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The Best and Most Famous Portuguese Desserts

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Anna is a New Yorker writing about her globe-trotting, culinary, and healthy living adventures. Plus, she loves sharing beauty finds.

Have you tried Portuguese pastries? I had not until I moved to Portugal and boy, was I missing out! There are said to be over two hundred varieties of little Portuguese sweet goodies—many rich egg-based custards, some chocolaty, others creamy, and several marzipan varieties. They can be found all throughout the country in coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants; and each town has its own local specialty. With names such as toucinho do céu (fat from heaven), papos de anjo (angel's double-chin) and barriga de freiras (nuns' belly), Portuguese sweets aren't only delicious, they're undoubtedly heaven-sent!

Below is a list of some of some of the most famous Portuguese desserts and my personal favorites.

1. Pastel de Nata (Custard Tarts)

Pastel de nata is undoubtedly the most popular Portuguese dessert. It's essentially an egg custard tart in phyllo dough that is best served warm, fresh out of the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It's really delicious!

The most famous place to get this tasty dessert while in Portugal is in Antiga Confeitaria de Belém bakery in Belem. This bakery is really popular amongst both tourists and locals. You can also find pasteis de nata in any other bakery or coffee shop in Portugal and outside of Portugal, in any place with a Portuguese community.

Bola de Berlim or "Berliner"

Bola de Berlim or "Berliner"

2. Bola de Berlim (Berliner)

Bola de Berlim (literally translated as "Berliner" to English) is a doughnut-like dessert filled with an egg yolk-based creme with an outside that is fried and covered with sugar. It reminds me of a Bavarian creme doughnut at Dunkin Donuts. (It's the closest I'll get to eating Dunkin Donuts in Portugal—but I don't mind!)

3. Bolo Rei (King Cake)

Bolo Rei is a traditional Portuguese cake that's eaten during Christmas time. The cake actually resembles a king's crown—it's round with a large hole in the middle and has crystallized dried fruit that make up the actual "crown" part, which is embedded in the soft white dough. When families bake this cake, they usually include a little prize inside. Whoever gets the piece with the prize has to either bake or buy the cake the following year.

if you're in Portugal's capital during Christmas time, go to Confeitaria Nacional in Rossio or pastelaria Versailles in Saldanha to try the best of these cakes.

Leite Creme or "creamy milk"

Leite Creme or "creamy milk"

4. Leite Creme (Creamy Milk)

Leite creme (translated to Creamy Milk in English) is another one of my favorites and you may be familiar with it by its French name, Crème Brûlée. Leite creme is made with just cream, eggs, and roasted sugar—it's simple and delicious. Other countries have their own versions, such as Spain where it's called Crema Catalana, and England where it's called Trinity Cream or Cambridge Burnt Cream. Somehow, the Portuguese version tastes best to me.

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Fios de ovos or "egg threads"

Fios de ovos or "egg threads"

5. Fiovos de Ovos (Egg Thread)

Fiovos de ovos (which translates to "egg thread" in English) looks literally like thread, except this one is made from eggs. Once you try it, you won't be thinking of putting this thread anywhere but straight into your mouth! It has become one of my favorite desserts since I began living in Portugal. It’s made mostly of egg yolks that have been drawn into thin strands and boiled in syrup. It’s very sweet, moist, and delicious. Fiovos de ovos is the one dessert that I buy at the supermarket but have never seen at a coffee shop.

Bolo de Bolacha (translated to "cookie cake" in English) is a cake made with stacks of Portuguese bolacha Maria biscuits and condensed milk. Bolacha Maria biscuits are actually a Portuguese cookie brand. They are simple yet delicious cookies, and if you want to make your own Bolo de Bolacha cake, you can use the simplest cookies you can get your hands on.

Bolo de Bolacha also comes as a mousse, which I personally prefer to the cake.

Bolacha Maria is a popular flavor for many things, including one of my new breakfast favorites—Bolacha Maria yogurt.

Arroz doce (sweet rice)

Arroz doce (sweet rice)

7. Arroz Doce (Portuguese Sweet Rice Pudding)

Portuguese sweet rice pudding, called arroz doce in Portuguese, is traditional Portuguese rice pudding that comes in lots of different variations. Some use condensed milk, while others don't, and some use eggs, while others use none. All of them are sprinkled with cinnamon at the end.

Salame de chocolate or "choclate salami"

Salame de chocolate or "choclate salami"

8. Salame de Chocolate (Chocolate Salami)

Salame de Chocolate (translated to "chocolate salami" in English) looks just like its namesake, salami! However there's no trace of meat in this desert—it's made of dark chocolate, cookies, nuts, butter, eggs, and port wine, and is cut just like salami.

Pasteis de Nata Recipe

Contrary to popular belief, Portuguese Pasteis de Nata are easy to make. I made my first batch before I ever tasted the 'real thing' in Portugal and right away the dessert was a huge hit. Although the homemade version doesn't look nearly as good as the ones found in Portuguese bakeries, they taste just as good. Just ask my family, who constantly ask me to make more!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

30 min

1 hour

12 Portuguese custard tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk (1/2 cup cold and 1/2 cup hot)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
  • Cinnamon (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, grease each muffin tray's cup with butter and line with puff pastry.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the 1/2 cup of milk, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla. Cook under medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and slowly whisk the 1/2 cup of hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk until smooth. Gradually add the egg yolk mixture to the remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly. Cook by stirring constantly until thickened. Remove vanilla bean (if you used it rather than vanilla extract).
  3. Fill puff pastry-lined muffin cups with mixture and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is lightly browned on top.
  4. Sprinkle the custard tarts with powdered sugar and cinnamon as is popular in Portugal. Serve and enjoy!

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