cream and sponge cake with chopped nuts

Since I published my previous post about Portuguese cakes and desserts, I’ve been checking out some of your recommendations and have even been given a book to read about them. I’ll start you off with a fresh batch of cakes before telling you about the book, Fabrico Próprio (the closest translation is ‘Own Production’ so we’re talking about cakes that are a step up from homemade and are produced by and for the cake shop or café that sells them).

Broa de mel, honey cake
Broa de mel is a rich honey cake. The soft dense texture reminded me a little of rum truffles from the UK – never a bad thing!
Bolo de Berlim, a popular Portuguese cake
By far the most popular Portuguese cake, judging by the comments on my last cake post, is the Bola de Berlim, a fried sponge cake, a bit like a doughnut, filled with egg-yolk cream. I don’t know if I was unlucky with this particular one but I really wasn’t impressed. It was dry and disappointing after all the hype.
Walnut muffin, queque de noz
The queque de noz is essentially a walnut muffin. When they’re fresh, soft and moist, you can’t go wrong with one of these.
Jesuíta, Portuguese cake
The Jesuíta is folded puff pastry with a thin layer of egg-yolk cream in the middle and a crispy cinnamon meringue topping. It can be a bit too dry for my tastes. That said, Leitaria do Carmo in Viana do Castelo really do make the best ones I’ve tried.
Fartura, a Portuguese doughnut with sugar and cinnamon
Maybe I’m cheating a little here but if you go to any festival or local fair in Portugal, you’re bound to see a fartura stall. Essentially, farturas are strips of doughnut served with icing sugar and cinnamon. Be careful how you eat them as the powder gets everywhere!

Book review: Fabrico Próprio

If you’re really interested in Portuguese cakes, you might want to get hold of a copy of Fabrico Próprio, The Design of Portuguese Semi-Industrial Confectionery by Pedrita (Rita João and Pedro Ferreira) and Frederico Duarte. The authors aren’t bakers or confectioners, they’re designers, so they’ve approached the cakes from a design perspective, looking at the many factors and people involved in the production process and the environments in which they are enjoyed. They look beyond the family-run cafés of Portugal to countries around the globe where various nationalities feast upon Portuguese cakes.

This isn’t a recipe book, it’s a compendium of 92 traditional Portuguese cakes, variations of which are currently being produced by small-scale bakeries throughout Portugal. These cakes are all based on traditional recipes and to a certain extent handmade, allowing confectioners room for a little creativity. The cakes are sold locally in ‘fabrico próprio’ cafés and bakeries. This personal touch explains why loyal customers flock to certain bakeries for specific cakes. If you want to know where to get the best pastel de nata or bolo de arroz (rice cake) in town, ask a local.

The book explores the history of cake-making in Portugal from its origins in the country’s convents through the influences of foreign ingredients and cultures to the present day. The trends and tastes of Portuguese cake consumers may have changed over the centuries but the nation continues to crave its sweet fix. You get a glimpse of this in a lovely section that follows the night owls of Lisbon queuing for freshly-baked goodies outside local bakeries in the early hours of the morning.

The much loved bola de berlim has an entire section devoted to its beach sellers. Stricter food hygiene regulations may mean they are a less common sight on Portuguese beaches but many a Portuguese person has fond memories of summers with a bola de berlim on the beach, some of which are shared in this book.

In another part of the book, you can follow the baking process of certain cakes using the hand-drawn diagrams of master baker João de Sousa’s 1980’s instruction manual. Before then, bakers were very reluctant to share their knowledge and expertise and apprentices were seldom trusted with recipes or key tricks of the trade.

Fortunately for the Portuguese confectionery industry, times have changed and as the Fabrico Próprio project has discovered, there is a much greater willingness for collaboration and innovation. The cakes that are popular today may be made according to age-old recipes but new recipes continue to evolve. Good news for cake lovers.

If you’d like to know more about the book or order a copy, visit the Fabrico Próprio website  or pop into the A Vida Portuguesa shop in Lisbon (Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, 23).

Otherwise, look out for the words ‘fabrico próprio‘ when choosing your bakery, café or cake shop. That way, you know you’re getting the closest thing to home made cakes, baked by experts using recipes and methods they’ve perfected over many years.

For other scrummy Portuguese flavours, check out these 5 books about Portuguese food.

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  1. Hey ur blog is really interesting 🙂 !!

  2. I’ve not indulged much in the cakes because what I’ve had have been so sweet. Are any less sweet?

    1. Author

      Hi Brid, They do tend to be a bit on the sweet side but you could try a Jesuíta with chopped nuts instead of the meringue topping, a tarte de maça (apple tart) or a pastel de feijão (bean tart).

  3. Two weeks of cake and pastry eating in Portugal and I cannot see my life in the US without them! I am in love.

    1. Author

      You’re not alone – there must be several places in the US where you can track down a Portuguese cake or two, at least in the bigger cities. You may even be able to organise delivery if you can’t find a local supplier. Good luck with your cake hunt!

  4. The best Bolas de Berlin are usually sold at the beaches, they are soft and fresh. I love a fartura too…
    The Portuguese really do have the best pastries, such a great variety! Here in Australia the cakes are sold by the slice – huge, chunky, or otherwise you can buy muffins, no fine pastries.

    1. Author

      The idea of doughnuts on the beach is new for me but I’ll have to make a point of looking out for them now I know about them 🙂

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