Christmas is about family and the food that unites us around the table. It is about planning and excitement of doing all the Christmas desserts that will delight our loved ones. Portugal has plenty of desserts, and by now, you must already know that Portuguese love sweet desserts and Christmas isn’t an exception.
Most Portuguese Christmas desserts are deep-fried and cover in sugar and cinnamon, except for the cakes. And the majority of them have eggs, lemon, or orange peel. Also, each region, each city, and even small villages have their own specialties or local varieties. The list of typical desserts is long, so we tried to gather a list of 15 of the most Traditional Portuguese Christmas Desserts.
15 Best Portuguese Christmas Desserts
Bolo Rei (King’s Cake)
Bolo Rei is a Christmas cake that is strongly traditional in Portugal. Actually, it is mandatory to have one on Christmas day, even if you don’t like it. King’s Cake is a round fruit cake with a hole in the middle. It is made with sweet dough, lemon and orange zest, and a splash of Port’s wine. Most importantly, it is filled and covered with plenty of dried and crystallized fruit.
In the past, they used to put in the middle of the cake a fava bean and a token, normally a small metallic object, with different shapes like a ladybug. The rule was, whoever found the fava bean had to pay for next year’s King’s cake. But nowadays, due to European community laws, it is forbidden to put the gift inside the cake.
The origin of Bolo Rei comes from the French Gâteau des Rois (King’s cake), specifically the South of Loire’s recipe. However, nearly every European country has a traditional dried fruit cake for Christmas. The Italian’s have their Panetone, the English have their Fruitcake, and the Spanish have a kind of Kings Cake that is very different from the Portuguese one.
You can easily find this cake in all pastries in Portugal, and you don´t even have to wait for Christmas as they are sold all year round. There is no Portuguese Christmas table that does not have a Bolo Rei, it is the symbol of Christmas.
Bolo Rainha (Queen’s cake)
Bolo Rainha is very similar to Bolo Rei – you can even say that it is its twin cake. It is made with the same dough as Bolo Rei, and the only real difference is that this cake doesn’t have crystallized fruit, only plenty of dried fruit, mainly nuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. If you don’t like crystallized fruit, this cake is your alternative to King’s cake.
Although more recent, Queen’s cake is also traditional at Christmas, we actually like it more than the King’s Cake, but that depends on your personal taste.
Bolo Rei escangalhado
Bolo Rei Escangalhado is also a variation of the classic Bolo Rei, it has the same dough, but it doesn’t have crystallized fruit, only dried fruit. It can have a circular or braided format. The best part of the cake is stuffed with sweet eggs (ovos moles) and Gila jam. In the end, it is decorated with dried fruit and egg threads (fios de ovos)
Bolo Rei Escangalhado can also have different fillings like chocolate or only sweet eggs. Whatever the filling is, it is a good alternative to the classic version of Bolo Rei.
Aletria is a Portuguese Christmas dessert that uses a special and different ingredient made with noodles, called Massa de Aletria (Aletria noodles). They are a very thin egg noodle that in Portugal is only used to do this dessert.
The Aletria noodles are cooked in milk and egg yolks, aromatized with an orange or lemon peel. When all the milk is absorbed by the noodles the dessert is done. After it cools you just have to sprinkle cinnamon powder to decorate, normally with Christmas motifs like angels, stars, or bells.
Aletria has a big influence from the Moorish cuisine, as Portugal was under the rule of Moors for a long time, there are plenty of dishes that are based on that heritage.
This is a dessert normally homemade; it is complicated to find it in bakeries or restaurants. Tough, some restaurants add Aletria to their menu during Christmas time.
Arroz Doce means sweet rice and it is very typical at Christmas. The rice is slowly cooked in sweet milk aromatized with an orange or lemon peel. It is made with rice carolino (a native short-grain rice variety that’s similar to the Italian Arborio used in risotto). The process of doing Arroz Doce is very similar to doing risotto, you have to gradually join the milk until it is absorbed.
In the end, Arroz Doce is decorated with cinnamon, with Christmas motifs. This is also one of those desserts that are homemade normally made by your grandmother. But it is incredibly easy to do and deeply comforting.
Rabanadas is a Christmas treat made with fried bread that is coated with sugar and cinnamon. To cook Rabanadas, you must use stale bread, preferably a baguette bread, then you have to soak the bread in milk or wine, and then in egg. When they are sufficiently soaked but still hold their form, you can fry them in hot oil. Immediately coat them with sugar and cinnamon while they are still hot. Sometimes, in the end, they are wet with sugar syrup.
This Christmas dessert is very similar to french toast or, as the French call them, “pain perdu.” In Portugal, they are also called “fatias dourada” (golden slices).
There are also different variations of Rabanadas, done with different types of Portuguese bread, like the Rabanadas à Poveira, which is done with bijou bread. As we said before, they can be made with milk or wine, white or red depending on the region of the country. They are simply delicious.
Sonhos (it translate literally to dreams) is another staple dessert at Christmas; they are fluffy and light, deep-fried balls covered with sugar and cinnamon. The dough of Sonhos is similar to choux dough, made with flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and lemon or orange peel; they are then fried in small balls. After frying, you cover the balls in the traditional sugar and cinnamon or with sugar syrup.
Like other Portuguese Christmas desserts, there are regional variants made with different ingredients like pumpkin, gila, carrot. But one thing is certain they are simply divine.
Some say that the origin of Sonhos is from Turkey, which has a similar dessert called Lokma.
Filhós are also small deep-fried balls covered in sugar and cinnamon. They are very similar to Sonhos, but they are more compact and consistent. Depending on the region, some people call Filhós to Sonhos and vice-versa.
Filhós are made with flour, yeast, eggs, olive oil; they are then left to ferment and deep-fried in hot olive oil. In the end, they are covered with sugar and cinnamon or sugar syrup. As Sonhos, they can be done with punking, which makes them even more delicious.
In the past, they used to be offered to the boys that sang through the neighbor houses after the Christmas mass (Missa do Galo). Normally they were served with Port Wine to “warm the soul”.
Azevias is a traditional Christmas dessert originally from Alentejo. It consists of thin dough with the shape of a half-moon filled with a sweet chickpea puree. It is deep-fried and covered with sugar and cinnamon (surprising, right?). It can have other fillings like punking, sweet potato, beans, and gila. Almond flour is usually added to the puree too.
Fun fact, Azevias has the same name as a fish due to its shape flat and long. This dessert is also typical in Carnaval. And it is a luscious sin.
Coscorões is a crispy Christmas dessert made with flour, eggs, orange juice and zest, and lard. It is then very finely extended and cut into thin strips or rectangles. And deep-fried in hot oil, as well as covered with sugar and cinnamon.
Some say that this sweet was brought by the crusades, as they had great durability and withstood the long trips, but we aren’t certain of this reference. Anyway, they are deliciously crispy and addicting.
Pão de Ló
Pão de Ló wasn’t typically a Christmas dessert, it used to be more traditional on Easter, but lately people started cooking and buying them in Christmas too. In fact, today it is a staple Portuguese sweet and, at Christmas, it can’t be forgotten.
Pão de ló is a fluffy humid cake made with eggs, flour, and sugar. There are different kinds of Pão de ló; some are more humid with more egg yolks, others are covered with a sugar coat, and others are drier. Our favorite is the more humid the Pão de Ló of Ovar. They are especially good on Christmas morning with a piece of Cheese.
Peras bêbedas, which means drunk pears, are a simple dessert typically served on Christmas eve. They are done with peeled pears that are slowly boiled in Port and red wine, sugar, and spices. Although they are done in wine, nearly all the alcohol evaporates with the boiling process.
You may think it is a weird dessert but give it a try you may be suprised.
Broas Castelares are quite different Christmas desserts from the above. First of all, they aren’t deep-fried then they use ingredients that are not very common in Portuguese desserts. Being that said, Broas Castelares are made with a puree of sweet potatoes, wheat, maize and almond flour, and the usual suspects’ eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. Some recipes have grated coconut. Then they cooked in the oven covered in egg yolk until golden.
They are a traditional Christmas dessert in the South of Portugal, and you definitely should try them.
Mexidos / formigos
Mexidos or Formigos is a Christmas dessert from the region of Minho in the North of Portugal. It is a simple dessert made with bread, pine nuts, honey, raisins, dried fruit, Port Wine, lemon peel, and cinnamon. To cook it, you simply need to boil the wine with the honey and lemon peel, then add the dried fruit and the bread. In the end, decorate with cinnamon.
The poorer families didn’t use Port wine or pine nuts, so there are different versions of Mexidos. But normally you will only find this dessert in the North of Portugal.
Bolo de Mel, Madeira
Bolo de Mel (honey cake) is a traditional Christmas dessert from Madeira. Tradition says you should make it on the 8th of December on the day of Our Lady of Conception. This date marks the beginning of Christmas and also helps the cake absorb the flavors, so it tastes better at Christmas.
Bolo de Mel is very different from other Portuguese desserts. It is made with the molasses from the sugar cane, flour, and plenty of spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise. It also has chopped nuts, almonds, raisins, and Madeira Wine.
It is like a condensed dark fruit cake with long durability. It is eaten all year round, but it is most frequently eaten during the Christmas season.
Now that you know all about the best Portuguese Christmas Desserts, you can learn about the best Christmas main dishes here.
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