Monday, October 12, 2015

Pasteis de Laranja {Orange Pastries}

When I was a kid, dessert was treated like a formality that we only experienced on holidays and at big family dinners. It was always the same spread: traditional Portuguese fare (aletria, pudding aka flan, pasteis de nata, etc.), fruit, fruit salad spiked with port wine, and a box of Pepperidge Farm cookies. We did not deviate from the formula. Heck, the only reason we ever baked cookies was thanks to the middle school Home Economics class!

That's not to say that I'm complaining about the formula. On the contrary, I feel that it gave dessert a whole different level of nostalgia. For example, these Pasteis de Laranja are a trademark of my childhood.  I  vividly remember visiting my madrinha (god mother) in New York and there was a platter full of them on the kitchen table. They were just above my eye level so it must have been during elementary school. Maybe because they were generic and readily accessible, but it seemed everyone served them on the same Reynold's pastel cupcake liner!

So what exactly are Pasteis de Laranja? The translation is simply "orange pastries." They are a lovely concoction of milk, plenty of sugar, eggs, flour, butter, and fresh orange juice. Honestly, I have not experienced anything quite like them.

For starters, they look like golden, deflated cupcakes. The edges are a subject of great debate. Some like them browned because it gives a slight caramelized flavor. They're not burnt necessarily - just slightly singed. Others like them evenly colored and softer.

The texture is unique and is a bit difficult to explain. The center is very soft, a bit dense, and does not resemble cake at all. There is no crumble and it holds moisture; you could dig it out with a spoon. The outer edge, however, has more chew and is my favorite part to nibble.

Lastly, the flavor is super subtle. Even though it has fresh orange juice, I wouldn't mind experimenting and adding the zest of the orange as well. When I eat these, I don't really taste the orange. It's more of this hybrid of custard and cake that's magically addicting. 

The source of this recipe is my mother who never made them when she lived overseas. Instead, her best friend's cousin made them while they were visiting New Jersey many years ago. They were so smitten that they asked for the recipe and have been baking them for their families ever since. I have not been able to find them in a cookbook but have seen very similar versions listed as Queijadas de Laranja.

In keeping with tradition, I asked my mother to bake a batch with me on my birthday. She busted out her ancient binder filled with all sorts of recipes. Some are written in English, others in Portuguese, and each shares a memory. You can see time on the pages. Like many families, we don't have a "secret sauce" or one those recipes handed down generation to generation. What we do share, however, is something I would like to preserve.

Below I have included the recipe with my own notes as well as the original version that I wrote down in a Recipe Book that my mother gave me on August 12, 2003. This is the first recipe in the book. Obrigada mãe! Salude! 

Pasteis de Laranja {Orange Pastries}

3 eggs (3 ovos)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (2 1/2 copos de acucar)
3 cups milk (3 copos de leite)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 barra de manteiga)
1 cup all purpose flour  (1 copo de farinha)
The juice of one medium sized orange ~about half a cup (sumo de 1 laranja)
*a pinch of salt is optional; you could also add a splash of vanilla extract or orange liquor 

Lightly grease 24 cupcake tins. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Warm the milk either in the microwave or the stove stop to about 110 degrees. The bottom line is you want it just warmed and with no skin forming on top. Add the butter and juice. Set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally to make sure the butter melts. Once the butter is melted, you can pop it into the fridge to chill. The key is the milk mixture cannot be warm.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar. Add the flour. When the milk is completely cooled, combine the two mixtures and pour into cupcake molds. Bake at the 350F for 35 minutes. If you don't want browned edges, check in at about 25 minutes. Serve on cupcake liners so they don't stick together.

(Ferve-se o leite. Junta-se-lhe a manteiga e o sumo. Deixa-se arrefecer. Batem-se os ovos e o acucar. Junta-se-lhe a farinha. Por fim quando o leite estiver frio, juntam-se as duas misturas e poe-se em formas. Coz-se em forno a 350 por app. 35 minutos.)