12 Portuguese desserts you must try

"Pudim de ovos" is one of the best sweet dishes you will find in Portugal / Unsplash
"Pudim de ovos" is one of the best sweet dishes you will find in Portugal / Unsplash
8 July 2019, Marilia Poiares

Do you have a sweet tooth? Are you a dessert lover? If your answer is yes, Portugal is a great destination for you. This country really appreciates food, and desserts are no exception. Pastelarias (pastry shops) and padarias (bakeries) are everywhere and offer the most amazing treats you can imagine.

The dessert recipes vary from traditional to variations of international recipes and create an infinite list of cakes, puddings and pies. Grab a spoon, a fork or just use your hands to dig into these 12 delicious Portuguese sweets.

1. Arroz doce (rice pudding)

Portugal's take on the traditional rice pudding / Flickr
Portugal's take on the traditional rice pudding / Flickr

This dessert is no stranger to many, since it has many versions around the world. In Portugal, this is a staple dessert at family gatherings, holidays and special meals. Rice, milk, sugar and cinnamon make up the base of this sweet dish and each family has its own recipe with different twists like vanilla, lemon zest and even egg to thicken the mixture. Once it's cooked, it is decorated with different patterns, created with cinnamon.

2. Pudim ovos

This is another recipe that you can find all around the world and Portugal presents an egg flan pudding that is creamy, smooth and rich. You can find it on most restaurant dessert menus and family gatherings. Covered in thick caramel sauce, this is something you must try!

3. Aletria

Aletria is a traditional dessert that you can find on many Portuguese Christmas tables but also prepared all year round. Made from vermicelli pasta (“angel hair” pasta), milk, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon and lemon or orange zest, it is a comforting dessert, decorated with cinnamon, just like the rice pudding.

4. Rabanadas

This dessert is another Christmas must-have with a recipe very similar to French toast. Thick slices of bread are soaked in milk infused with sugar or even wine, then dipped in egg and finally fried in sunflower oil. Once fried, the sweet slices of toast are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or even coated with some sort of sugary syrup. A true delicacy!

5. Baba de Camelo

With a very funny name (“Baba de camelo” means “camel’s drool”), this dessert is perfect for when you're in a hurry. Write this down because you never know when you might need to impress your guests with a stellar dessert in just a few minutes: separate egg whites from egg yolks and whisk the whites until stiff; pour the yolks through a strainer and mix in condensed milk; add the stiff egg whites into the mixture and refrigerate.

And voilá! This is a deliciously easy cold dessert that you will love!

6. Leite creme

Try this boiled "créme brulée" topped with cinnamon or burnt sugar / Pixabay
Try this boiled "créme brulée" topped with cinnamon or burnt sugar / Pixabay

Leite creme is the Portuguese cousin of “créme brulée” , prepared on the stove instead of in the oven. This twist on the French classic is basically a sugary egg cream that will delight you. Decorated with cinnamon or burnt sugar, you will be able to find it in most restaurants.

7. Natas do Céu

This layered dessert has a very fitting name: Natas do Céu or “Cream from Heaven”. On the top layer will find a delicious thick egg custard, followed by a mixture of cream, egg whites and sugar and, on the bottom, a crunch-packed crumble made with shredded Maria biscuits. A spoonful of happiness with every bite!

8. Bolo de Bolacha

Maria biscuits are the star of another famous Portuguese dessert, Bolo de Bolacha. This cold cake-like treat has different recipes and every cook adds their own little touch like cream or condensed milk but, in the traditional version it is prepared with biscuits soaked in strong black coffee and then stacked up with a little help from some buttercream, made with sugar, butter and more coffee. Don’t even think about the calories in all that butter because this cake is worth every single one!

9. Bola de Berlim

This egg cream filled doughnut will be the perfect beach snack / Pixabay
This egg cream filled doughnut will be the perfect beach snack / Pixabay

If you've ever been to a Portuguese beach, especially in the Algarve, chances are you saw men walking around selling “Bolas de Berlim”. These fried pastries, with a doughnut-like consistency and taste, can be eaten in their plain version (just sprinkled with sugar), or filled with the same egg cream you’ll find in so many Portuguese desserts. After a long day at the beach there is nothing better than this sweet doughnut and these days you can even find alternative versions like chocolate or carob cream-filled Bolas de Berlim.

10. Pão de Deus

Its name literally means “God’s Bread” and it surely is heavenly. This moist brioche-like roll of dough is perfectly portioned and topped with a coconut crumble, too scrumptious to resist. You can find it in most “pastelarias” and it is the perfect companion to a great cup of coffee.

11. Toucinho do Céu

"Bacon from heaven" or as we like to call it: Heaven in your mouth! / Flickr
"Bacon from heaven" or as we like to call it: Heaven in your mouth! / Flickr

Speaking about desserts from heaven, Toucinho do Céu, “Bacon from Heaven” is a delicious almond cake, made with pork lard. It was created by the nuns of the Santa Clara Convent, in the north of the country, and it is one of the most popular desserts you can find. Don’t be put off by the name because the taste is incredible!

12. Pastéis de Belém/Pastéis de Nata

The very famous "Pastel de Belém" and "Pastel de Nata" / Flickr
The very famous "Pastel de Belém" and "Pastel de Nata" / Flickr

The Pastel de Belém is probably the most recognizable Portuguese dessert and an icon when it comes to dishes to try in Portugal. The famous store and factory in Lisbon still holds the secret recipe for these little custard pies but many pastry shops and bakeries have presented their own take on it and sell “Pastéis de Nata”. Ask for a coffee and a “pastel de nata”, a little puff pastry pie filled with egg custard and topped with cinnamon powdered sugar. YUM!

Now that you know about the existence of these desserts all over the country, all that's left to do is to start tasting!

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