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Portuguese Sweets and Desserts: Part 1

Updated on December 30, 2014


If you read some of my hubs you probably know how I like to go on and on about how Portuguese cuisine is out of this world, totally amazing and different and tasty and how if you try it you will want nothing more… From delicious after bar food ( which you can eat at any other occasion, for that matter), such as “Woodpecker”, Chicken Gizzards or Green Soup, to historically traditional recipes such as “Chanfana”, Tripes Oporto Style or the 365 ways to cook dried salted cod fish or just the popular recipes like the “Little Frenchie” or sardines, you just can’t go wrong with Portuguese recipes. But what I haven’t talked about much is those more sweet sins, we simply can’t resist… the cakes, the pastry, the tarts, pies, and a never ending list of pure delight… And it’s not that we don’t have those… We have them alright… Sweet recipes, some centuries old, a lot of them thought of within the sacred walls of convents, where nuns developed the most wonderful recipes for all sorts of desserts you can think of… Each region of our country has its owns particular delights, a bit of culture, history and tradition put together for those of us with a sweet tooth. From North to South there is an endless list of sweets you can try, the famous Ovos Moles (Egg sauce) from Aveiro region, egg cakes in syrup or Almond Pie from the Algarve region and so many others…

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It’s truly amazing the amount of sweets and desserts a country so small can be responsible for… So, why is that? Well, first, I would say the Portuguese Discoveries played a big role in that, then – again – the nuns, afterwards cultural habits…

Unlike what we may think now, sugar wasn't always around, especially in Europe. No, there was a time when a lot of people didn't know about sugar. In Europe, most people used honey if they needed to sweeten something. Also, people’s taste wasn't used to such sweet food as we have now, so mostly it would taste funny to them eating something too sweet… But then again, sweet taste is not something that takes a lot of getting used to, right? So, because of the Portuguese Discoveries, by the 15th Century, sugar starting arriving in Portugal.

If, at first, it was regarded as a medicinal produce, sold in apothecaries, it didn't take long to be used in something other than medicine. Nonetheless, it was also an expensive produce, so it wasn't available to everybody.

By then there were a lot of Convents all over the country, for religious purposes, but also because the number of nuns kept increasing each year, after all what better way was there than to choose a religious, secluded life to escape poverty or to escape a love scandal or… The convents and monasteries also provided a place of rest to the nobles during their trips, providing safe haven and a nice warm meal… Finally, it was nothing new or strange, in noble families, to cast a daughter to the secluded life of a convent to ask for spiritual blessing for the rest of the family.

Now, history gets a little tangled at this point, but I think that a bit of each of the following is probably true: some say that the donations from noble families that handed in their daughters (for any reason) was what allowed convents to be well off financially and therefore have the money that allowed them to buy the sugar necessary to produce amazing sweets; others say that the sweets became famous and started being bought in the villages around the convents, as well as if there were marriages and any other parties; others claim that the nobles that sought the convents for rest paid well for wonderful, lavish meals, where sweets could not be missed; then, there are rumors that the recipes for all convent desserts came from the nuns that were of noble birth, bringing with them the culinary secrets of their household; but some say that actually the recipes were created and perfected within the sacred walls, since there was not much to pass time and that some of the poorer nuns that had chosen such secluded life, because they had no money to pay for the wedding dowry, created wonderful sweets to give to the men that went by the gates of the convents, as a way to enchant them and in the hopes of being saved by them from that life.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that most of the Portuguese sweets and desserts originated in convents and are therefore called Convent Sweets. Their fame is such that some say that Portuguese Sweets are all that is left from Portuguese Discoveries in a lot of countries - although that couldn't be farther from the truth.

But sugar and nuns are not the only important factors in Portuguese sweets, there is another terribly important thing: a whole lot of eggs. For many, many centuries Portugal was one of the leading producers of eggs, there were so much eggs around, that they were used for much more than to eat. For instance, egg whites were used to iron clothes or to purify wine. Therefore, there was a lot of egg yolk to spare, so it wouldn't go to waste, the egg yolks started being used in sweets.

That being said, it’s easy to see how the basis for a lot of the convent sweets are sugar and eggs, more specifically egg yolks. And it’s truly amazing what can be accomplished with such simple ingredients. During centuries nuns perfected their art, invented new sweets. For centuries they kept their secrets. But as all secrets, now and then, some secret recipe leaked and then Convents slowly started disappearing and so the Convents’ sweets became everyone’s sweets and no matter where they come from, are they tasty or what?…


From North to South, each village, town, city has its own special sweets. There are so many, that it would be impossible to go through all of them with just one Hub, so I’ll have to do it in parts and because I am in the South that is where I will start… Here are the secrets I found in my new home…

The Algarve region is the most southern part of Portugal and it was the last to be conquered from the Moors. Because of that, there is a lot of Moorish influence in the Algarve still. From names, to architecture, costumes, culinary and, of course, sweets. Therefore, the sweets in Algarve have a hot, different taste to them... But it weren't just the Moors, but also the climate, which is warmer and drier than the rest of the country and what grows in this region. It's the lovely almond trees and the fig trees and carob trees. All that makes up for inspiring sweets, which could have been baked in heaven.

So, what are some of these amazing sweets?

- Almond pastry;

- Dom Rodrigo - made of angel hair and almond;

- Fig cakes with chocolate;

- Fig stars;

- Sweet potatoes pastry;

- Christmas fritters;

- Easter loaf;

- Carob cake;

- Almond pie;

- Carob and chocolate cake or pie;

- Marzipan sweets.

Personally, I just love almond pie, the carob cake, the Dom Rodrigo, the marzipan sweets, the sweet potatoes pastry and the Easter loaf. But, of course, there would be no time to leave you with all these wonderful recipes, so I've chosen one, although I really need to stress you need to try all of them. I hope you try the recipe and I hope you like it and don't forget Portuguese sweets, from convents or not, are the next amazing treasure you need to find out about.

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Dom RodrigoDom RodrigoDom RodrigoMarzipan and angel hair cakes (Doce fino)Almond cookiesAlmond pieAlmond pieAlmond pie
Dom Rodrigo
Dom Rodrigo | Source
Dom Rodrigo
Dom Rodrigo | Source
Dom Rodrigo
Dom Rodrigo | Source
Marzipan and angel hair cakes (Doce fino)
Marzipan and angel hair cakes (Doce fino) | Source
Almond cookies
Almond cookies | Source
Almond pie
Almond pie | Source
Almond pie
Almond pie | Source
Almond pie
Almond pie | Source

Sweet potatoes pastry recipe


  • 1.1 lbs / 0,5 kg Sweet potatoes, Filling
  • 0.8 lbs / 0.375 kgs White sugar, Filling
  • 1 tbsp Cinnamon, Filling
  • 1 Peel from orange or lemon, Filling
  • 0.2 lbs / 100 grs Peeled grinded almond (optional), Filling
  • 1 Cinnamon stick, Filling
  • 0.6 lbs / 250 grs Pastry flour, Dough
  • 1 Egg yolk, Dough
  • 5,07 oz / 0,15 l Olive oil, Dough
  • To measure Salt, Dough
  • To measure Warm water, Dough
  • To measure Vegetable cooking oil
  • To measure Sugar
  • To measure Cinnamon


  1. Use a large bowl to put the flour in together with the olive oil, the egg yolk, salt and warm water.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together untill you have a consistent dough.
  3. Turn the dough out of the bownl onto a clean surface, first sprinkling with flour.
  4. Gather the dough into a pile and press it together for a while.
  5. Let the dough rest for half an hour.
  6. While the dough rests start working on the filling. First, boil the sweet potatoes until they are soft.
  7. As soon as you take the potatoes off the boiling water put then under cold water, that will help you peel the potatoes.
  8. After peeling the potatoes, mash them very well, until you get a soft dough.
  9. Add sugar, cinnamon and cinnamon stick, as well as the peel from an orange or a lemon and the peeled grinded almond (if you decided to use this ingredient) to the mashed potatoes and bring it all to a boil on a low heat. Don't stop stiring during the whole process.
  10. Let the filling cool, before using it on the dough.
  11. Finally, place the dough on the counter and roll out the dough, until the thickness is approx. 0,08 inches / 2 mm.
  12. Place spoons full of filling on the dough, cover the filling with more dough and cut it with a big glass, so you'll have an half-moon shape.
  13. Seal the edges by pressing them with your fingers.
  14. Deep fry untill golden brown.
  15. While hot drizzle with a mix of sugar and cinnamon. You can eat room temperature or hot.

And if you liked it, put some stars on it...

4.7 stars from 3 ratings of Sweet potatoes pastry


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And, now, more sweets... with Portuguese Sweets and Desserts: Part 2.


Don’t forget to leave me your comment and vote on the hub.

For more information check out my profile and stop by my other hubs.

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© Copyright Aug 13 2012 / To use part or the whole article you must first get written permission from the author. Feel free, nonetheless, to use an intro of the hub with a link to the article here on hubpages for the rest of the article.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      If I cocitnmmaued I could thank you enough for this, I'd be lying.

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hello, Iguidenetwork, these sweet potatoes recipe is really good, once you have one you want another, it's terrible for our diet, but... Anyway, I always like to understand where things come from, so I thought it would be interesting to provide the background of convent sweets... Glad you liked it and I hope you try my recipe. Thanks for reading, commenting and voting and take care!

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Vespawoolf, it is intriguing indeed... I always figured they didn't have that much to entertain themselves with, so they baked and tried what they baked and improved the recipes... It seems reasonable enough. Anyway, hope you try it and thanks for reading and commenting. Take care!

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Ishwaryaa22, I'm glad you enjoyed, I think it's a fascinating story that of convent sweets and they are so good... If you try the recipe let me know how it went... Thanks for reading, commenting, voting and sharing! Have a great day!

    • iguidenetwork profile image


      5 years ago from Austin, TX

      Interesting and engaging hub -- you provided a glimpse of the Portuguese culture through the desserts and their history that you presented. I always like sweet potatoes so I am sure I am going to like this recipe! Voted up and interesting/useful.

    • vespawoolf profile image


      5 years ago from Peru, South America

      I'd definitely like to try this. In Peru, donuts are made with sweet potato and pumpkin which makes them moist. What an interesting history of nuns, sugar and eggs! Intriguing. Thanks so much!

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      An engaging hub with an interesting history of convent sweets! I am very much a dessert person myself. The photos of sweets looked delicious and the recipe is written in a detailed manner with handy step-by-step photos. Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful, Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Brett, I really love finding out where everything comes from, where it started and why, I'm passionate about history and I thought this was quite a cool story... Anyway, glad you like it and I hope you try our sweets soon. Thanks for reading, commenting, voting and sharing! Take care!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      5 years ago from Thailand

      I love trying food from different countries and these would definitely be tested given the chance (no kitchen at the moment lol). Convent Sweets eh ... kinda cool name, certainly not your average story.

      Shared, up, useful, pinned and interesting.

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Alocsin, you should definitely try it... Thanks for stopping by, commenting and voting! Take care!

    • alocsin profile image


      5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Sweet potato has always been yummy to me but I don't think I've ever had it in a pastry. This sounds delicious. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • algarveview profile imageAUTHOR

      Joana e Bruno 

      5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hello, Melis Ann, glad you liked it... I just find fascinating understanding where things come from... And besides our sweets are really something and we have so many kinds, you really need to try them... Anyway, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Take care!

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      These Portuguese sweets look so delicious! Part of the enjoyment of food is connecting to it's history and you've done a great job helping us do that.


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