Once I got my head around the many different types of Portuguese coffee, the next obvious step was Portuguese cakes. After all, you can’t just order a coffee in Portugal. You need a cake to go with it as well.
When it comes to Portuguese pastries and cakes, most people have heard of the pastel de nata (or Portuguese custard tart). It’s probably the best Portuguese cake, but it’s far from the only one. There are tens of different Portuguese cakes and pastries, and that’s before you take into account regional specialities.
The following is a list of just some of the different cakes and pastries that you’ll find in Portugal. It’s by no means exhaustive, so if you have any recommendations for cakes that have been missed leave a comment below.
Pastel de nata
These days, most people have not only heard of a pastel de nata, but actually tried one. You’ll find them in just about every pastelaria in Portugal, and they’re probably the most commonly available cake in Portugal.
Note: Not all pastéis de nata are created equal: although you’ll find pastéis de nata in every pastelaria in Portugal, the quality varies from place to place.
I’m always on the lookout for the best in pastéis de nata in Lisbon or wherever I’m visiting in Portugal. If you find anywhere great, be sure to let others know by leaving a comment.
Bolo de arroz
A bolo de arroz is a muffin-shaped cake that’s made from rice flour. They’re almost savoury, which is quite rare amongst Portuguese cakes as most are extremely sweet.
This is a pretty common cake in Portugal, and you’ll see it almost as much as the pastel de nata. You’ll also find it outside of Portugal, particularly in Brazil, Mozambique, and Angola.
Bola de Berlim
A bola de Berlin is a berliner doughnut with a twist: Berliners usually have jam as a filling but the bola de Berlin uses yellow Portuguese custard (doce de ovos) instead.
Like the bolo de arroz, you’ll find these at most pastelarias in Portugal. You’ll also find Portuguese people eating them at the beach, and you’ll sometimes even see vendors going up and down the beach selling them.
Guardanapo means napkin or serviette and that’s exactly what these cakes look like.
They’re essentially a square piece of Portuguese sponge cake, which is much softer than and more pliable than sponge cake in other countries. Portuguese custard is spread onto one side of the Guardanapo before it’s folded over – just like a serviette.
Pão de Deus
Pão de Deus are little bread rolls that are covered in coconut, doce de ovos, and sugar. They’re fairly savoury, as Portuguese cakes go, and are often eaten for breakfast or as part of a snack. Some people use them for sandwiches, filling them with butter, cheese, or ham.
On November 1st, All Saint’s Day, it’s typical in some regions for grandparents to give these to their children in a tradition known as Pão-por-Deus.
An Arrufada is basically a Pão de Deus but without the coconut on top. Arrufadas are mostly found around Coimbra.
Salame is a chocolate salami; a cake made from broken maria biscuits and chocolate.
You’ll actually find chocolate salami all over Europe: in Greece (called a Mosaiko), in Lithuania (called a Tinginys), in Russia (called shokoladnaya kalbasa) and in Italy (called salame di cioccolato).
A Queijada is a small Portuguese cake made from eggs, sheep’s cheese or Requeijão (curd cheese), milk, and sugar.
There are many different regional takes on the queijada, including the Queijada de Sintra and the Queijada de Evora. You’ll also find queijadas in Madeira, Oeiras, and Pereira.
Torta de Cenoura/noz/chocolate
A torta is similar to a swiss roll. It’s a piece of sponge that’s been spread with a filling, and then rolled up.
You’ll find several different types of torta in Portugal including cenoura (carrot), noz (nuts), and chocolate (chocolate).
Pastel de feijão
Pastéis de feijão are small tarts with a white bean filling that are usually dusted with icing sugar.
They’re typical in the Torres Vedras region of Portugal just above Lisbon, although they’re a common sites sight in pastelarias up and down the country. The bean filling suggests that they should be savoury, but they’re actually very sweet.
You’ll find Palmiers for sale in pastelarias throughout Portugal, and even in your local Portuguese Lidl. They’re made from puff pastry that’s coated in sugar and then rolled up into a heart shape.
Although the name sounds French, some Portuguese people believe that’s where the French connection ends and that they are in fact Portuguese.
Pastel de Laranja
Sweet, sticky, and tasting like marmalade, pastéis de laranja make use of the many oranges that Portugal grows, particularly in the Algarve.
A pirâmide is a pyramid-shaped cake that’s made from recycled* cake (whichever cake was about to go stale), then covered in chocolate, and topped with cream and a cherry.
*Recycled cake sounds a little unappetising, although this is quite common in other countries. Ireland has Gur cake, for example. Some people say it’s not made from recycled cake, but just from the trimmings of other cakes.
Travesseiros de Sintra
A travesseiros is a pillow-shaped pastry made from puff pastry that’s filled with an egg and almond cream and then sprinkled with sugar. Although they’re sold throughout Portugal, many believe that you cannot get a good one outside of Sintra.
If you’re visiting Sintra it’s worth doing as the Portuguese do and making a special pilgrimage to Casa Piriquita, a pastelaria in the heart of Sintra.
A Mil Folha is a mille-feuille, although in England and Scotland it’s often just called a vanilla slice or a custard slice. This is definitely a French cake, although it’s quite common throughout Portugal and also in Brazil.
In Bragança and in Porto, you’ll find regional takes on the mil folha that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
A queque is a crown-shaped Portuguese-style muffin made from dough, yeast, and fat.
It’s pronounced like the English word for cake, and is found in pastelarias all over Portugal.
A tigelada is very similar to a crème brûlée (or leite creme as it’s known in Portugal). It’s made from eggs, milk, sugar, and cinnamon and then baked in a terracotta bowl. Unlike a crème brûlée, which is usually made up fresh, the tigelada is kept in the pastelaria counter along with the other cakes.
Torta de Azeitão
A Torta de Azeitão is a Swiss Roll-style cake that’s typical in Portugal’s Setúbal region. As with many Portuguese cakes, the filling is made from doce de ovos.
Made up of different squares of cake and then covered in chocolate, the Bolo Xadrez is a common feature in pastelarias all over Portugal.
Ovos Moles de Aveiro is a Portuguese delicacy that originates from Aveiro, although you’ll find these in most Portuguese pastelarias. As of 2006, Ovos Moles are the first Portuguese sweet to receive the Protected Geographical Indication certificate.
The outside is made from a wafer-thin pastry, while the inside is filled with a thick, and very sweet, egg yolk filling.
Bolinhos de Coco
Bolinhos de Coco are small cakes made from desiccated coconut, eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. You’ll find them in pastelarais and, because they’re so easy to make, people often make them at home as well.
Folhado de Maçã
A folhado de maçã is basically an apple turnover. Sometimes they come with chopped nuts on the side.
As well as folhados de maçã, you’ll also find several other apple-based pastries and cakes including delícia de maçã and tarte de maçã.
Found in pastelarias all over the country, these pastries are believed to have originated in Santo Tirso near Guimarães. They’re usually covered in a sugar glaze, although there are numerous variations. The only thing that stays constant is its triangular shape, which some say is based on a Jesuit cloak.
Fatia simply means slice. Fatia noz means a slice of nut cake while fatia cenoura means slice of carrot cake. It’s not exactly the most descriptive name in the world, and it doesn’t tell you a lot about what the cake is made of, but it’s pretty common to see this on pastelaria menus.
Bolo Rei (and Bolo Rainha)
Bolo rei (king cake) and bolo rainha (queen cake) are two of the most popular Christmas cakes, and they can be found in most pastelarias and supermarkets in the weeks around Christmas. Bolo rei has sugared fruit on the top, while Bolo Rainha is more nuts-focused.
Although you’ll see them everywhere throughout December, they are traditionally eaten in the days between Christmas and Epiphany (6th of January).
Almost identical to a French éclair, although Portuguese éclaires often use doce de ovos for the filling.
A fatia dourada (or rabanada) is like a cold slice of French toast, and that’s pretty much what this is. It’s a lot sweeter and a lot more sugary than French toast, so you’ll need a strong black coffee to wash it down.
This doesn’t need to be served cold although, if you see it in the pastelaria counter, that’s probably how it’ll be served. If served warm, it’s usually served with a wine syrup on top.
Pata de Veado
Another Swiss roll-style cake, the Pata de Veado is recognisable by the strange wedge-shape that it’s usually cut into.
It contains doce de ovos for the inner filling and this is often found on the outside, along with desiccated coconut.
Which Portuguese pastries and cakes have you tried? Have any recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments below.