Most cities are known for something, and for me, forever more, Lisbon will be known as the city of pastry! Is it all about the Pastel de Nata? Not at all, though any mention of Lisbon pastries has to begin with the Portuguese classic 🙂
Pastries are everywhere in Lisbon. I’ve never seen so many pastry shops, pastelarias, and so many different kinds of pastries. I recruited some born and raised Portuguese friends for advice, and they suggested I ingest four Portuguese pastries: Tortas de Azeitão and Amêndoa, Mil Folhas, Jesuítas, and Pastéis de Tentúgal.
Mil Folhas were easily available in every bakery. People compare it to the French mille-feuille, a.k.a. the Napoleon. Mil Folhas has a creamy filling with a hint of vanilla in between layers of pastry. It also has a glazed topping of vanilla and sugar and a bit of chocolate, too.
Tortas de Azeitão and Amêndoa
Tortas de Azeitão and Amêndoa were easy to locate. You’ll often see this pastry rolled. Torta de Azeitão is a traditional cake from Azeitão. Based in eggs, the pastry tastes of lemon and cinnamon. The cake part is like sponge cake.
My favorite torta was Amêndoa. It turns out that the Tarte de Amêndoa, or Almond Tart, is one of the most popular desserts in Portuguese cuisine. If you like almonds, this one is for you! The flavor of chopped almonds combined with a sweet filling and a flaky crust makes for an unbelievable tart. It’s crunchy and light.
Jesuítas may seem simple at first and not look too impressive the first time you see them. A Jesuíta is a triangular, flake pastry filled with cream and usually topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar. The name refers to the triangular shape of a Jesuit’s hat and the dessert, though French in origin, was brought to Portugal over a century ago by a Spanish pastry chef who is rumored to have worked directly with the Jesuit priests in Bilbao, Spain.
In Portugal they use the egg-yolk filling, doce de ovos, which is a staple of Portuguese baking. Some varieties are topped with almonds or pumpkin, but the one I really loved was the coconut Jesuitas.
Pastéis de Tentúgal
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a bakery that had Pastéis de Tentúgal. They knew about the pastry, though. Pastéis de Tentúgal are Portuguese pastries that originated in Tentúgal, a tiny town halfway between Lisbon and Porto. These pastéis, invented by Carmelite nuns in the 16th century, are packets of thin, flaky pastry filled with a rich egg custard and dusted with powdered sugar. The Carmelites were especially inventive in dreaming up the Pastéis de Tentúgal. It seems that in addition to egg yolks, the sisters had a lot of time on their hands because the traditional version of the sweet involves hand-stretching a gigantic disk of dough into paper-thin sheets that are rolled around doce de ovos (a sort of egg and sugar custard) and baked.
Here’s my preference for these three pastries, though you really should make the rounds and try all three of these delicious treats: Jesuítas, Torta de Amêndoa, Mil Folhas. Also, make sure and look for the words fabrico próprio (roughly “made on site”) when you try a pastelaria. It’s usually proudly advertised. To say that there’s a strong history of pastelaria in Portugal dating back to the Middle Ages is an understatement. The Portuguese have made a religion out of pastry and I, for one, am a convert!
Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane, you can find her at Joy in Movement.
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