The Portuguese have a relationship with pastries and desserts that could rival the French and Italians. Here are some of the best Portuguese desserts recipes, all of which you can make at home.
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What Is Portuguese Food?
Portuguese food is one of the most underrated cuisines in Europe, if not the World. We’ve been in love with Portuguese food ever since our first trip to Portugal in 2009.
Enjoying a bifana sandwich and clams “a bulhao pato” from Cervejaria Ramiro is a must every time we visit. Another culinary must is diving into the many delicious Portuguese Desserts. Here, we share our recommendations for the best Portuguese dessert recipes.
Bordering a culinary powerhouse like Spain has its pluses and minuses. Portugal shares a similar climate and geography to that of Spain. As a result, many of the same crops like olives, tomatoes, and fruits are grown. Like Spain, Portugal enjoys easy access to the sea and its rich bounty of seafood. And both countries share a long history of outside influences leaving their mark on the cuisine and this includes desserts!
Want to learn more about traveling in Portugal for food? Check out these related posts:
Portugal’s Regional Cuisine
While there are many similarities between Spain and Portugal, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Spanish food and Portuguese food are the same. This is a big no, no, and couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though they are neighbors, the Spanish and Portuguese will each tell you their food is better than the others, their wine is better, and their national football team is better.
Much like Spain, the food of Portugal is regionalized. Dishes popular in Lisbon and the south are less so in Porto and the north. And vice versa. One such example is the bifana versus the francesinha sandwich. Invented in Porto, the francesinha is the preferred sandwich of choice in northern Portugal, while the bifana rules the South. This is not to say you can’t enjoy either sandwich throughout Portugal.
Another layer to Portugal’s regionalized cuisine are the Azores and Madeira. Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the islands have belonged to Portugal for hundreds of years. The food found on both islands is naturally dominated by seafood. The dishes themselves are rustic and simple using only a few ingredients.
What Are Portuguese Desserts?
Portugal was one of the early European nations to explore and colonize the globe. Its overseas empire included Brasil, Macau, Goa, and parts of Africa. The spices and ingredients from these colonies had a lasting effect on Portuguese cuisine including Portuguese desserts.
As one of the oldest countries in the world, it’s no surprise that many Portuguese dessert recipes date as far back as the 15th century. As more Portuguese traders brought spices and most importantly sugar back to Portugal, dessert making took off.
Many famous Portuguese cake and dessert recipes were developed by nuns and monks. Often referred to as “monastic desserts,” sweets such as barriga de freira (nun’s belly) and papos d’anjo (angel’s double chin) trace their origins back to the Middle Ages.
If you ever travel to Portugal, you are going to want to learn the word sobremesas, which means dessert in Portuguese. This is important because many towns in Portugal have their own unique dessert and you’re going to want to try them all.
Like most Portuguese recipes, traditional Portuguese desserts only consist of a few ingredients. Proving again that you don’t need a ton of ingredients to make something delicious.
Traditional Portuguese Desserts
Here are some of the most traditional Portuguese desserts. You can find the specific recipe at the bottom of the post.
Portuguese Custard Tart (Pastel de Nata)
When I hear the words pastel de nata my knees get weak and my stomach grumbles. Pastel de nata might just be the most famous Portugal food item.
For us, no trip to Portugal is complete until we eat a dozen or so of these unforgettable Portuguese pastries. Filled with creamy egg custard, these tasty tart pastries are distinguished by their semi-burnt crust. Dusted with a little cinnamon and welcome to Portuguese dessert heaven.
A pro tip on enjoying pastel de nata in Portugal. Many people enjoy their pastel de nata with a nice cup of coffee in one of the many cafes in Lisbon. For a change of pace, try a pastel de nata with a glass of Portuguese dessert wine like port. You won’t be disappointed.
Portuguese Rice Pudding (Arroz Doce)
While I can’t get enough cheesecake, for Amber it’s rice pudding. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spanish Arroz con Leche or Portuguese Arroz Doce, if it’s on the menu she’s ordering it. Made using rice, milk, sugar, citrus zest, cinnamon, and most importantly egg yolks, I can’t blame her.
Variations of rice pudding can be found in regions across the world. Each version has its own regional twist like using coconut milk or adding spices including saffron. What makes rice pudding Portuguese, is the liberal use of egg yolks. Arroz Doce uses more egg yolks than your typical rice pudding. The result is a more rich rice pudding.
Also known as “sawdust pudding,” serradura is a pudding dessert made using condensed milk, Marie biscuit crumbs, and whipping cream. The crumbled Marie biscuits are what give the dessert its nickname. The biscuits appear to resemble sawdust inside the pudding.
The dish is believed to have been invented in Portugal and brought to Macau, a former colony, where it remains popular to this day.
Serradura is similar to another biscuit based Portuguese dessert, bolo de bolacha. The main difference between the two is the use of buttercream not condensed milk in the bolo de bolacha.
Like making desserts at home? Check out these recipe round ups:
Dessert Recipes from Portugal
Our list of dessert recipes includes traditional Portuguese dessert recipes as well as ones with a modern twist. We’ve tried our best to include as many easy Portuguese dessert recipes as possible. As we find and test out new recipes, we will continue to update.