the sweet life, portuguese-style

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Welcome to Day 2 of the Countdown to Portugal 2016! For anyone who missed yesterday’s post:

Registration for my Portugal culinary retreat opens on Monday, June 27 at 10am PST

To celebrate and to familiarize you with one of my very favorite countries, I’m posting to the blog every day this week about why I’m crazy in love with Portugal! 

Today, I’m going to introduce you to the country’s rich, eggy traditional sweets. 

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Before visiting Portugal, I’d never tasted pastries like these. Most of pastries and confections I’ve encountered in Portugal are based on the alchemy of egg yolks and sugar. These traditional Portuguese sweets are the result of two historical circumstances that collided in the 16th century: an influx of sugar from Portugal’s colonies and a large population of nuns using egg whites to starch their habits. Ever resourceful, the nuns combined the surplus yolks and newly abundant sugar to create many of the desserts still popular in Portugal today. 

And the names! I think the convents were trying to outdo each other with the originality of their sweets. We’ve got heavenly pillows (travesseiros), nun’s bellies (barrigas de freira), bacon from heaven (toucinho do céu) and angel’s cheeks (papos de anjo)--or angel’s breasts, depending on who you ask--just to name a few. 

Image via  Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

The most well known Portuguese pastry (and one of my favorites) is the pastél de nata. The combination of a creamy, eggy filling nestled in a golden, crisp crust feels like comfort food no matter where you’re from. When I land in Portugal, one of the first things I do is head to my favorite pastelaria for a still-warm-from-the-oven pastél de nata and an espresso. These flaky little custard tarts + a strong cup of coffee = breakfast bliss! 

Another of my favorite Portuguese pastries is the pastél de Tentúgal. This is a cylinder of flaky phyllo-like dough filled with a rich egg cream. It’s brushed with butter, baked until puffed and golden brown, and dusted with powdered sugar. I became obsessed with these after tasting them on last year’s retreat. After much research, I created a version almost as good as the ones I tasted in Portugal. You can check out my recipe here

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If you find yourself in Lisbon, you absolutely need to head to the 187-year-old Confeitaria Nacional and order yourself a pão de deus. This airy brioche with a layer of coconut custard under a golden, crisp coconut top is not to be missed.

When in Porto, make sure you include a stop at Leitaria da Quinta, who make one stunner of an eclair. It’s not a traditional convent sweet, but their classic eclair, stuffed full of lightly sweetened whipped cream and topped with a dark milk chocolate glaze, is ridiculously good.

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And if you’ve made it that far, you might as well stop into neighboring Padaria Ribeiro, my favorite bakery in Porto. I am a huge fan of their bite-sized pastries. I’m going to be honest: I have no idea what most of them are. There are SO many. Some are sweeter than others. Some are filled with toasted coconut. Some with tart apple. Some with egg cream. But they’re always fantastic. I recommend pointing out several in the case that are calling your name, ordering one of their excellent espressos and taking a seat on their sunny patio to discover which you like best. 

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I could go on for days about all the Portuguese sweets worth searching out. As you might have noticed, I’m on a MISSION to tell the world about the awesomeness that is Portugal! Many of its foods are still hyper-local and artisan-made. Few of them leave the country. Which means it’s a food paradise waiting to be explored. I'll be posting more on the wine and savory specialties of Portugal later this week, so stay tuned!



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