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Portuguese Food - Desserts

If there’s one thing that’s universally agreed upon when talking about the Portuguese culture, it is that we are obsessed with our sweets.  Well, if truth be told, we’re determined to have our meals be an occasion to be savored, and so our sweets are icing on the cake of that determination.  There’s nothing secret about a Portuguese person’s love of sweets and, in fact, there’s a word for it.  Guloso (male) and gulosa (female) refer to one who is not ashamed of their sweet tooth.   The Portuguese culture and the number of unbeatable sweets speak to its love affair with its sweets.  The list of seven sweets provided here is just scratching the surface of the Portuguese dessert offerings.  For the sake of not showing favoritism, the items are presented in alphabetical order. 

But first, a word of cultural clarification. For this blog's purposes, I'll use the term "Portuguese" to cover the people of mainland Portugal, the Açores, and Madeira.  However, it's important to note that the people of the autonomous regions of the Açores and Madeira are also identified as Açorean and Madeiran.  

Arros Doce (sweet rice pudding) This dessert is as popular around the world as it is in Portugal, the Açores, and Madeira.  While some claim it must be cooked only on the stovetop, others argue that it needs to be baked; this dessert shows up everywhere you find Portuguese meals.  Made of rice, sugar, egg, milk, and salt, its many variations include adding lemon slices to the boiling of the water, different kinds of rice, and even butter in the cooking.  What’s almost always agreed upon is that it tastes best when topped with those lovely rows of cinnamon.  

Filhós or Malasadas. In their simplest form, these are traditional Portuguese deep-fried treats prepared with leavened dough. If you're from Sao Miguel, you'll call them malasadas, and if you’re from anywhere else, they are filhós.  They come in numerous regional varieties that may differ in form and often incorporate different spices and additions.  This dessert is the one that most Portuguese people equate with their Avós kitchen, and they remain a beloved sweet amongst the many other great Portuguese desserts.m 

Flan. This custard dessert is rich, creamy, and addicting for anyone who loves a crème Brulée-like dessert without the crusty top layer.  This is another Portuguese food that is the center of to achieve its perfect version, and one found on most restaurant dessert menus or home-made at a family event.

Massa Sovada. This sweet bread is as iconic to the Açores as pastel de nata is to Portugal.  It appears at every cultural celebration, and no family gathering is complete until the massa sovada arrives, preferably right out of the oven.  This bread is sweet because it has sugar in it but not as sweet as cake. It’s a dessert but sometimes sneaks in at the dinner table along with the main meal or is even served with fresh milk cheese as an appetizer.  It’s heavenly when fresh out of the oven and heavenly after it’s aged and is toasted. It’s the sweet that is like a favorite sweater.  Any time you need or want it, it never lets you down. 

Pastéis de Belém or Pastel de Nata.   This is perhaps the most famous pastry of Portugal; it’s an icon.  This egg tart pastry is filled with custard cream and finished with cinnamon and sometimes powdered sugar.  For those who love a lightly sweet dessert that’s also lightly creamy, this is the one for you.

Pastel de Feijão (bean pastry). This unusual sweet treat idea is a flaky puff-pastry tartlet made with white-bean cream, egg yolk almost, and whatever magic happens to create the puff pastry part.  

Salame de Chocolate.  This Portuguese dessert may look like salami; it tastes nothing like it. It is named so because of its tube-like shape but is the perfect blend of chocolate and cookie in one.  This no-bake dessert consists of cocoa, broken cookies, butter, raisins, and sometimes nuts.  While this dessert lends itself to a changing out of some ingredients, what is always present is dried cookies, cocoa, and butter and the fun of eating something that looks like salami but isn’t. 

Making time to spend with loved ones is important and deserves nothing but the best to make the time even more special.  After leisurely enjoying delectable appetizers and a rich main course, nothing less than a perfect dessert will do.  Portuguese desserts hold their own among the best in the world and have always been highly prized in the hearts of the Portuguese. Remember, it’s a universal truth that life is too short to skip your sweets, so avoid the problem by eating dessert first.

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