We have a major weakness for a Portuguese pastry called “jesuita.” Its shape and color resemble the habits of Jesuit monks, hence the name.
The “jesuita” was invented more than a century ago by a Spanish pastry chef who worked in Santo Tirso, a town in the north of Portugal. It combines puff pastry with two egg-based creams. The whites and the yolks are separated. The yolks are used to make a cream that is layered inside the puff pastry. The whites are used for the frosting.
The quality of “jesuitas” varies from satisfying to divine, depending on the excellence of the ingredients and the exactness of the execution. One of the best “jesuitas” we ever tried came from a wonderful pastry store near Chiado called Tartine. We bit into this delight, and the yolks and whites reunited into a mystical explosion of flavor!
Tartine is located on Rua Serpa Pinto, 15-A, tel 21-342-9108. Click here for their web site.
The most revered noble in the kingdom of Algarve does not own land or royal charters. Dom Rodrigo is a dessert that has been produced since the 18th century. It looks like a gift, wrapped in colored foil and tied with a ribbon.
Alchemists all over the world tried to turn lead into gold. In Algarve, cooks tried to turn eggs, sugar, cinnamon and almonds into joy. And they succeeded!
The road to Sintra is paved with sweet temptations. We stopped for a coffee at Pastelaria Gregório and couldn’t resist eating one of their travesseiros (pillows). They were still warm, the layers of dough fusing with the rich almond cream. Our palates were so delighted that we asked for a queijada, another classic Sintra pastry. A plate with several miniature queijadas arrived and, although we tried, it was impossible to eat only one.
Gregório Ribeiro started producing and selling these wonderful queijadas in 1890. The business continues to be in the family. Gregório’s great-grandchildren work at the pastry store, making sure that the quality is exceptional, baking the pastries in small batches so that everything is fresh out of the oven.
There was a constant flow of regular customers who came in for their favorite sweet treats: almond tarts, bolos de amor (love cakes), broas de mel (honey cakes), and much more. We asked Teresa Matos, the owner of Pastelaria Gregório, whether they’re always this busy.
“Christmas is our toughest season,” she answered. “Customers love our traditional Bolo Rei (king’s cake) so there’s always a long line outside the store. We know it’s frustrating to wait for so long to buy our cake. But we don’t want to bake the cakes in advance because they lose their freshness.”
“Is the cake really worth the wait?” we asked. “You need to decide for yourself,” said Teresa with a mischievous smile. In December we’ll be waiting in line to find out.
Pastelaria Gregório is located at Av. D. Francisco de Almeida 33/35 in Sintra, tel. 219-232-733.
What is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon? The answer depends on our mood. Some days, we like them perfumed with lemon. Other days, we prefer them scented with vanilla.
Our current favorites are the lemony kind. They are made by Manteigaria in Praça Camões near Chiado at a location that was once occupied by a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter). Perhaps as an homage to the past, Manteigaria’s pasteis have a buttery taste. The crispy crust and the rich filling are so satisfying that they make us feel, for a moment, that we discovered the meaning of life.
Whenever a new batch of pasteis comes hot out of the oven, Mantegaria’s cashier rings a bell. You’ll see people dropping what they’re doing and rushing to Manteigaria in search of a moment of sweetness.
Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto, 2 near Chiado in Lisbon, tel. 21-347-1492.
Andy Warhol captured the essence of American culture using simple images: the appeal of convenience with cans of soup, the allure of fame with portraits of Marilyn Monroe, the love of brands with bottles of Coca Cola.
We wonder how Warhol would have captured the essence of Portugal. A good candidate image is the pastel de nata. It is sweet, with an exotic touch lent by vanilla and cinnamon. The crust gives it substance and the combination is unforgettable.
Plato thought that the circle was a symbol of the divine. Alberti, an Italian architect, considered it the perfect shape. But no one was more obsessed with the circle than Guarino Guarini, a brilliant Baroque architect. His buildings are made of concave and convex spaces delineated by circles. One of his most important works, the church of Santa Maria da Divina Providência in Lisbon, was famous for its undulating facade. Sadly, the church was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake.
By happenstance, the circular shapes included in Guarini’s treatise, Architettura Civile, resurfaced in Portugal in the 20th century in the design of the popular bolo bolacha (biscuit cake). This cake is made with the circular Maria biscuits invented in 1874 by an English baker to celebrate the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh with the Russian Duchess Maria Alexandrovna. To make the cake, the biscuits are dipped in strong coffee, layered with buttercream and then assembled according to designs that would make Guarini proud.
If you see bolo bolacha on a restaurant menu, give it a try. Like the circle, it is simple, but divine.
Ovos Moles is the name of a store in Lisbon that sells traditional sweets made from recipes created in Portuguese convents. These wonderful desserts are procured from small producers who often kept the original recipes in their family for several generations. They are indescribable delights made of eggs, sugar, flour, fruits, and nuts.
It is a privilege to be able try and compare so many of these exceptional desserts. After all, in times gone by, we would have had to commit to a monastic life to enjoy the heavenly concoctions that Ovos Moles offers.
Ovos Moles is located at Calçada da Estrela, 140-142, tel. 919303788. Click here for their website.