Conventual sweets are made in the convents, and characterized for being, mostly, based on large amounts of sugar and egg yolks.
The origin of the conventual sweets in Portugal will originate in the 15th century. It will have been during this period that sugar entered the gastronomic tradition of the convents.
When the religious orders were extinguished, the nuns and friars used to sell the sweets to raise money for their support. They spread the recipes to the people that used to help them and the Portuguese pastry become what is today!
These sweets are very present in the Portuguese cuisine. However, in each region of Portugal there are a lot of different versions of the same sweet influenced by the local conventual life.
Let´s meet some of them.
The most famous conventual sweet – Pastéis de Nata (Pastéis de Belém) – Lisboa
Pastéis de Nata (or Pastéis de Belém) were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the district of Belém, Lisbon
Following the extinction of the religious orders, the monks started selling pastéis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834 the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day!
Pastéis de Belém are usually served fresh from the oven, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Their popularity normally results in long lines at the take-away counters, in addition to waiting lines for sit-down service.
Cornucópia – Conventual sweets from Alcobaça
Alcôa pastry is opened in Chiado quarter , Lisbon in the building of the old “Casa da Sorte” (Lottery ticket shop). Alcôa is a specialist in conventual pastry in the region of Alcobaça, and still follows the traditional recipes shared by the Cistercian monks and nuns, of Cister.
The cornucopia is one a the most well-known sweets of this place. At first glance it may look like ice cream, because of the cone, but it is a conventual pastry awarded at the International exhibition of conventual pastry and liqueurs of 2013.
It takes long hours to be made, in order to reach the crunchiness of the cone, fried in olive oil, you have to stretch it by hand and make it as thin as possible.
The cone is then stuffed with the egg cream, creating two contrasting textures.
Ovos Moles – Aveiro
Ovos Moles de Aveiro (“soft eggs from Aveiro”, literally) is a local delicacy from Aveiro District, Portugal, made of egg yolks and sugar.
This is, since 2006, a product with Protected Geographical Indication.
The mass of egg candy used, although consistent, is very creamy and is obtained exclusively through sugar and very fresh egg yolks.
To the egg yolks, after carefully degreased and mixed, add about half the weight of sugar in dot, from ‘road’ to ‘cold ball’, already cold. Stirring constantly to the same side with the wooden spoon, avoiding the circles, it takes to the fire until you see the bottom of the copper casserole.
Toucinho do Céu
That’s a classic Portuguese cake based on almonds and egg yolks. The name came from the fact that originally this recipe used pig fat as an ingredient!
Toucinho do Céu has many recipes, depending on the region of the country. It is thought that Murça is the place were was born the original recipe, which is an inheritance of the Benedictine nuns that for several centuries were installed in a monastery in the village of Murça (Vila Real), until the end of the century XIX.
The following is a recipe for Toucinho do Céu , which is thought to be the closest to the original.
The name of this sweet combine two of the most traditional ingredients in Portugal: eggs and nuts! Made with egg yolks, sugar, a little bit of water and flour, they look like the very typical nuts that we eat during winter!
We hope that you enjoy staying and eating in Lisbon as much as we do !