One thing we realised pretty soon after moving to Portugal is that the Portuguese are somewhat obsessed with their pastries, cakes, and desserts. When you visit Portugal, you must sample one (or all) of the many traditional Portuguese cakes, pastries and sweets, that are sold in just about every ‘pastelaria’ (pastry shop) across the country, along with all the savory Portuguese foods.
With so many delicious varieties on offer, it may be overwhelming for a first-time visitor. As such, I’ve compiled a list of my top 7 traditional Portuguese desserts, pastries, cakes, and tarts, to hopefully inspire you to give these delectable delights a try.
Whether you’re a sweet tooth or not, when visiting Portugal, you absolutely have to give at least some of these a go!
Pasteis de Nata
The granddaddy and certainly trumping all other pastries found in Portugal in terms of popularity, has to be the humble Pastel de Nata. This tasty egg custard tartlet with its colourful history has certainly captured the imagination of many and is today often featured on many “top things to do in Portugal” lists.
Its history dates back to the 1800’s in the Lisbon neighbourhood of Belém, when the monks and nuns of the Jerónimos Monastery used to use egg whites to starch their clothes. The result lead to them creating all sorts of egg-based desserts with the left-over egg yolks, including this egg custard tart, today known as the Pasteis de Nata.
Around 1834 the monastery shut down and sold the original recipe to the owners of the nearby pastry shop, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, who has sold the pastry ever since. Technically the Pasteis de Belém is the original and the recipe still remains a closely guarded secret.
Today the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is somewhat of an institution with many tourists queuing to get their hands on these tartlets. They have become so popular that many other bakeries have started to create their own variations, resulting the name Pasteis de Nata being given to all other varieties sold outside the Pasteis de Belem bakery.
Personally, I have always loved the Pasteis de Nata sold at the Manteigaria outlet. You can find them in the trendy Chiado neighbourhood in Lisbon, or at the Time Out Market in Cais do Sodre in Lisbon and even in Porto too.
Pasteis de Nata consists of an outer crunchy phyllo-pastry, filled with an egg custard filling made with flour, milk, egg yolks, lots of sugar and a dash of lemon zest. Once baked you eat them piping hot out the oven, and do make sure to add some cinnamon and icing sugar to top it off nicely.
Better yet, why not book yourself on one of the many Pasteis de Nata baking workshops in Lisbon and learn to make your own at home. Pasteis de Nata is just one of many street foods you must try in Portugul and throughout Europe, for that matter. Start here and work your way through the other 76 best street food dishes in Europe on this list.
Bola de Berlim
For the next Portuguese pastry on my list, we’ll head over to the beach. Weirdly the Bola de Berlim has become Portugal’s favourite beach-time snack and you’ll often find vendors walking along the beach with their cooler boxes, shouting ‘Bola de Berlim’ to drum up business.
As odd a choice as it may seem, I must confess that this is my personal favourite! The Bola de Berlim is essentially a Berliner doughnut, with the only difference being the filling. Yes, you guessed it, the Portuguese variation consists of the traditional egg custard filling.
This doughnut has become so popular in Portugal that a whole host of variations have popped up over the years with an imaginative array of different fillings including, Nutella, Oreo, Hazelnut and even Kiwi. Almost all pastry shops across Portugal will sell the more traditional egg custard variation.
Bolo Rei (Traditional Christmas Cake)
Are you visiting Portugal in December? If so, you have to give the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, the Bolo Rei (translated to King’s Cake) a try.
Although this ring cake, topped with glazed fruits was originally imported from France to Portugal by the Lisbon based bakery, Confeitaria Nacional, still operational today, it has been adapted over the decades to what it is today and is a traditional Portuguese staple, especially during the festive season.
You can find numerous variations to the traditional Bolo Rei recipe, with the less sweet version that’s topped with nuts instead of glazed fruits, the Bolo Rainha (Queen’s cake) becoming quite popular too. The Bolo Rei can usually be bought in pastry shops across the country, usually more so from around the end of November and throughout the festive season into early January.
Tarte de Amendoim
Yet another firm favourite is the crunchy caramelized Tarte de Amendoim (Almond Tart) that you will also find across most of Portugal. It’s a thin pie, made of fairly basic ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, milk, butter and almonds), but is incredibly tasty and very sweet!
Whilst searching online for the perfect Tarte de Amendoim recipe, I happened upon a legend surrounding how almond trees came to be in Portugal. It’s rumoured that an Arab prince who was worried about his wife becoming homesick and miss the sight of snow.
This resulted in the prince ordering the planting of almond trees so as to simulate the look of snow once the trees’ blossoms were in full bloom. The story probably isn’t factual, but what I do know for sure is that this tart is absolutely delicious and well worth a try.
Pastel De Feijão
The Pastel de Feijão is another popular Portuguese tart that’s worth tasting. This small white bean tartlet originally hails from the city of Torres Vedras where it is said to have been invented in the late 19th century.
Today though, you can find this pastry across much of Portugal. It may seem like an odd flavour combination, but for some reason the white beans work really well. The texture is quite firm and the tart itself is very sweet, much like most of the Portuguese tarts and cakes.
If you’re visiting northern Portugal and thinking of taking a day trip from Porto, then why not head over to the ‘Venice of Portugal’, the city of Aveiro.
It’s here that you will find the Portuguese sweet known as Ovos Moles, that’s become synonymous with the city. This small wafer-shell delicacy filled with egg custard and one of the sweets also originally invented by nuns, is so loved that it even forms part of a list of Portuguese pastries and sweets that’s been granted protective status by the European Union.
Literally translated as napkin or serviette, this is another Portuguese cake worth tasting on your next trip to Portugal.
The Guardanapo cake is a soft sponge cake, cut into a square and topped with traditional Portuguese egg custard, doused in lots of sugar, before being folded in half, into the shape of what resembles a serviette, hence its very descriptive name.
We know you’re going to love these Portuguese desserts and pastries. Be sure to hunt them down and give them a try while you’re in Portugal. Are there any other treats you’ve had in Portugal that you think we should know about? Leave a comment!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. On a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage, Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal and Spain, through his blog Travel-Boo.