the six egg whites with two tablespoons of sugar until they are fluffy and hold peaks.
Bring back the whipped cream and fold it into the egg whites until well blended. Do not mix or beat the two, or they will liquefy.
In six ramekins, or small cups or bowls, put a thin layer of Maria cookie followed by a layer of white cream, another layer of Maria cookie and then another of cream. Usually, you will only get two layers of each, but depending on how tall the container you’re using, you might get three layers of each. Make sure you always end on a layer of cream and still have space at the top of the ramekin for the sweet yolk cream that you will make next.
Place the ramekins in the fridge or freezer if you prefer more ice cream-like consistency. I sure do.
In a small pot mix in 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 tbsp. of water along with a small piece of orange and lemon peel (optional) and bring it to a boil. Mix gently to incorporate all the sugar leaving no hard bits on the sides of the pot. Once it is at a boil, allow it to cool a bit, mixing it so often so that no sugar hardens around the edges. Remove the peels if you used them.
Beat the yolks.
Here is the hardest part of the whole recipe. You must now whisk the egg yolks into the liquid sugar mixture, but you don’t want the eggs to cook, or you will have stringy egg pieces. Therefore, you have to slowly pour the egg yolks while vigorously whisking the two together.
Once the two are blended, return the mixture to medium heat until it reaches a slow boil, continually stirring until it thickens.
When it has thickened to a consistency that coats a wooden spoon, remove from heat and allow to cool.
The mixture will thicken further as it cools. When it has cooled to a point when it is only slightly warm, you can spoon some over each ramekin as the final layer and return them to the fridge or freezer. When you are ready to eat them, they can be served on their own or with berries of your choice for garnish.
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