As I have mentioned before, I frequently walk in the mornings with my dog; up and down the hills, into the forest and mountain roads. Recently there has been an extra burden on my walks. It is lent, the 40 days between Carnival and Easter. Tradition says you give up something for those 40 days that is like an addiction. Some people give up coffee, others chocolate or cigarettes. I decided to give up bread and pastries made with white wheat flour. And this is the reason that climbing up the 400 meters to town is now doubly difficult: the bakeries and pastry shops open their doors even before Pandora and I take off from home, so we walk up to town with the irresistible scent of freshly baked goodies lingering over the town center, calling my name – which I am patiently (more and less) ignoring.
Sintra is famous for its pastries. The pastries of Piriquita, travesseiros, are famous all over Portugal, and people cue up to buy them to take home by boxes. These long, sugar coded ‘pillows’ are best still warm, and they are freshly made all through the day. The outside is a flaky shell, inside filling is with egg yolk and sugar and almond…. Of course the recipe is a secret, under lock and key, patented and worth a fortune. There are a lot of imitation pastries around, but none as perfect a combination as the original of Piriquita. The main coffee-shop is right in the middle of the Historical Center, and it is closed on Wednesdays – but don’t worry: they have opened the ‘Piriquita 2’ a little bit further up on the street to make sure that you can get yours no matter what the day of the week is when you are in Sintra. But be forewarned – especially during the weekends and all through the summer afternoons, the lines are long (= about a half an hour).
Queijadas de Sintra, Sintra cheese cakes, is another famous pastry of the region. These are usually eaten cold and they last long. Very different from the American cheese cakes, these pastries are small and round, and are made not with cream cheese but with the local unsalted cottage cheese type fresh cheese and cinnamon. Normally you buy the pastries to go, wrapped in a paper tube, 6 in a package. There are several pastry shops that have their own recipe: the original cheese cake bakery, SAPA by the City Hall (already famous for its pastries in the middle of the 1800’s), Casa do Preto in the entrance of Sintra by São Pedro, Pastelaria Gregório in town and also Piriquita. All of these places have their own patented recipes and nice coffee shops to visit and experiment the ‘goodies’.
Fofos de Belas is yet another famous local pastry. The muffin-size sponge-like cake is filled with a cream and covered with fine sugar, every bite melting in your mouth. They are baked in a traditional wood-burning bread oven and also are a tradition of one special bakery – and are fiercely copied.
Also worth mentioning are the Pasteis de Belém, or Pasteis de Nata. Though they are originals of Lisbon, they have been quite successfully ‘copied’ by the Sintra bakeries. These cup-like tarts are filled with an egg and cream custard, often powdered with cinnamon or powdered sugar. Great either warm or cold, they are just the perfect little thing, not over sweet, to go with a quick cup of coffee. They are not attractive but boy are they tasty!
And as if the pastries were not enough, the bread in this region is divine! Traditionally made in a wood-burning stove, people cue up daily for the fresh bread – and it is worth it! Small carcaças, half loaves, full loaves, well cooked, lightly cooked, all white flour or integral, or half-and half, or mixture of wheat and rye, or rye and corn, baked in water or in milk……. I have never seen as many varieties of bread as in Portugal. And Portuguese bread is world-famous. Even the local baker in the Seychelles made bread with a Portuguese recipe! And the bread is baked and bought daily – the bread of the day before is given to the chicken and other farm animals.
So you can see why it is tough for me to ignore the scent of freshly-baked pastries, lingering in the streets. And once you try them, you can believe that they can easily become an addiction!