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Lisbon is home to a vibrant and diverse pastry scene, with sweets — including those from the convent tradition — proudly displayed in shop windows across the city.Look for signs that read “Fabrico Próprio” (house made), vouching for the pastries’ artisanal character.From luscious egg tarts to bacon pudding, Portugal’s pastries come loaded with egg yolks, sugar, and other rich ingredients.Most of these indulgent desserts have a surprisingly pious origin, however: Catholic convents and monasteries.Origin: Lisbon Where to find it in Lisbon: Manteigaria Also known as bean cake, this pastry is made with cooked, mashed white beans and almonds.
With its many sugarcane plantations, Madeira Island became an important depot for sugar production for all of Portugal’s colonies.
“We are talking about a small region of a small country like Portugal,” says Vitor Sobral, one of Lisbon’s acclaimed chefs.
“The number of convents and the diversity of sweets they produced is incredible.” Why were nuns and monks such major players in pastry?
This dark, spicy cake is made with honey from sugarcane, nuts, cloves, star anise, and cinnamon, and has a strong flavor of molasses.
The cake is considered to be Madeira’s oldest dessert, dating back 600 years.
Legend has it that they starched their laundry with egg whites and had to come up with a use for all the excess yolks. Rita João and Pedro Ferreira, authors of the Portuguese pastry encyclopedia, write, “These places of faith and seclusion were often true laboratories of creation, where the religious dedicated themselves to rescuing old recipes, or to testing new ingredients from all over the world.” The main ingredients in these sweets are egg yolks and sugar, in addition to flour, nuts, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, and other spices.