So this week the Gold Rush tried to make his absolute favourite pudding in the world: Encharcada. The name is a bit unusual, because it means simply ‘wet’ in the female form. We are not sure if the name refers to the fact that it is a sweet that should always be a little syrupy, hence the wet, or soaked, soggy appearance, but it stands to reason that it does. It is a common dessert in the South, particularly around Évora. And when it is good, it is divine.
Well, let’s just say that our Encharcada (pictured) was more on the profane side! It was FAR from syrupy; it was more the consistency, and colour, of a brick. We never claimed to be particular gifted in the kitchen, this was just a first try, we shouldn’t be discouraged and all that. But it was a pretty miserable try. At least we can say that it can only improve from here, and that we did try.
The recipe, from the Convent of St Clare in Évora, is deceptively simple:
Ingredients – 22 egg yolks (yes, 22!, it isn’t a typo), four egg whites, 750g of sugar, cinnamon
Preparation – boil the sugar in 2dl of water until it pearls on the edge of the spoon. Then slowly pour the mixed yolks and whites using a colander, making circular motions, stirring gently from the edge to the middle until the eggs are cooked. A bit of the syrup should still be left in the mix. Pour in a deep plate, sprinkle some cinnamon on top and place in a pre-heated oven until the top layer is slightly crisp.
With such clear and pithy instructions, what could possibly go wrong?! The sugar took ages to boil, so we upped the temperature, and within seconds were dealing with a volcano of boiling sugar. Then we poured the eggs into the colander, and they came crashing on the sugar syrup. Maybe the holes in our colander were a bit big… Then we smothered the thing in cinnamon, and had no clue when to take the whole out of the oven. And it had so much cinnamon on it, that we couldn’t tell whether it was crispy or not. Miraculously, the flavour vaguely resembled Encharcada (we use the word ‘resembled’ generously), and someone who never tried one might be convinced (coerced) to think that what they were eating is a Portuguese delicacy.
How on earth this extraordinarily delicate concoction could be prepared using a wood burning stove without temperature controls back in the 17th century is an absolute mystery to us, but it stands as testament to the magnificent skills acquired by those unsung heroines of Portuguese cuisine, the nuns who gave vent to their frustrations and aspirations by toiling in the kitchens.
We have not given up, and will publish updates on our quest to make the perfect Encharcada. It is now a matter of pride! Stay tuned…