Vouzela pastries

No visit to Vouzela is complete without tasting the famous local pastries. The recipe, created by nuns of the order of Santa Clara, involves an impossibly thin Philo-like dough that wraps a luscious filling made of sugar and egg yolks. In the 19th century, an orphan adopted by the nuns mastered the tricky recipe and started selling “pasteis de Vouzela” to make a living. Today, four families produce these pastries.

We stopped at Café Central, which, as the name promises, has a central location. It is close to the village pillory and has a view of the cobalt blue tiles that cover the façade of the Misericordia church. The café was inaugurated in 1929, just in time to bring some sweetness to the lives affected by the Great Depression.

Tengúgal and Vouzela are rivals, each town claiming to produce the finest version of the same convent recipe. We ordered a couple of pastries and asked whether we could photograph a tray full of pastries. Before agreeing, the waiter asked, “Have you tried Tentúgal’s pastries?” “Yes, but we find their dough slightly thicker,” we answered. “I’m glad you noticed,” replied the waiter with evident satisfaction, bringing a tray for us to photograph.

We sat at a table, enjoying our “pasteis.” Created by nuns who lived in prayer and solitude, every bite is a glimpse of heaven.


Life is made of connections and disconnections. Fernando Sousa and Margarida Batista had a restaurant in Viseu, our hometown, for many years. We lived in the same city without ever crossing paths. Nine years ago, the couple moved to Vouzela, a quiet village in the countryside.  We heard about their restaurant from Abílio Tavares da Silva during a visit to the Douro valley. Since then, we have tried a few times to make reservations but received a friendly message telling us the restaurant was fully booked. Finally, we managed to email with enough lead time to secure a table for lunch.

We got off the highway, following the sign that reads Vouzela, and soon we were driving on a narrow, winding road. The sight of granite dominates the landscape. There is granite on every hill, and these stones are used in street pavements, exterior walls, and church façades. 

Fernando greeted us with a promise: “I will take care of you.” He manages the dining room, and Margarida does the cooking. We sat at the table, and soon a pleasant Dão wine made with the classic trio of local red grapes, Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional, and Jaen, filled our glasses. 

Then Fernando brought a wood turntable with rice cooked in the oven with mushrooms, sausages, and meats, and golden veal accompanied by vegetables and roasted new potatoes. Both dishes have sumptuous flavors. The veal melts in the mouth, and the rice is deeply satisfying. 

Fernando showed us with pride a photograph of Maria de Lurdes Modesto, the chef who codified traditional Portuguese cooking, taken when she visited them. It is natural that Modesto, who prized flavor above all, liked this restaurant.

Margarida is a simple place. What makes it shine is Fernando’s copious affability and Margarida’s gifted cooking.  What else do we need?

Margarida is located at Rua Mousinho de Albuquerque 33 in Vouzela, tel. 936 935 843, email margarida.vouzela@gmail.com. It is a small restaurant; reservations are a must.

Silent inspiration

Carmelite nuns lived most of their days in silence and solitude. The local peasants offered them agricultural products, including numerous eggs. The nuns used the egg whites to starch their clothes and the egg yolks to make desserts.

One day, the nuns received a bag of the finest, whitest wheat flour they had ever seen. They decided to try to make something special with this gift. The flour was combined with water to create a “virgin dough” that was left to rest. The nuns then stretched the dough and let it rest again. To get the most out of the rare flour, they repeated this stretching-resting cycle until the dough was so thin they could read the bible through it.

The dough was cut into rectangles and used to wrap a delicate mixture of egg yolks and sugar. The nuns used a feather to spread some melted butter over the dough and baked the pastries in the oven. Finally, they dusted them with powdered sugar. The result was so extraordinary that a new tradition was born. Whenever the nuns received fine white flour, they made these unique pastries and offered them to the sick and the poor.

When the religious orders were abolished in Portugal in 1834, the Carmelite nuns shared the recipe for this exquisite pastry with the families that gave them shelter. Two Portuguese towns, Tentúgal and Vouzela have competing versions of the original Carmelite recipe. Each town claims their pastry is the best. They are both extraordinary expressions of the silent inspiration of Carmelite nuns.

The pastries produced in Tentúgal are sold in many coffee and pastry shops throughout Portugal. Vouzela pastries are harder to find, they are mostly sold in Viseu and other locations close to Vouzela. They are well worth a special trip.