Desserts and sweets

Belem cakes (Pastéis de Belem). Portuguese traditional recipe

Belem cakes (Pastéis de Belem). Portuguese traditional recipe


  • Easy
  • 45 minutes
  • For 10 people
  • 0.6 € / person

How to prepare Belem cakes.

Lisbon is a city that “hooks”, once you visit it for the first time you are already thinking of returning to enjoy its charms.

Perhaps it is for its hospitable people, its mix of modernity and tradition or, as it happens to me, for the excellent gastronomy it offers us.

Her, along with the grilled bacallao , are known for her sweet recipes , among which are these “ Pastéis de Belem ”. Some puff pastry and cream cakes from the Belem neighborhood , on the banks of the Tagus River at its mouth in the Atlantic.

Formerly Belem was a separate population from Lisbon but over time it has ended up annexed to the great city.

You can find them “ pastéis de belem ” or similar throughout Lisbon and the rest of Portugal, and of course they have a curious history. Currently they are made in the ” Factory of the pastéis de Belem ” with a secret recipe that they keep jealously locked and have kept since 1837.

At the beginning of the 19th century in Belem, next to the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane factory. In 1834, with the Liberal Revolution, many convents in Portugal were closed, leaving their inhabitants in distress.

To subsist, some members of the convent started a small shop attached to the cane factory, where they prepared “pastéis de belem” with an old and secret recipe from the Monastery.

Three years later, the manufacture of these sweets began in a more organized way and in greater quantity. Since that year they continue with the tradition and maintaining the original recipe, something that is very meritorious and gives these sweets an added value.

The chefs who work in the factory must sign a confidentiality contract ensuring the secret of the recipe, which is only prepared in an exclusive room called by them the ” Oficina do Segredo “.

At the Belem Factory, some 20,000 “pastéis” are made a day, sometimes doubling that number if it is a special date or a public holiday. Both the recipe and the name are internationally registered, as its popularity has spread to the rest of the world, especially to the former Portuguese colonies of  Brazil, Angola and Macao .

I leave you with the recipe closest to the authentic ones, I hope you like them. Of course they are yummy, once you eat one you can’t stop.

Preparation of the dough for Belem cakes

  1. We start with the puff pastry because we need it to rest for a while inside the molds before adding the filling.
  2. With each layer of puff pastry (which must be rectangular) we will do the same process: we roll the dough into a roll or cylinder. We cut portions of about 3 cm.
  3. Butter the molds and place a cylinder in the center of each.
  4. The molds that I have used are type egg custard, in Spain it will be difficult to find them the same as the Portugal but as you see in the photos they serve. Aluminum foil molds are perhaps the most similar.
  5. Little by little we adapt the dough to take the shape of the mold, from the center out, leaving the edge a little thicker.
  6. We also prick the base of the dough with a fork. Let it sit for about 20 minutes.

Preparation of the cream to fill the Belem cakes

  1. We separate about 200 ml of the milk in a cup and add the flour.
  2. We beat well with a fork, so that it is diluted. There should be no lumps so we can even give it a blender touch. We reserve.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the milk together with the lemon peel (without the white part, so that it does not have bitterness) and the cinnamon stick, thus infusing them and giving it flavor.
  4. When the milk begins to boil, gradually add the flour and milk mixture without stopping to stir. When it boils again, remove the lemon peel and the cinnamon stick.
  5. Now we add the sugar, again little by little, at the same time that we continuously stir. When we get a very homogeneous mass, turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. During this time it will thicken a little.
  6. We separate the whites from the yolks of a dozen eggs.
  7. We save the whites since they can be used for other preparations such as an omelette. Make mounted whites or some other dessert such as the white bica from Laza (Ourense) .
  8. In a bowl or cup, lightly beat the yolks and incorporate them, passing them through a strainer to the rest of the ingredients.
  9. We mix well until obtaining a smooth and homogeneous cream, of an intense egg color. The desired texture is that of a semi-liquid pastry cream.

Baking and final presentation of the Belem cakes

  1. We preheat the oven for 5 minutes at 220º C (total heat function).
  2. We place the molds in the oven tray, we pass the cream to a jar and we fill the tartlets without reaching the edge of the dough. We leave a little margin so that the cream does not overflow.
  3. We introduce the tray in the central part and bake 15-20 minutes at 220º C. Until we see that the cream is golden / toasted. Each oven is a different world so stay tuned they won’t burn you.
  4. Do not worry if you see that the cream rises a lot while it is baking. It is normal and then it will be lowered to its optimum point.
  5. After time, we remove and let it temper a little before tasting them.
  6. At the time of eating them, they can be enjoyed both hot and cold, depending on your tastes. It is typical to sprinkle them with icing sugar or cinnamon just before tasting them.

Particularly I like to eat them as they are served at the Belem Factory, warm and then sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon powder on top.

Tips for some yummy Belem cakes

  • It is clear that today I explain an approximate recipe, obviously it will not be the secret of the monastery, although after making it and tasting the cakes I can tell you that it is very similar.
  • We are not Portuguese and we do not have that touch that they give, but I tell you that these sweets are impressive, almost as good as the ones there. You will also find in many places in Portugal (and in many blogs) the so-called “ pastéis de nata ”.
  • They are very similar in appearance but they are not really the same. Although they are made in the same way, those of Belem do not have cream (or cream of milk either) in their ingredients.
  • There are several recipes in which they make a small syrup of water and sugar. Although the authentic recipe from the Belem factory does not contain this syrup.
  • If you go to Belem, do not stop trying them on the spot. In my opinion the best ones are in Pastéis de Belem, A Rúa de Belém nº 84-92. The price per unit: € 1.05. (6 units: € 6.30; 12 units: € 12.60). I hope you like them and “bom proveito”.

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