Imagine these little bite size cream tarts with a crisped flaky and sturdy crust and a lightly sweet creamy filling. They are not quite pie, with their laminated pastry crust, but not a puff pastry nor a danish. Its part open face croissant, part creme brulee, but even that doesn’t begin to cover it. This elegant little treat is a Pasteis de Nata, very popular in Portugal’s bakery scene, but made right here on Ho’okele street by Brandy Franco, proprietor and pastry chef of Maui Nata.
“Pastéis de Nata originated in Portugal and there’s a cool backstory to it,” says Franco. “It was created in the early nineteenth century by a monastery in Belém, Portugal. At that time all monasteries and convents were shut down due to the liberal revolution. The monastery used egg whites for starching clothes, so they had an excess of egg yolks. As a means of survival, they created a pastry that used up their egg yolks and sold it out of the monastery, these pastries are known as Pastéis de Belém. This is the original home of the Portuguese egg tart, which still stands today and inspired us to create our own.”
Franco and her boyfriend Keith Patrocinio both graduated from the UH Maui Culinary academy.
“I graduated from the Maui Culinary Academy with degrees in both Culinary Arts & Pastry,” says Franco. “I’ve worked in the kitchen at the Four Seasons, Maui Tropical Plantation, and Hoaloha Bake Shop. My boyfriend Keith, who is my number one helper, also graduated from MCA and is currently a cook at Grand Wailea.”
She knew she wanted to open her own food truck early on in her food career, but wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do.
“We always wanted to have a food truck of some sort,” says Franco. “We thought about doing lunches but then we really soul searched to find something that was really unique. We noticed there weren’t many trucks doing just pastries. So that is why I went in that direction. We decided to work on the pasteis de nata and really perfect it and then expand into taking this mobile. We thought about doing orders and delivery, but so far we prefer our little pastry food truck outpost.”
She cracked open a few cookbooks and did some searches on the internet with her mom as support. Franco traces her proud Portuguese heritage serveral generations back here on Maui. She felt a connection to this pastry, but had to come up with the recipe all on her own.
“I developed this on my own,” says Franco. “My first attempt was a flop. I looked up a recipe. It came out like an omelet. it was bad but it had a good taste. Then I watched some videos. People post videos how they would make them but they were very secretive. So I just went for it with trial and error. Culinary school helped a lot, I know how to make a laminated dough. I must have practiced hundreds of times.”
“It was a process,” says Patrocinio. “So many times we would try so many minutes at a certain temperature. This pastry needs to be balanced. You don’t want the oven to be too hot and burn the outside, but leave the inside raw. So trial and error took a while.”
Little by little they perfected their approach. Franco admits to being a bit nervous when she opened because only family had been her tasters. She worried that the general public wasn’t gonna like them when they opened their doors in October of 2018. But that’s not how it went down.
“Pastéis de Nata is a Portuguese custard tart,” explains Franco. “The custard is smooth, light and a little sweet, with a touch of lemon and vanilla. Our crust is a handmade laminated dough that is flaky, crispy and a little savory. Pastéis de Nata is cooked at a high temperature to create some dark spots (similar to creme brûlée) and a crispy, caramelized crust. It gives a little taste of bitterness, which all works so well together. Some people may compare it to a Chinese egg tart, but the crust and filling is actually a little different.”
I brought some home so my husband could taste them too. His response, “Who wouldn’t want one of these? They are way better than malasadas.”
Franco and Patrocinio come in at 4 am to their Hookele location, and start heating up the oven. It takes 2 hours to preheat. Then they bake off their Pasteis de Nata a few at a time to keep them fresh for the customers that come by between their open hours of 7:30am to 12:30 pm. They serve them with coffee and a few other drinks on the menu.
“We offer Pastéis de Nata in 3 flavors: Classic (plain custard), Chocolate & our Flavor of the Month,” says Franco. “We also offer some beverages: hot brewed coffee, Sumol (Portuguese sparkling juice) & bottled water. What makes me so happy is when I see people smiling after taking their first bite. My goal is to have people enjoy every bite, taste the quality, different textures and to think of it as comfort food.”
The two of them plan to travel to Portugal next year to get a first hand look at more pastry. In the meantime, she samples here on island.
“Food on Maui is definitely a mixture of cultures and lifestyles,” says Franco. “Maui has a wide-range of food trucks, which definitely evolved from the lunch wagon days. A lot of eateries are also incorporating healthy choices and local ingredients into their menus. I’m also loving all of the “sweet” creations & bakeries that are popping up!”
If you are planning to buy enough extra tarts to have some leftover her tarts are shelf stable for a day, then you can refrigerate or freeze them. To reheat pop in the oven at 450 for 10 to 13 minutes.
“Farm to table is something that I believe in, but it can be a little difficult to incorporate into tarts,” says Franco. “That’s why we try to create different flavors according to the seasons. For example, with our Strawberry and Mac Nut natas, we used local Kula strawberries and locally grown macadamia nuts. We have some future flavors and savory options in the works that will have local ingredients.”
59 Ho’okele St, Kahului, HI 96732
Wednesday-Saturday from 7:30am-12:30pm (or till sold out)