12 Portuguese desserts you must try
Do you love sweets? Are you a dessert lover? If your answer is yes, Portugal is a great place for you. This country appreciates food, and desserts are no exception. Pastelarias (patisseries) and padarias (bakeries) are everywhere and offer the most amazing treats you can imagine.
Dessert recipes range from traditional to variations of international recipes and create an endless list of cakes, puddings and pies. Grab a spoon, fork or just use your hands for these 12 delicious Portuguese sweets.
1. arroz doce (rice pudding)
This dessert is no stranger to many, as it has many variations around the world. In Portugal, it is a staple dessert at family gatherings, holidays and special meals. Rice, milk, sugar and cinnamon form the basis of this sweet dish, and each family has their own recipe with different twists like vanilla, lemon zest and even an egg to thicken the mixture. After it is made, it is decorated with different patterns created with cinnamon.
2. pudim ovos.
This is another recipe that you can find around the world and Portugal presents an egg flan pudding that is creamy, smooth and rich. You can find it on most restaurant dessert menus and family gatherings. Covered in a thick caramel sauce, it’s something you must try!
Aletria-a traditional dessert found on many Portuguese Christmas tables, but also made year-round. Made with vermicelli (angel hair pasta), milk, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon and lemon or orange zest, it is a soothing dessert decorated with cinnamon, just like rice pudding.
This dessert is another Christmas must-have with a recipe very similar to French toast. Thick slices of bread are soaked in milk infused with sugar or even wine, then dipped in egg and finally fried in sunflower oil. After frying, the sweet slices of toast are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or even covered with some kind of sugar syrup. A real delicacy!
5. Baba Di Camelo.
With a very funny name (“Baba de camelo” means “camel spit”), this dessert is perfect when you’re in a rush. Make a note of it, because you never know when you might need to impress your guests with a stellar dessert in just a few minutes: separate egg whites from egg yolks and whisk whites until stiff; pour yolks through a sieve and mix in condensed milk; add stiff egg whites to mixture and chill.
And voila! This is a delightfully easy cold dessert that you will love!
6. Leite creme
Leite creme is the Portuguese cousin of crème brûlée, made on the stovetop instead of in the oven. This twist on the French classic is basically a sweet egg cream that will delight you. Garnished with cinnamon or burnt sugar, you can find it in most restaurants.
7. Natas do Céu.
This layered dessert has a very appropriate name: Natas do céu or “cream of heaven.” You’ll find a deliciously thick egg custard on top, followed by a mixture of cream, egg whites and sugar, and a crunchy-packed crumb made with shredded Mariah cookies on the bottom. A spoonful of happiness with every bite!
8. Bolo de Bolacha.
Maria star cookies is another famous Portuguese dessert, Bolo de Bolacha . This cold cake has different recipes, and each chef adds their own little touches like cream or condensed milk, but, in the traditional version it is made with cookies soaked in strong black coffee and then folded with a little help from some buttercream made with sugar, butter and more coffee. Don’t even think about the calories in all that butter, because this cake is worth every one!
9. Bola de Berlim.
If you’ve ever been to a Portuguese beach, especially in the Algarve, chances are you’ve seen men selling “Bolas de Berlim.” These fried cakes, with a donut-like consistency and flavor, can be eaten in their plain version (just sprinkled with sugar) or filled with the same egg cream you find in many Portuguese desserts. After a long day at the beach, there’s nothing better than this sweet doughnut, and these days you can even find alternative versions like chocolate or carob cream filled Bolas de Berlim.
10. Pão de Deus.
Its name literally means “bread of God,” and it is undoubtedly heavenly. It’s a moist bun-like dough-it’s perfectly cut and topped with coconut crumbles, too delicious to resist. You can find it in most “pastelarias” and it is the perfect companion for a great cup of coffee.
11. toucinho do Céu
Speaking of desserts from heaven, Toucinho do Céu, “bacon from heaven,” is a delicious almond cake made with pork fat. It was created by the nuns of the convent of Santa Clara, in the north of the country, and it is one of the most popular desserts you can find. Don’t be intimidated by the name, because the taste is incredible!
12. pastéis de Belém/Pastéis de Nata
Pastel de Belém is probably the most recognizable Portuguese dessert when it comes to dishes to try in Portugal. The famous store and factory in Lisbon still keeps the secret recipe for these little custard tarts, but many pastry shops and bakeries have presented their own take on it and sell Pastéis de Nata. Ask for coffee and “pastel de nata,” a little puff pastry filled with egg custard and covered with powdered cinnamon sugar. Yum!
Now that you know these desserts exist across the country, all that’s left to do is start tasting them!
Top 10 Portuguese Desserts
If you have a trip to Portugal, be sure to visit the local pastry shops. The best ones are in Belem, one of the districts of Lisbon. It is so famous for its sweets that visitors are flocking here daily from all over the Portuguese capital to sample its famous sweets.
When you are looking for a pastry shop, look for the Pastelaria sign. That sign tells you that you will find the most delicious and varied desserts here.
Pastel de Nata
The most famous in Portugal are the little golden baskets of crispy puff pastry, pastel (or pastel, in the singular). They are filled with a sweet custard made from sugar syrup, cream (or milk), and egg yolks. Confectioners add cinnamon and lemon zest to the dough, but all the main secrets of baking are kept secret.
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The cakes are served warm, just out of the oven. The baskets are sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar on top, and they especially like to be served with coffee. There is even a custom of serving pasta to guests while they are waiting for a takeout order or a table in a restaurant.
It is said that the first pastéis were made by monks in a Lisbon monastery in the early 19th century. Subsequently they sold their recipe to a Portuguese family, which set up the production of sweets.
The most famous confectionery, where the famous Portuguese dessert is made, has been working since 1837 and is called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem. According to legend, it was its founders who had the secret recipe of the monks. Today the bakery has become practically a tourist Mecca for all the sweet-tooth people who come to Portugal. One little basket costs €1,15.
Bola de berlim
It is hard to imagine the national sweets of Portugal without the famous “Berlin” doughnuts, fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar or powdered sugar. They differ from their German “ancestors” in size (Portuguese donuts are larger and more plump) and filling (custard instead of jam).
This liberal interpretation of the dessert proved to be very popular in Portugal. It’s especially fond of being eaten on the coast. Vendors literally take over the beaches, constantly parading around with containers filled with mouthwatering doughnuts. Both adults and children enjoy eating these sweets.
Although there is usually a layer of delicate yellow cream between the halves of the doughnut, you can buy the dessert even “empty”, without any filling. Although, believe me, it will not be as tasty.
Farturas are another popular treat akin to bola de berlim. These are “relatives” of Spanish churros: sweet spirals of custard dough, deep-fried.
Pão de Ló.
If you’re in Portugal, be sure to try the incredibly delicious airy dessert called Pão de Ló. Although it is commonly referred to as a biscuit, it is still softer, wetter and crumblier than its counterparts from other countries. Sometimes you can even “scoop out” the middle of the dessert with a spoon – it’s that liquid! And the best part – this delicacy is good on its own, but if you add whipped cream, fruit or berries to it, it becomes a food of the gods.
Although you sometimes find Pao de Lo with chocolate flavor, traditionally the recipe calls for only three ingredients: sifted flour, eggs, and sugar. And surprisingly, each biscuit house in Portugal has its own tricks for making and serving this seemingly simple dessert. For example, Casa do Pão de Lo Delicia in Porto bakes it only in its signature rectangular shape, while Pão de Ló de Ovar is sold exclusively in white paper.
Pão de Lo is usually served after the main course, along with a cup of coffee. The biscuit is also great for breakfast. You can buy the airy dessert in bakeries for around €6-11.
“Berlin” doughnuts are not the only delicacy borrowed by Portugal. The famous milk cream, known in France as crème brûlée and in Spain as crema catalana, is also considered such. But the Portuguese pastry chefs have also managed to add their own unique, distinctive flavour to the recipe. For example, the national version uses milk rather than cream, which makes the dessert lighter and, if I may say so, more dietary.
The other ingredients in Leite creme are yolks and sugar, the latter not only for flavoring but also for decoration. After the egg-milk mixture is removed from the fire, placed in creams and cooled, it is sprinkled with sugar and a cooking torch is used to create a thin and beautiful caramel crust on top.
The dessert tantalizes not only the taste buds, but also the olfactory receptors. You are sure to feel the wonderful aroma with tangible notes of lemon zest, cinnamon, almonds and spices. It is simply impossible to resist them!
One of the national dishes of Portugal, which received the status of geographically protected from the European Commission, is a dessert from Aveiro with the unusual name of “soft balls. These sweets in the shape of shells and fish are thin shells of phyllo dough, under which there is a viscous mass of sugar and yolk.
In Portugal, it is said that the recipe for the dessert originated in a convent many centuries ago and, as it happens, by accident. The nuns didn’t know what to do with the excess sugar and yolks (the whites were used for ironing and starching clothes), and eventually came up with an unusual and delicious treat called “ovoush molest.”
Anyway, the original shaped cookies are now extremely famous far beyond Aveiro. In Lisbon, for example, you can try it at Casa dos Ovos Moles em Lisboa.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take this signature gastronomic souvenir home. In the pâtisseries, “soft eggs” are most often sold by weight for 22-24€ per kilo and are packed in simple white boxes. They can be kept for up to three weeks, the main thing is to transport them carefully.
Toucinho do céu
Another traditional sweet which was invented in Portugal in one of the nunneries. Its curious name – “heavenly bacon”, or “bacon from heaven” – in the country is explained by the fact that originally the recipe necessarily contained lard. Today pastry chefs do without it, but otherwise the ingredient list has changed little over the centuries.
To make the cake, you need sugar syrup, crushed almonds, butter, and myriad egg yolks. By the way, it is the latter that make the dessert so richly yellow. The top of the cake is generously sprinkled with powdered sugar and served to the table when it cools to room temperature. It goes great with a hot cappuccino or cocoa.
A small town Sintra, a few dozen kilometers from Lisbon, is considered the birthplace of another traditional national delicacy – Queijada. This is a small pastry in the form of a basket with a curd filling. The dough for it is rolled out as thin as a sheet of paper, and the filling is made only with sugar, flour, cinnamon and, of course, the invariable yolks.
It is said that the most delicious queijadas in Portugal are made in Sintra, and not just anywhere, but in two of the best pastry shops: Piriquita and Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa. There you can buy it by the piece (the price is about 1-1,50 €) or in a bundle / box of 6 pieces (the second option is cheaper).
Also, the dessert is well-transportable, unlike its more fragile rectangular “counterpart”, the travesseiro de Sintra. That’s why queijadas are often bought to take with you.
The best time to try this national dessert in Portugal is Christmas. That’s when they start baking and selling the sweet Bolo Rei, the “king cake,” all over the place. Dried fruits, candied fruits and several kinds of nuts are added to the yeast dough, but they don’t forget about the little “surprise”. Whoever finds it in their bite will have to make or buy a Bolu Rei for the next Christmas.
The dessert gets its unusual name because its shape resembles a crown, and the multicolored candied fruits in the dough are the jewels on it. On the holiday table, Bolu Rei is a sacred symbol of the gifts the Magi brought to the newborn Jesus.
There are other types of this delicious dessert in Portugal. For example, Bolo-Rainha (“Queen cake”) and even Bolo-Príncipe (“Prince cake”). They differ mostly only in the decoration.
Other Portuguese sweets worth trying for Christmas are Tronco de Natal, Sonhos de Natal, Filhoses, Rabanadas, Broas, Azevias and Coscorões.
Fiovos de Ovos.
A dessert with the most adorable name “angel hair” or “egg threads”, it really does look like thin strands. It is common not only in Portugal, but also in Brazil, Japan and Thailand. However, historians are sure that the recipe of this dessert appeared in a Portuguese monastery in the 14th or 15th century, and only after that it was brought by travelers to other countries.
The yolks are used to make the base for the future threads. They are carefully separated from the egg whites and passed through a special device right into the boiling sugar syrup. After that the future dainty is easily spatulaed out on a sieve, letting the liquid run off.
In Portugal, Fiovos de Ovos are often used to decorate cakes and other desserts, and as a garnish to a variety of dishes.
Bolo de Bolacha
Incredibly popular in Portugal, this cake is as simple as two times two four. The basis of this pastry creation is Maria cookies, which are used to make the biscuit. There is no need to bake the cake. Instead, the layers of cookies are soaked in strong coffee and covered with cream, so that the Portuguese delicacy is surprisingly similar to the Italian tiramisu. The process of creating the dessert is completed by decorating it with coconut shavings and crumbled cookies.
Maria cookies were invented by British bakers in 1874 on the occasion of the wedding of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna with the son of Queen Victoria, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.
Bolo de Bolacha is sold in different variations in almost every pastry shop and café. Traditionally, it is accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee.
Few people realize that the Portuguese are no less fond of chocolate than, say, the Belgians or the Swiss. They feel free to add wine and port to their chocolate, creating new tastes and textures.
Perhaps the best chocolate in Portugal is made in the Arcádia factory in Porto. The factory was founded in 1933 and is especially famous for its famous línguas de gato (€11-12 per box) and coloured sweets (dragées) with liqueur (€10 per 250g).
The oldest chocolate brand in Portugal is Avianense from Viana do Castelo (since 1914). A specialized museum, Museu dos Chocolates, is open on the premises of the factory for all fans of the brand.
Another famous chocolate brand in Portugal is Imperial. Its history goes back to the 1920s, with its official opening in 1932. Later the company merged with another major chocolate manufacturer in the country, Regina. And it is Imperial that produces the incredibly popular Pintarolas chocolates for children, similar to M&M’s.
Delicious chocolates are made in different cities in Portugal. These are Chocolataria Equador, Theo Kakaw and Pedaços de Cacau (all three in Porto), Chocolateria Delícia (Viseu), Bocasuja (Braga), Chocolate com Pimenta (Vila Verde), Feitoria do Cacau (Aveiro), Denegro (Lisbon) and other confectioneries.
Cacao di Vine is particularly famous for its handmade wine chocolate. The process of its creation takes several days. The result is a delightful creation with a velvety texture and aftertaste of expensive wine. Unique chocolate, as well as alcohol, is dated according to the year of harvesting.
And all fans of the exquisite delicacy of cacao beans can enjoy it at one of the traditional thematic festivals: spring Festival do Chocolate de Óbidos and winter O Chocolate em Lisboa . And of course, there are also thousands of chocolate bars and chocolates waiting for visitors to these sweet festivals. Tickets for adult visitors cost from 4-5 €.
What other desserts to try in Portugal
In general it is incredibly difficult to list all the desserts of Portugal, because the inhabitants of the country are incredible sweet-tasters. There is so much deliciousness in the local pastry shops that it seems you won’t find such an abundance anywhere else in the world! So, you’re bound to get the chance to try one: