Table of Contents
- Our Favorite Portuguese Desserts
- Our Favorite Portuguese Pastries
- International Pastries in Portugal
- Bonus Portuguese Dessert
- Hungry for Savory Food in Portugal?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
- Learn European Portuguese
The Portuguese have a thing for sugar and eggs. These two ingredients are prevalent in many but not all Portuguese dessert recipes including the country’s most famous pastel (pastry) – the Pastel de Nata.
We didn’t move to Lisbon because of the Portuguese obsession for sweet treats but we’re not complaining. Like the rest of the Iberian country, Lisbon has a seemingly endless number of pastelerias (pastry shops) and even more pastéis (pastries).
The Pastel de Nata was famously invented at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the 18th century before later achieving international dessert fame. Other doces conventuais (convent sweets) were invented in monasteries across the country even earlier.
Egg yolks became a common ingredient at that time due to nuns using egg whites to starch their habits. Walk up to a Portuguese pasteleria counter today and you’ll find a variety of beautiful golden hued pastries in between local versions of croissants, donuts and cookies.
Lisbon is literally filled with pastelerias, often more than one on a city block, each selling a range of pastries and super sweet treats. And that’s not counting desserts served in Lisbon restaurants.
This situation creates a challenge when we eat dessert in our adopted home city. Should we order a Pastel de Nata, still the most popular local pastry available pretty much everywhere in Portugal, or should we try something different like Arroz Doce? Though we often choose option number one, sometimes we go rogue without any regret.
We’ve made a point to eat lots of Portuguese desserts for ‘research purposes’ since we moved to Lisbon in 2019. In this guide, we share our favorite Portuguese pastries and desserts including some with international ties and one that will surprise you.
Our Favorite Portuguese Desserts
We mentioned that the Portuguese people love desserts. Pretty much every Portuguese menu has a sobremesa (dessert) section fill with cake, pudding and more. The number of Portuguese dessert recipes is astounding.
Many of these desserts are filled with egg yolks and sugar but plenty feature ingredients like chocolate and almonds. Some of the best are specific to Portugal while others are global in both origin and popularity.
Tasting Portuguese desserts has become a bit of a passion project for us. After eating our collective weight in desserts both at home in Lisbon and in destinations like Cascais, Coimbra, Évora, Porto, Sintra and the Algarve, these are our favorite Portuguese desserts:
1. Bolo de Bolacha e Caramelo
Flavored with both wafers and caramel, Bolo de Bolacha e Caramelo provides a practical solution when deciding between a cookie or cake. The name of this dessert literally translates to Wafer Cake with Caramel. When done right, it’s that and so much more.
Our obsession with this Portuguese cake can’t be understated. Bolo de Bolacha e Caramel is now Mindi’s official Portuguese birthday cake. Daryl is sticking with Bolo de Chocolate since he’s more of a chocolate cake fan.
2. Bolo de Chocolate
Chocolate cake is a dessert that spans the world despite the fact that cocoa beans only grow in equatorial countries like Ghana, Indonesia and Brazil. Although Portugal isn’t one of these countries, chocolate is prevalent in various shapes and forms throughout the Iberian country.
Chocolate lovers who visit Portugal won’t want to skip Landeau Chocolate where bakers create the cafe’s signature Bolo de Chocolate, i.e. chocolate cake, with three chocolate layers – cake, mousse and powder. Both the New York Times and Food and Wine agree that Landeau’s version, which sandwiches rich mousse between two tender layers of cake, is the chocolate cake to eat in Portugal.
3. Arroz Doce
Similar to chocolate, rice pudding is popular in countries around the world. The Portuguese version called Arroz Doce, which literally translates to sweet rice, lives up to its name with a rich yellow egg hue and texture that differentiates it from similar versions in countries like Greece.
Portugal’s Arroz Doce recipe includes short-grain rice in addition to egg yolks, milk, sugar and lemon peel. Typically decorated with a cinnamon checkerboard design, the creamy dessert is a hallmark of Portuguese Sobremesas (desserts).
4. Pudim Abade de Priscos
Portuguese clergy didn’t only bake pastries and cakes back in the day. Father Manuel Joaquim Machado Rebelo, i.e. the Abbot of Priscos, invented one of the country’s best desserts in the 19th century… and it’s a pudding.
In addition to the expected egg yolks and sugar, Pudim Abade de Priscos has port wine and bacon in its ingredient roster. Although its roots are in Northern Portugal, the rich pudding (think of a richer, less gelatinous version of Spanish Flan) is available throughout the country.
Even if you’re full, we urge you to order a Pudim Abade de Priscos when you see it on a Portuguese dessert menu. It’s that good.
5. Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei is the king of holiday desserts in Portugal – and we’re not just saying this because Bolo Rei translates to king cake. These cakes line the shelves at pastry shops and markets throughout the country during the extended holiday season that lasts from late October to early January. If you visit Portugal during Natal, these colorful cakes are almost impossible to avoid.
We first encountered Bolo Rei in Porto during a mid-November visit and later bought a big ring topped with candied fruits. While not our favorite Portuguese dessert due its dry texture, this holiday cake completes a Portugal evening filled with eggnog and Christmas carols.
Think of Bolo Rei like fruitcake in America – ubiquitously given but rarely enjoyed.
6. Leite Creme
Although Portuguese chefs weren’t the first to top custard with caramelized sugar, the country has adopted the global dessert as its own. After eating similar versions in England (Burnt Cream), France (Crème Brûlée) and Spain (Crema Catalana), we consider Portugal’s Leite Creme to be closest to the Spanish version.
In Portugal, both casual eateries and fancy restaurants serve Leite Creme, a creamy dessert with hints of both lemon and cinnamon. Not surprisingly, egg yolks and sugar are also in the mix.
7. Bolo de Queijo
Cheesecake is most associated with New York City. And while the dessert may have been refined and perfected in the big apple, it’s actually a global dessert that likely originated in ancient Greece. Fans of this dessert will be happy to find it in Portugal too.
The best way to eat cheesecake in Portugal is to order a slice of Bolo de Queijo topped with port sauce. Since this fortified wine is exclusively produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley, adding port sauce transforms cheesecake from global to Portuguese.
8. Mousse de Chocolate
Mousse de Chocolate is a dessert that made its way to Portugal after traveling the world. However, unlike other desserts, chocolate mousse has a definitive origin – France.
This journey is no surprise considering that two of the key ingredients in chocolate mousse are eggs and sugar. Adding chocolate and butter is not much of a stretch and makes perfect sense in this dessert-friendly nation.
9. Bolo de Maçã
Apples are grown throughout Portugal but the best apples can be found in Alcobaça orchards near Lisbon. Our favorite Portuguese apples are Fuji and Royal Gala; however, any local apples taste good in a Bolo de Maçã recipe.
Baked with ingredients found in a typical Portuguese pantry, Bolo de Maçã is the apple cake our grandmothers would have baked if they were born in Portugal. In addition to apples, this cake features ingredients like sugar, flour, butter and eggs.
10. Bolo Xadrez
More complicated than a typical Portuguese dessert, Bolo Xadrez layers yellow and chocolate sponge cake in a checkerboard design, separates the layers with cream and coats them in chocolate icing. This certainly isn’t a dessert we’d want to bake at home, but that’s not an issue in Portugal.
We ate Bolo Xadrez for the first time soon after we watched The Queen’s Gambit. Not only did the Netflix show inspire us to craft Gibson cocktails at home, but it also motivated us to order a slice of this chess board cake at a Lisbon pasteleria. We’re glad on both counts.
11. Toucinho do Céu
Toucinho do Céu intrigued us before we took our very first bites of the luscious dessert. Considering that its name translates to bacon from heaven, this intrigue was inevitable since bacon is one of our favorite foods.
Invented by Guimarães nuns in the Braga district during the 18th century, this cake’s name derives from pork fat that was used in its original recipe. Although that ingredient is now optional, the name stuck. Non-optional ingredients include lots of sugar and eggs as well as ground almonds and butter.
12. Torta de Amêndoa
Torta de Amêndo is a great option for those who love sweet almond desserts but don’t eat pork. In all honesty, it’s not that different from Toucinho do Céu except for the latter’s controversial ingredient.
This difference doesn’t sway us either way since we like bother desserts. However, we appreciate that Torta de Amêndo is the better option for our Vegetarian and Kosher readers.
The Portuguese didn’t revolutionize modern ice cream. That credit goes to Italy. This situation doesn’t stop Gelado from being one of the most popular desserts in Portugal among kids of all ages.
Perhaps ice cream is so popular because the best Portuguese Gelado makers have connections to Italy. Some claim Italian heritage while others honed their craft at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna. Although many of the country’s top gelaterias are in Lisbon, restaurants and shops serve tasty scoops of Gelado all over the country.
Our Favorite Portuguese Pastries
If you can’t find pastries in Portugal, then you failed in your sweets finding mission.
Every time we eat a new pastry in Portugal, we find two more to try. We’d eat them all in one sitting, but then we’d be dead. However, that being said, we’ve eaten a preponderance of traditional Portuguese pastries since our first visit more than 13 years ago.
Though our Portugal pastry mission continues as we explore the country through its food, these traditional Portuguese pastries are the ones we crave most:
14. Pastel de Belém
The Pastel de Belém is special. Not only was this egg tart the gateway convent pastry that ignited our sweet Portuguese obsession, but the Pastel de Belém is also Portugal’s signature pastry.
Legend has it that monks invented the Pastel de Belèm in the 18th century using yolks left over at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos from egg whites used to starch habits. After securing the historic Pastel de Nata recipe, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém has continued the sweet tradition for almost two centuries.
Although Pasteis de Nata are available in every corner of Portugal, there’s only one place to eat the original incarnation. Luckily for you and us, Fábrica de Pastéis is just a short distance from Lisbon. These ‘natas are worth the journey since they’re just a little bit better.
15. Pastel de Nata
If you only eat one dessert in Portugal, it should be a Pastel de Nata. This simple Portuguese egg tart has conquered the world but it’s best eaten in its home country.
If you’re wondering what differentiates a Pastel de Nata from a Pastel de Belèm, the answer comes down to geography. Unlike a Pastel de Belèm, a Pastel de Nata can be baked anywhere while a Pastel de Belèm is specific to one location.
In Portugal, Pasteis de Nata are baked everywhere and they’re almost always good.
16. Queijada de Sintra
Miniature cheese pastries called Queijadas are available all over Portugal but the most famous ones are baked in Sintra. Besides the cheese that gives Queijadas their name, other ingredients include eggs, sugar, milk and flour.
Eating these little pastries in Sintra is like channeling history. Once used as currency, Queijadas de Sintra date back to the Middle Ages. However, the Sapa family has ‘only’ been baking them since the latter half of the 19th century. Don’t hold that against them as they seem to have sorted out the formula by now.
Be warned that Queidjas can be addictive. You may want to buy a few extra to enjoy on the train ride back to Lisbon.
Most Portuguese pastries seem to be available at every single pasteleria. The Indiano is not one of these pastries. In fact, we’re only seen the unique pastry at Versailles and Confeitaria Nacional during our travels around Lisbon.
We’re yet to figure out how the Indiano got its name or why it’s not more popular. Its moist cake base provides a spongey base for cream and icing. We’ve tasted Indianos topped with chocolate, vanilla and coffee icing and have enjoyed them all.
Queijadas aren’t the only pastry that call Sintra home. A second Sintra pasteleria bakes an equally notable pastry called Travesseiro.
Casa Piriquita has been baking pastries since 1862 as they proudly advertise at their Sintra shops. Crowds queue for the chance to eat the pillow-like Travesseiro pastry made with almonds and puff pastry.
The Travesseiro’s other ingredients include eggs and sugar. This is a Portuguese pastry after all!
If you’re wondering whether to try a Queijada or Travesseiro when you visit Sintra, the answer is yes. The two pastries are entirely different from each other and they’re both good. The only way to discover your favorite is to give both a try.
19. Queijada de Évora
Évora is the most notable city in Portugal’s Alentejo region. Much of its noteriety comes from ancient Roman ruins and historic sites that earned the city its UNESCO status. But the city’s food culture is an equally valid reason for visiting Évora.
Though we could also wax poetically about Alentejo’s viticulture, we’ll save that for a future article. Instead, we’ll instead sing the merits of trying a Queijada de Èvora during your visit. Better yet, try two since the tiny, cheesy pastries feature local sheep’s milk as well as (you guessed it) sugar and eggs.
20. Queijo de Figo
Ironically, Queijos de Figo aren’t made with cheese. They also don’t have any eggs. Instead, this pastry’s primary ingredients are Algarvian figs and granulated sugar.
The fig-forward pastry gets its name from those figs as well as its torta cheese-like shape. It also comes in a larger cake version.
Invented in Santo Tirso near Porto, the Jesuita gets its name from triangular Jesuit habits. Whether covered with sweet icing or almonds, this layered Portuguese pastry is always triangular in shape.
We’ve eaten both Jesuita versions and even tried one layered with apples instead of sweet eggy cream. The pastry’s flakiness distinguishes it from other pastries in the country
22. Ovos Mole de Aveiro
Portugal’s Ovos Mole de Aveiro may be the country’s most unusual pastry to receive protected Protected Geographical Indication status from the European Union. Surrounded by communion wafers, the center of each Ovos Mole has bright yellow, super sweet custard made with a preponderance of egg yolk and sugar.
Although nuns invented Ovos Mole in the town of Aveiro, the dessert is readily available throughout Portugal. Some pastelerias take the extra step of crafting the eggy treats to look like fish and seashells, but a typical Ovos Mole tastes cloyingly sweet regardless of its shape.
23. Pâo de Deus
The Pâo de Deus was a pastry that spoke to us before we tasted it. We had high expectations based on its name alone – the Portuguese pastry’s name impressively translates to God’s Bread. As an extra bonus, the pastry enjoys a long history as a treat eaten on All Saint’s Day each year.
After one bite, we quickly realized that the Pâo de Deus’ brioche base is covered with a sweet, eggy coconut topping. Alas, we’re not coconut fans. We still recommend it for those who like brioche, coconut and traditions.
24. Queijada de Feijão
Not to be confused with the Queijadas produced in Sintra and Évora, the Queijada de Feijão doesn’t have cheese in its ingredient list. Instead, this classic Portuguese pastry adds white beans and ground almonds to its sweet eggy paste.
Although Joaquina Rodrigues garners respect for inventing Portugal’s iconic bean cake in her home city of Torres Vedras during the late 19th century, dessert eaters don’t have to travel to central Portugal to sample a Queijada de Feijão. Most neighborhood pastelerias serve this pastry in Lisbon as well as in other cities throughout Portugal. It’s that popular.
Stop by Fábrica do Pastel de Feijão if you’re walking around Alfama and want to try a more modern bean cake. However, be aware that opening hours are currently limited.
25. Bolo de Arroz
Bolo de Arroz, which translates to rice cake, likely got its name from one specific ingredient – rice flour. A staple of Portuguese pastelerias, it’s an anomaly among its pastry peers. Despite having a crispy top layer sprinkled with sugar, this Portuguese pastry is as savory as it is sweet.
Although the Bolo de Arroz recipe doesn’t include corn meal in addition to rice flour, we liken the Portuguese pastry to an American corn muffin. The textures are similar and neither is too sweet.
International Pastries in Portugal
Since there’s a limit to the amount of traditional Portuguese desserts and pastries that we can eat, sometimes we want something different. Luckily, we have no problem in this scenario since many of the most popular Portuguese pastries originated in other countries.
Just like Portugal left its culinary mark in countries around the word, other countries have influenced Portuguese cuisine. Beyond savory food like hamburgers and pizza, Portuguese people have added several global desserts to their diet.
These are our favorite international sweet treats to eat in Portugal:
The French may have invented Éclairs in the mid 19th century, but the Portuguese have made the oblong French pastry their own. We found this concept odd until we bit into our first Portuguese Éclairs at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço in Porto and then it all made sense.
Leitaria da Quinta do Paço has been filling Éclairs with fresh chantilly cream and topping them with milk chocolate since the 1920s but they don’t stop there. Other flavors run the gamut though our favorites are lemon and croquant.
Once you eat an Éclair at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço, you’ll develop a sweet addiction that can only be satisfied with more Éclairs. The dairy has multiple locations in Lisbon, Braga and Porto to satisfy this addiction. In case you can’t tell, it’s one of our favorite pastry shops in Portugal.
27. Bolo de Berlim
Traveling donut fans can satisfy their donut cravings in Portugal by eating a Bolo de Berlim. However, these Portuguese pastries aren’t actually related to American donuts. Instead, immigrants brought the concept from Germany almost a century ago.
A Portuguese Bolo de Berlim is bigger and sweeter than a jam-filled Berliner in Berlin. Although doce de ovos, a sweet cream made with egg yolks and sugar is the typical filling, we prefer chocolate inside our fried bundles of joy.
You can find Bolo de Berlim at pastelerias, train stations and even at the beach.
Portugal and Brazil have a symbiotic relationship that transcends the two counties’ intertwined past and shared language. Though they’re separated by an ocean and 8,000 kilometers, certain Brazilian foods are readily available in Portugal. These foods include sandwiches, Feijoada and Brigadeiros.
Invented in Rio de Janeiro and named after a Brazilian politician, Brigadeiros are easy to find in Portugal. The pastry’s traditional recipe includes condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter plus chocolate chips to coat the balls. Don’t worry if you don’t like chocolate – Portuguese pastry chefs create Brigadeiros in a rainbow of flavors besides chocolate.
29. Cinnamon Bun
We’ve eaten cinnamon buns around the world but many of our favorites have been in Scandinavia. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that the little cardamom and cinnamon cakes at Lisbon’s Copenhagen Coffee Lab make us happy.
While we refer to cinnamon buns as Korvapuusti in Helsinki and Kanelbullar in both Sweden and Norway, we choose to call them Danishes when we eat them in Lisbon. Perhaps we’ll call them Kanelsnegle when we finally make it to Denmark but you have to admit that calling them Danishes is more fun.
30. Chocolate Chip Cookie
The Chocolate Chip Cookie is having its moment in Europe. Not only have we eaten elevated cookies at Paris coffee shops and restaurants, but we regularly eat amazing chocolate chip cookies at Milkees, one of our favorite Lisbon cafes.
Brazilian baker Joāo Pedro Erthal bakes the classic American cookie in Portugal – and it’s as good as any we’ve eaten in the USA. If there’s a more international pastry in Portugal, we have yet to find it.
Although France is inexorably connected to the Croissant, the European country can’t claim credit for inventing the crescent-shaped rolls. That credit goes to Austrians who invented the Kipferl in Vienna. The French also can’t keep the croissants within their borders. Italians bake a version called a Cornetto. In Portugal, it’s just called a Croissant.
As is the case with most Portuguese pastries, Portuguese Croissants are sweeter, heavier and doughier than their French brethren. Even plain ones get a sprinkling of powdered sugar… and then there are Croissants filled with doce de ovo at spots like Croissant de Sesimbra in our first Lisbon neighborhood. Oh my!
Palmiers have different names around the world. Spaniards call the French pastry Palmeras while Mexicans call them Orejas. Mindi grew up calling them Elephant Ears. In Portugal, they’re called Palmiers just like in France. However, they’re not exactly the same.
While the French make palm-leaf shaped Palmiers with puff puff pastry and sugar, Portuguese bakers take the pastry one step further by making versions with sweet icing or filling them with ovos doce. Sure, you can eat a plain Palmier in Portugal. But where’s the fun in that?
33. Salame de Chocolate
Portuguese people love their cured meat, especially Presunto Porco Preto made from special black pigs. They also love desserts shaped like cured meat but made with chocolate.
Salame de Chocolate is actually an Italian creation that made its way to countries like Greece and Lithuania. With ingredients like cocoa, cookies, nuts, eggs and butter, it’s no surprise that Salame landed in Portugal too.
Bonus Portuguese Dessert
Lisboetas don’t end meals at Cervejaria Ramiro with sweet desserts. Instead, we order savory Prego Sandwiches at the iconic Lisbon marisqueira. Yes, steak sandwiches are the preferred dessert at Lisbon’s most popular seafood restaurant.
It may sound weird, but ordering a garlicky Prego Sandwich is the traditional and best way to end a meal at Ramiro. Squeeze some yellow mustard or add a few drops of spicy piri piri sauce to the sandwich and you’ll be eating one of the most unique Portuguese desserts without risking a sugar high.
Pin It for Later
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.