The year 2020 has been a trying one for all of us, and a disastrous year for travel. Right before the world shut down, we got in one last international trip to Peru in December. In March, things came to halt. Stuck at home with our kids trying to learn virtually, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, and cold weather outside, we were going to have to figure out this new virtual life. We did the puzzles, but eventually the kids grew tired of it. We jumped on the sourdough bread wagon, but only one of us (me) made it, while everyone else devoured it. We tried the virtual museum and country tours. Our kids flatly refused. I think it was Zoom overload for them. We were all Zoomed out.
Just as I was ready to throw in the towel, I was invited to attend a virtual cooking class out of Portugal, teaching how opportunity to make a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese egg tart). When we were in Lisbon, we devoured them. The kids couldn’t get enough of the rich custard centers surrounded by puff pastry. Neither could we!
Pastelaria Batalha, located in the city of Lisbon, Portugal offers Pastel de Nata virtual cooking classes on Sundays. The classes are taught by João Batalha, a pastry chef and owner of Pastelaria Batalha. I knew this was the perfect way to get my family involved and keep the thrill of travel and culinary travel alive during a time when we cannot travel and explore. I signed up for a Sunday course taught in English. Prior to the class, the pastry shop sent a list of ingredients and tools. For some reason, I was extremely nervous about the class. After all, the class was being taught by an international award-winning pastry chef and I don’t consider myself much of a baker. I was scared I would mess it up, not only in front of a professional, but in front of my kids.
The ingredient list called for all-purpose flour, sugar, eggs, cinnamon stick, milk, lemon peel, salt, and water. The weights were listed in grams. I don’t measure in grams—the metric system immediately made my anxiety creep back up. I went right to work, Googling the conversions to Imperial measurements. I did go a little overboard and took to Amazon, buying a digital kitchen scale to measure in grams. I also bought egg tart molds. My anxiety was making me want to overachieve.
Day of the Virtual Cooking Class
We logged on to our virtual cooking class on a Sunday morning. I had every ingredient perfectly measured and laid out in bowls. I had pre-heated the oven. The bread paddle attachment set-up to our mixer. We were ready to roll. João Batalha started by having everyone introduce themselves and say where we were from. There were a couple of other participants joining the class, including Michigan and Berlin. The thought of not only baking in front of a pro, but now adding in other people to witness my skill, was a bit unnerving.
João told us a bit about himself and Pastel de Nata. We all made some chit chat and were ready to start the baking. We started out with the puff pastry. This was the hardest part of the entire pastry process. Given how time-consuming and complex it is, most home bakers buy pre-made pastry dough. It’s something I’d never made before. Luckily, João gave perfect instructions and was patient with us. I learned a lot from him looking at the consistency of my dough and guiding whether I needed more flour and whether I needed to work the dough further. I was worried we would be judged, but he was upbeat and positive. Most importantly, he made me feel successful.
After finishing the pastry dough, we started making the custard filling. Fortunately, this was the easier part and the kids enjoyed tasting the finished filling made with egg yolks, milk, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon peel. It was thick and sweet, and we were ready to put it all together.
We put out the molds on a cookie sheet, took our puff pastry roll and got to work. We cut the pastry into 1-inch rounds. We then molded the single, pastry rounds into the pastry mold. We then took turns pouring the filling into the center of the molds. João periodically had us show him our work on camera to make sure we stayed on track.
The tarts went into the oven, and baked until the top of the filling started to caramelize. During our baking time, the other participants were still working on theirs. We all chatted about where we were from. It was a nice way to get a bit personal while sharing the same baking experience. As everyone’s product started to finish, we all tried the fruits of our labors. The pastel de nata we baked was rich, sweet, and–in my opinion–just like eating one on the streets of Lisbon.
The entire class was 2 hours long but felt much shorter because of its interactive format. We were creating a product while being directly guided by a master pastry chef, rather than just watching someone do it themselves. The best part was that we got the whole family involved, creating a sweet treat from another part of the world.
Our online cooking course was a successful way to keep our kids engaged and active and, in a sense, keep the wonder of travel in our lives. We learned a new skill, got to try a dessert from another country, and interact with others from around the globe. The best part of the entire experience, according to the kids, was the finished product. We will definitely be doing more online cooking classes in the future.
Learn more about Pastelaria Batalha virtual cooking classes here.
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