Hello, greetings from lockdown (still).
Portuguese confectionery comes in many forms, as any visit to Portugal will prove within the first few minutes – The Gold Rush can usually be seen shortly after landing in Porto at the grubby bar in the arrivals area, where they have some not-too-bad pastries (!).
In our quest to search for superb confectionery, we have come across some incredible things, and today we will discuss why we can’t have some of them. In other posts in the future we will talk about the ones we do have.
I will start with those that are too delicate to travel. When The Gold Rush started, we contacted the producers of one of Portugal’s best – though by no means best known – delicacies: Pastéis de Vouzela, which have a pedigree that goes back to the 19th century and rumour has it involved stealing the recipe from some poor nuns in Porto. Anyway, potential crime aside, they come from the town of Vouzela, in Central Portugal, and are a delicate cigar-shaped case of filo pastry with an egg jam filling. The filo is handled raw, filled by hand with the jam, and then baked for about two minutes. The result is magnificent and delicate, alas so delicate that when we did a test to see if they could withstand the journey we ended up with a delicious but sorry mess. Sadly they failed our test, and with great regret we decided not to list them. And like them, we found many other wonders that wouldn’t survive the trip, but we will discuss them in these pages so that our intrepid readers can go find them when in Portugal.
Other delicacies that we were excited to learn about are more, er, unusual. We love them, and have travelled all over the country to try them, but realised that they would be a hard sell. And that is because, as befits a centuries-old tradition of confectionery, they have evolved to include local ingredients and make use of excess produce, even when they are ingredients not normally used in sweets and puddings. The list is extense and fascinating, but today we will focus on one that has impressed us greatly: Manjar das Chagas, from the Old Monastery of the Wounds (Chagas) of Christ, in Vila Viçosa, Southern Portugal. An updated version of the Manjeblanc that is common around the Mediterranean, it used not the shredded chicken breast of the original medieval recipe, but, as this is an area with royal hunting traditions, rabbit meat!!! It sounds utterly bizarre, but tastes divine. Somehow, however, we didn’t feel that the British public would be queueing to eat Peter Rabbit, so we left it. But do go hunting for it when in that part of the world; The Gold Rush’s partner wasn’t too keen to try it at first, but ended up licking the plate. Just saying…