The best kind of mail? The kind that comes with an introduction to a new baked good. And recently, I became friends with a new baked good with a fascinating history, via reader Sofia from Portugal, who is "married, have 2 girls, baked my first cake when I was 12 and never stopped since, work in the shipping business and am part-time cake designer since 2007 and I am totally and absolutely mad about chocolate." A true friend! Here goes Sofia:
I Live in Lisbon, Portugal and would like to tell you about some sweet pastries called Pastéis de Belém (baked since 1837).
Well, how shall I begin to describe these marvelous, wonderful and crunchy pastries? Let's start with a little historical context.
It all began early in the 19th century.
Next to the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane refinery, but liberal revolution resulted in the extinction of the religious orders and convents, and monasteries were closed and the workers and the clergy were expelled.
In an attempt to prevent eviction, a monk had the idea of selling some sweet pastries, which quickly gained success and began to be called Pastéis de Belém!
At that time Belém was still far from the city of Lisbon. However, the grandiosity of the monastery and the Tower of Belém attracted visitors who soon grew used to savoring the delicious pastries baked in the monastery.
Nowadays it is said that the recipe is still the original, some ingredients remain a secret, and the pastries are baked in the “secret room”.
Now the pastries…
The outside is made of light, crunchy pastry with a slight pinch of salt. The inside is creamy and sweet. They are better when still warm and are served with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
If you’d like to come over and have a taste, prepare yourself for a long line.
In the Summer or in sunny Winter days one good thing to do is to buy the pastries and cross the street to eat them in the park sitting on a bench, if available, or on the grass (beware of sparrows that will approach to eat crumbs)!
How I like to eat them: take little bites around until the filling is surrounded by a thin coat of pastry and then put it all in my mouth.
Note: In the same street, but one block away there’s a Starbucks and I can assure you, it all goes very well together.