If you want to make a Portuguese person drool, show them a cake. A Portuguese one, of course. To the uninitiated, they might not look that special but trust me, and those who love them, there’s more to Portuguese cakes and desserts than meets the eye.
Little attempt is made to pretty them up so unlike the beautiful colourful displays in French bakeries, everything here tends to look rather brown and dull. Don’t be fooled, Portuguese cakes usually taste much better than they look.
Many of the recipes for the nation’s favourite sweet treats originated in Portugal’s convents and monasteries. Eggs, especially the yolks, feature heavily. The egg whites were used to starch clothes and preserve wine so the yolks ended up in cakes and puddings. Along with plenty of sugar. Almonds are another popular ingredient although each region specialises in incorporating local produce into their cakes whether that’s beans, cheese or chestnuts.
Sadly, I’m usually too full after a meal to squeeze in a dessert and don’t often treat myself to a cake while I’m out. Even so, I have managed to sample a fair few over my years in Portugal so here’s a random selection of Portuguese cakes and desserts to get your mouth watering.
Since writing this post, I’ve been sampling more cakes and reviewed a book about how they’re made.
If you’re tempted to try making some Portuguese cakes at home, take a look at some of these books about Portuguese food, some of which have recipes for firm favourites like pastel de nata.