Food and drink, Pastry pillows and sweet cheese tartlets: two sweet specialities of Sintra

Pastry pillows and sweet cheese tartlets: two sweet specialities of Sintra

The variety of pastries on offer in Portugal is endless. Everyone knows about the ubiquitous pastel de nata (custard tart), but the pretty town of Sintra (approximately 30km from Lisbon) also boasts two sweet pastries that give the pastel de nata a run for its money: the travesseiro and the queijada de Sintra.

The travesseiro is a rectangular puff pastry shell, sprinkled with sugar, surrounding a filling of egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The name ‘travesseiro’ means ‘pillow’ and describes the shape of the pastry. The original convent recipe was revived by the owner of the Casa Piriquita bakery in Sintra in the 1940s and the café is still famous for its travesseiros today, although they can also be found in cafés and bakeries all over Sintra.

The queijada de Sintra, which translates as ‘Sintra cheesecake’, is nothing like the cheesecake sold in the United Kingdom. It is a small tartlet with a thin, crispy pastry shell filled with a mixture of egg yolks, flour, sugar, cinnamon and queijo fresco (a Portuguese mild, white cheese with a custard-like texture; the closest cheese to it outside of Portugal is ricotta). This recipe dates back to the thirteenth century, when, it is said, the queijada was used as a form of currency. In the late-nineteenth century King Carlos I made queijadadas popular when he came to stay in the Pena Palace, his Sintra summer residence, and asked the Casa Piriquita bakery to make them for him. Like travesseiros, these little tartlets can now be found in cafés and bakeries all over Sintra.

Food and drink, Sangria - the sweet taste of summer in a glass

Sangria – the sweet taste of summer in a glass


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In recent years sangria has gained a bit of a negative image through its association with the ‘sun, sea and sangria’ package holidays in Spain and Portugal. But the origins of sangria go back to Roman times when water was often unclean and people added alcohol to it to make it safe to drink.  In the wine-growing regions of the Iberian peninsula red wine was also added to the mixture to improve the flavour. The drink evolved over the centuries, with the addition of orange juice, lemonade and fruit, in part to make some of the unpalatable wines drinkable. The resulting drink was the colour of blood and so became known as sangria (from the Spanish and Portuguese word for ‘bleeding’). Since 1991 a European Union law has decreed that sangria can only be produced in Spain and Portugal and must be within the boundaries set out in the law, which says that sangria should be wine to which the extract or essence of citrus fruits is added and, optionally, citrus-fruit juice, pulp and/or peel, spices and a carbonated drink, but with no artificial colouring, and that the volume of alcohol must be between 4.5% and 12%. Outside of this decree anything goes and in Portugal there are many varieties of sangria, including white wine sangria, sparkling wine sangria, sangria with ginjinha, and sangria with tropical fruits or red berries and currants. However, here is one of the classic recipes:
1 bottle of red wine (750ml)
500ml orange juice
500ml fizzy lemonade, orangeade or soda water
330ml lager
50ml of a spirit, such as rum or brandy
1 orange, sliced or chopped
1 lemon, sliced or chopped
1 apple, sliced or chopped
150g sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
ice cubes
a sprig of mint

It is so refreshing on a hot day that it is easy to forgot that it is alcoholic, but for me it will always be the taste of a Portuguese summer.


Food and drink, Pão de ló: a cake for all seasons

Pão de ló: a cake for all seasons

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DSCN5125Wherever you go in Portugal you are likely to come across pão de ló, whether it’s in the window of a pastelaria (cake and pastry shop) or on a market stall. It is a cake that appears at most Portuguese celebrations, particularly at Christmas and Easter. Pão de ló is a light and fluffy fat-free sponge cake made with three ingredients: sugar, flour and eggs – lots of eggs! As with many Portuguese cakes and desserts the recipe is said to have originated in the convents where the nuns had lots of egg yolks left over after using the whites to starch their habits and naturally there are lots of regional variations to the recipe. The standard recipe for pão de ló uses six eggs and six egg yolks. Air is added to the mixture by whisking the eggs and sugar until it has doubled in size (Chef Nuno Mendes suggests whisking the mixture for 20 minutes!). The flour is then gently folded in and the mixture is poured into a cake tin lined with greased greaseproof paper, high at the sides to allow for the cake to rise. Traditionally the cake is cooked in a fluted cake tin (which gives it a hole in the middle), however, this is not essential and many recipes, including one from Nuno Mendes, use a normal round cake tin. It is not the prettiest of cakes, as it rises up very high during cooking and then deflates as it cools down, giving it a wrinkled and cracked appearance, but that is part of the charm. IMG_0817After it is cooked it should be crisp on top and slightly moist inside. The taste reminds me of the Italian savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers) that are used to make tiramisu and, like those biscuits, pão de ló can be used as a base for other desserts but often it is served on its own with a cup of coffee or tea or even a glass of port.

As it is Easter I have decided to make a chocolate pão de ló in celebration of the season. Feliz Páscoa!IMG_0819


Food and drink, Ginjinha – the drink of Lisbon

Ginjinha – the drink of Lisbon


Porto has port, the Algarve and Alentejo regions have medronho, while Lisbon and the area just to the north have a type of cherry brandy unique to Portugal called ginjinha (or ginja). It is a sweet liqueur made with the sour morello cherry (ginja) which grows in this region and it can be found on the menu of any bar, but in Lisbon there are also several ginjinha bars which specialise in serving this drink. The most famous is A Ginjinha Espinheira in Largo de São Domingos near Rossio square, which is where the drink is said to have originated in the 1840s.

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A Ginjinha Espinheira, Largo de São Domingos, Lisbon

The bar is named after a nineteenth-century monk, Francisco Espinheira, who combined morello cherries with brandy, sugar, cinnamon and water and sold the resulting cherry brandy as a medicinal aid (the taste and consistency is reminiscent of cherry-flavoured cough syrup). The bar has to be one of the smallest in the world and, once they have bought their glass of ginjinha, customers stand in the street to drink it. Some people ask for a ‘ginja com elas’ (with an alcohol-soaked cherry from the bottle in the glass) while others ask for a ‘ginja sem elas’ (without the cherry). Copy the Lisboetas and order a ‘com elas’ and after finishing your drink suck the alcohol from the cherry, but maybe leave spitting the cherry pip onto the ground to the locals. Other ginjinha bars also in the Rossio area include Ginjinha do Carmo in Calçada do Carmo and Ginja Sem Rival in Rua das Portas de Santo Antão.

Ginjinha is also widely available in Alcobaça and Óbidos in the Centro region, north of Lisbon. In Óbidos a shot of ginjinha is often served in a small chocolate cup which you can eat after drinking the liqueur, and great value at only €1 a shot.


Food and drink, Three desserts from the convent

Three desserts from the convent

photo-01467.jpgThe famous pastéis de Belém (or pastéis de nata) are not the only patisseries to have originated in Portugal’s convents and monasteries. There are many other sugar and egg-based delicacies that still appear today in pastelarias and on the dessert menus of restaurants. The trilogy of doces conventuais (conventual desserts) that were served to us in the Café Portugal restaurant in Lisbon (on the first floor of the My Story Hotel Rossio) comprised Papos de Anjo, Molotof and Pudim Abade de Priscos. Papos do Anjo (Angel’s Tummies) are baked egg yolks covered with a sugar syrup. Molotof is soft meringue made with egg whites and sugar and covered with caramel. It was originally created to use up surplus egg whites. It is thought that the name was originally Malakov, the name of a fortress during the Crimean war, but during the Second World War it evolved to be Molotof (or Molotov) after the Soviet foreign minister. Pudim Abade de Priscos (Abbot of Priscos Pudding) is a type of crème caramel named after a nineteenth-century chef, Manuel Joaquim Machado Rebelo (the eponymous Abbot of Priscos), who famously added bacon fat (toucinho) to the traditional crème caramel mixture to give it a seductively velvet texture. Toucinho also means bacon and I suspect the slice of bacon on our Abade de Priscos was the chef’s idea of a culinary joke!Photo 01468

Food and drink, Porto tónico - a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

Porto tónico – a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

Portonic (134)At cocktail hour there is a Portuguese alternative to the traditional gin and tonic. It is called porto tónico (also known as portónic) and is essentially white port poured over ice and topped up with tonic water. A ratio of one-quarter port and three-quarters tonic makes a very refreshing drink, but you can change the ratios to make a stronger drink if you prefer. Add a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, as in the porto tónicos served at the Quiosque Lisboa in Praça Luís de Camões, Lisbon.


Kiosk Lisboa (139)

Bola de Berlim, Food and drink

Bola de Berlim

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The Bola de Berlim (Berlin Ball) may look like an ordinary doughnut, but it is uniquely Portuguese. The recipe is based on that of a German doughnut (Berliner Pfannkuchen), which was reportedly brought over to Portugal by Jewish refugees during the Second World War. However, it has been given a Portuguese identity by adding a filling of creme pasteleiro (a type of egg custard similar to crème pâtissière) instead of jam. As well as the traditional egg custard creme, there are also other flavours on offer, such as chocolate or strawberry, and there is even an option to have a Bola de Berlim without any filling (sem creme). Who would have thought that ordering a doughnut could be so complicated! As with all sweet snacks in Portugal it is delicious but very calorific, which makes it ironic that it is also one of the most popular snacks sold on Portuguese beaches!