Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sweet things

What is it about nuns that they feel compelled to mix eggs and sugar and pastry together and invent sweet treats?  Convent sweets (Doçes Conventuais) are a big thing in Portugal, each region has its own specialties, but it is all versions of a theme.

 Mix egg yolks and sugar until a yellow paste forms and then shape, then that yellow paste is either encased in pastry or dough.

Convents and Monasteries  started to churn out sweet treats in the middle ages, when sugar was made available in Portugal through the Portuguese world-wide trade routes.  Eggs play a major part in the cake making process, as egg whites were used to starch clothes, nuns habits and alike.  Egg whites were also used to clarify home made wine and beer.

 What was left over was the egg yolk.  So what do you do with all that egg?  You simply add sugar. 

Nuns used their initiative and in the spirit of making money for the church started to sell sweets.  It has now become part of the Portuguese culture.  Coffee shops have a bewildering array of cakes on offer, there are the staples such as a Bolo de Berlim (a doughnut with the yellow stuff in the middle) the Pastel de Nata (a pastry case with a thicker bit of yellow stuff in the middle).  There are regional treats such as ovos moles (translates as soft eggs) available in Aveiro (it's yellow stuff in rice paper)....there are Tentugal pastries (it's the yellow stuff in filo pastry).......But there are lots without the yellow stuff, such as beer cakes or bean paste cakes. Whatever they are they are intensely sweet and give a great sugar rush.   Here is a lovely summary of sweet treats on offer in Portugal.

Each year a town close to us has a Doçes Conventuais exhibition, where local suppliers show off their sweet treats.   We took a visit this year and sampled some of the pastry and yellow stuff delight and experienced the sugar high.

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