A sweet inheritance

Morgadinho

When we eat lunch at the Palace Hotel in Bussaco, we feel like a character in a 19th century novel. There is a serenity, an ability to enjoy the passage of time that is absent from modern life.

The items on the menu are variations on traditional recipes, prepared with care and served with elegance. When the dessert cart arrives, the waitress recommends without hesitation the “Morgadinho do Bussaco.” It is a perfect dessert, made with only nuts and honey. Morgadinho means young heir. We’re lucky that Bussaco inherited this old recipe and shared it with us.

The world’s best chocolate cake

Who created the world’s best chocolate cake?  Gaston Lenôtre? Pierre Hermé? Jacques Torres? Guess again. The cake is made with French chocolate but the name of the chef is Portuguese: Carlos Braz Lopes.

His cake has three chocolate merengue disks layered with chocolate mousse and toped with a chocolate ganache. He started selling it in a tiny store located in an obscure corner of Lisbon’s Campo d’Ourique neighborhood. But the cake is so good that word of mouth attracted chocolate lovers from all over the world.

The French gourmet Brillat-Savarin wrote that the discovery of a new recipe brings more happiness than the discovery of a new star. There is no better way to savor the truth in this aphorism than to taste a slice of Carlos Braz Lopes’ wondrous cake.

O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo by Carlos Braz Lopes, Rua Coelho da Rocha 99, Campo de Ourique, Lisboa, tel. 21 396 53 72, email: geral@omelhorbolodechocolatedomundobycbl.com. Click here for the website.

Pasteis de Belém

When you land in the Lisbon airport, there’s a heightened anticipation for what comes next. There’s the usual ritual of waiting in line, searching for your luggage, going through customs, all transforming you from in transit to landed. But here, arriving isn’t the best part. You drive out of the airport towards the river Tagus. As you get close, you first see the seagulls. Then, you see the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, monuments to the many “caravelas” that departed from a nearby dock. A marble Henry the Navigator leads a pack of explorers, pointing the way to the new world. But that’s not why you came here. You came here for a small pastry shop just down the road.

In 1834, the government closed down all Portuguese convents and monasteries. The friars of the Jerónimos Monastery needed a source of income. So, like other religious orders in Portugal, they used their ancient recipes to make pastries for sale. The Jerónimos monks made little cups of flaky pastry dough filled with custard and topped with cinnamon. All monastery pastries are delicious, but these “pasteis de Belém” are a piece of heaven. The recipe hasn’t changed since the pastry shop opened in 1837, and everything about it is shrouded in mystery. Only three master patissiers, who prepare the cream and dough in the “Oficina do Segredo” (secret workshop), know the recipe.

These pastries are ephemeral bites of cinnamon and warmth. They must be eaten right away, never saved for later. Every coffee shop in Portugal produces an imitation, but none quite captures the lightness of the dough, the creaminess of the filling. These imitations even bear a different name: “pasteis de nata.” Because there is only one place in the world where you can get “pasteis de Belém.”

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Rua de Belém, 84-92, Lisbon. Tel. 21-363-7423. Email: pasteisdebelem@pasteisdebelem.pt. Click here for website.