Convent Baking is not to be missed on your next road bike tour in Spain or when cycling in Portugal, it would be a sin!
Delicious convent desserts and pastries in Spain and Portugal are traditional parts of history and cuisine here. Economic mainstays of religious orders, you will be praying that you won’t finish the package of biscuits. They are varied and delicious and buying them is a fun experience!
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The Best Spanish & Portuguese Sweets? Try Convent Dulce Desserts
Take a break on your Spanish bike trip and pop into a local coffee shop. Upon ordering a café con leche in Andalusia you will be assured of receiving a little pillow of a sugar packet, which rests demurely next to your cup awaiting. To the average consumer it will seem larger than the recommended EU Standard teaspoon size. However, this is Southern Spain, and the 800 years of Moorish history, endowed the culture here with a sweet tooth that you would think should be a sin to indulge. Ironically, considering how decadent the tasting experience is, this is where the Convents of Spain and Portugal stepped in and cornered the dessert market.
The Best Baking Recipes by Spanish & Portuguese Nuns
Paradoxically, and knowing the history of the Reconquest and Inquisition, the best of these Iberian desserts come surprisingly from the strict confines of the Roman Catholic convents. The sedate sisters have perfected the art of temptation with their sticky confections of honey and almond alfajores and rich flan desserts. So, when I spotted the little elderly nun in monochromatic robes and small-pillared hat methodically filling her shopping basket and moving slowly around the local supermarket’s baking ingredients, I loitered close by. Perhaps I could gather some ancient secrets of the sisterhood of the convent dulce.
The History of Convent Desserts in Spain and Portugal
The Convents of Iberia have prepared their cookies and treats for centuries and many are still producing them. All in order to help keep the coffers fuller and preserve their spot on the dessert tables in Spain and Portugal. Starting at a time when all families were expected to send at least 1 female member of their household to the sisterhood, imbued the convents with women of high social standing. They had finer tastes as well. Aiding in the development of this cooking “hobby”, were rich estates sending provisions “dowries” for their female children. Chickens, which equalled eggs, a relatively cheap source of protein in the diet, were always welcomed. It was at a time when egg whites were used in everything from starching clothes, painting frescos to making wine and thus, a great glut of yolks! And let us be honest, some of these recipes use a tsunami of yolks, and stories abound about cakes that use 60 of these little golden orbs!
Convent Desserts are a traditional Part of Iberian Culture
All around Spain and Portugal, you will get a chance to taste these kitchen creations so plentiful are convents in cities and towns. Though, you may not see the creators if they are living cloistered. If they are, ring the bell, place some money on the lazy susan swing turntable (torno) and pray. On the other side, the nun will place the cookies, and any change due, on the turntable and spin it back to you. Happily receiving these little delicacies but with no hint to who resides behind. It really is a lovely experience and if successful, to walk away with something delicious and homemade (casero). You will feel proud to have engaged in this cultural practice.
Visiting Seville on your Cycle Trip? Try Andalucian Convent Desserts
One of the notable places, where people can try out this custom is upon arrival in sensational Sevilla. It is a heartland of religious tradition and you just have to experience their Easter Week, Semana Santa celebrations to attest this. The city has many convents very central who still produce some very lovely dishes and rely on this extra bit of money to keep them going. Get on your bike and you can actually do a Convent Dulce crawl to try them all! And it is worth it. Do note that generally hours are hit or miss and never on a Sunday of course! Look for the signs reading “Dulces / Doces” or Torno” on doorways and walls.
“Aromas and flavours that evoke sweet memories, traditional sweets made with all the love and delicacy in our cloistered convents.”
Favourite and Best loved Convent Desserts in Spain & Portugal
If sugar is not your thing, well then give up right now, as eggs and sugar are the main ingredients of about 99% of these treats. The Portuguese base of these desserts is a creamy sauce of egg yolks and sugar, ovos moles, used as a delectable filling for tarts, pies and marzipan pleasures. Their Fios de ovos, made by dripping sweetened egg yolks through a sieve into boiling sugar is another ingredient used as toppings on many of these yummy eats and hard to avoid.
The repertoire of sweet products by both countries include confitures, Alfajores Mozárabes biscuits. Mozarabes were Christians who lived under Moorish rule in Al-Andalus. They also make quince Jam and the most delicious Tocino de Cielo or in Portugal, toucinho do céu. This roughly translates as Bacon from Heaven, sounds dodgy but I promise you this caramelized egg yolk and sugar delight is a very rich dessert indeed. In fact, many of these delights have celestial names such as Angel’s Cheeks or ahem.. Nun’s Bellies.
Simply Sinful, Spanish & Portuguese Traditional Cookies
Wherever you venture, you must experience this. It is a fading tradition as those going into the sister hood are becoming scarce, and you may find the offerings even too sweet & cloying. However, this is a custom, almost ritual, that the Spanish and Portuguese, still very much embrace. So, be brave, fumble through your Portuguese or Spanish, go and get some nun’s buns (too racy?), the sin of gluttony will be forgiven.