You can hardly walk a block in Lisbon without passing a bakery or pastry shop. To say the Portuguese like their sweets is a bit of understatement, which means we fit right in. 🙂 We made it our mission to try almost every pastry and dessert in the pastelaria glass display case, narrowing down our favorites to find the best Portuguese desserts you must try!
Since consuming a pastel de nata is probably already #1 on your list of Portuguese desserts to try, as it should be, here are 8 more sweet treats you don’t want to miss while in Portugal.
1 Pão de Deus
I had this heavenly brioche bun with a sweet coconut topping on my last day of my first visit to Portugal. I brought a bun back to Cambridge for Aaron, and this Portuguese dessert may be part of the reason we found ourselves back in Lisbon for the summer.
The good thing about Pão de Deus, or God’s Bread, is that you can find one of the best versions at a popular chain here in Lisbon, A Padaria Portuguesa. If you’re in town, you’d be hard-pressed not to pass at least one as they’re becoming a sort of Starbucks equivalent with the number that have popped up within the last few years. They do Pão de Deus right, with a large, moist brioche bun and sweet coconut topping, only lightly toasted on top.
2 Pão de Ló
Pão de Ló is a delicate Portuguese sponge cake that comes in plain egg or chocolate flavors and quickly earned a spot on my list of the best Portuguese desserts.
There must be an ongoing battle between cake makers, because António Oliveira named his sponge cake O Melhor Pão de Ló do Universo, or the best sponge cake in the universe, which sounds like a one up to Carlos Lopes Bras’ O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo, or the best chocolate cake in the world. We haven’t had Oliveira’s version of Pão de Ló, but if it’s anything like the version at Mercearia Criativa across from Jardim da Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques, it’s the clear winner. The Pão de Ló here had such a tender crumb, it almost oozed in the middle.
If you’ve been to Oahu, Hawaii, chances are you’ve stuffed your face at Leonard’s Bakery with big balls of fried dough, sprinkled with sugar. Or even better, you’ve found the smaller, more delicate version at the Sugar Beach Bake Shop in Kihei, Maui (and please tell me you got them with Li Hing Mui powder!) We’d always heard malasadas were Portuguese donuts, and therefore expected to pick up a dozen every morning for breakfast in Lisbon. But, this is only partially correct. They are Portuguese, but specifically from the island of São Miguel, part of the Azores, which is over 1,500 km offshore from mainland Portugal.
We kept an eagle eye out for these bits of fluffy fried perfection, and finally, on a standard stop at our local bakery, I spotted what could potentially be malasadas. They were amazing and wonderful, and of course when I went back the next day, they were nowhere to be found. They were like the unicorn of baked goods during our time in Lisbon. If you find them, eat them like there’s no tomorrow, because they are one of the best desserts in Portugal.
4 The Portuguese Cronut
I know the invention of the cronut by the Dominique Ansel Bakery caused quite the commotion in New York, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the they’ve been sitting, unassumingly, on pasteleria shelves in Portugal for years. I should’ve asked for the actual Portuguese name of these little donut-croissant combos, but I tended to just point and ask for 5 (okay, maybe 10).
5 Torta de Amêndoa
This almond tart is covered with a generous layer of slivered, caramelized almonds, sitting on a bed of chewy shortbread crust. It’s buttery and nutty and delicious.
6 Bola de Berlim
Portuguese desserts are heavy on egg and sugar, and Bola de Berlim is a classic. These doughnut-like pastries are similar to Berliners from Germany. They’re filled with an egg-yolk creme and generously covered in granulated sugar. I saw them in almost every bakery and market around Portugal, so you’ll have plenty of chances to indulge in this extra-sweet Portuguese dessert.
7 Pastéis de Feijão
The picture above may look like a pastel de nata, but wait, it’s not! Instead of nata (cream), the filling is made from feijão (beans). These tarts are particular to central Portugal. We had them on a trip to Canas de Senhorim, the hometown of one of Aaron’s colleagues. He claimed that they were even better than pastéis de nata, so we definitely had to give them a try. They were delicious! Try one so you can be the judge.
8 Chocolate Sorbet
This may not be a traditional Portuguese dessert, but the chocolate sorbet from the Bettina & Niccolò Corallo chocolate shop is too good to pass up. The sorbet is so simple, it’s only water, sugar, and chocolate. It’s the chocolate that makes all the difference; it’s single origin chocolate from a family plantation on the São Tomé and Príncipe islands, a former Portuguese colony in Africa.