I have been diligently eating my way through the sweets of Portugal and Spain, but haven’t got around to posting much, so as a result, I have a huge backlog of sweets to share with you. When in Lisbon previously, I had been concentrating on some of the more iconic sweets available in the city’s myriad bakeries. This go around, however, especially as we have seen more of the country, I have branched out into some more specialized local treats. While in Évora, a picturesque, architecturally-interesting (even including a Roman temple) town located east of Lisbon, the key place to sample regional or convent sweets (doces regionais or conventuais) is the Pastelaria Conventual Pão De Rala (Rua do Cicioso 47, 7000-658 Évora).
Queijinho do Céu (pictured below – recipe in Portuguese)– This name translates as “little cheese from heaven,” a name given to the sweet by the Clarissian nuns that invented it. Queijinho do Céu is basically an almond, marzipan-like paste that is super dense and fudgy, formed into small, flattened rounds, filled with egg yolk cream. There is also a treat with the same name from another region that does not contain almonds.
Cericá / Sericaia (recipe in English) – This sweet takes more of a basic cake form, with a fluffy souffle-like texture, lightly flavored with citrus. We have seen this cake dusted with cinnamon, but this version was not. This version was also served with a fig drenched in syrup – there is nothing quite like fresh Iberian figs!
Pão de Rala (recipe in Portuguese)- The Pão de Rala, from which the bakery gets its name, is a brioche-like sweet made from eggs, sugar, lemon, almonds and filled with its most unique ingredient – gila – or squash, with a spaghetti-like texture. Sweetened squash fillings are surprisingly common in Portugal, and are found in a variety of treats throughout the country. I have even seen the squash filling for sale alone in small cups, or in jam form.
If you can’t get to the Alentejo, in Lisbon there is a place to sample some of the convent sweets and other rare regional desserts from around Portugal: Pastelaria Alcôa (R. Garrett 37, 1200-309 Lisboa) in the heart of the bustling Chiado district. Alcôa has some treats from the Alentejo including the egg custard Encharcada (recipe in English) and Torrão Real (recipe in Portuguese). Torrão Real is a concoction of egg yolks, sugar and almond, that is almost pudding-y in consistency. The Torrão Real we got at Alcôa was cut into neat squares and topped with a fancy burnt sugar decoration. However, it was basically impossible to eat a without a spoon – so it makes a bit more sense that it usually served in a bowl or a deep plate with utensils.
This is only scratching the surface of the sweets of the Alentejo – we are constantly surprised just how many permutations of egg yolks, flour and sugar the nuns in Portugal were able to come up with. I am sure there are still hundreds we have not tried. Which of these sweets would you most like to sample?