You have probably heard about the pastries in Belém, haven’t you? This typically Portuguese custard tart appeared in the early 19th century and is still considered an attractive, aromatic and tasty dessert.
Almost 200 years old, the story of Pastel de Belém is still based on tales and legends. It is believed that the sweet, appeared in the beginning of the 19th century, having been created by the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery, located in Belém, current Lisbon district.
They say that they found in this recipe a way to take advantage of the yolks that were left over because they used egg white as natural starch. Only they worked in the bakery in Belém and, therefore, only they knew how to prepare the traditional sweet, without being able to reveal the secret to anyone.
During this period, the clergy of the monastery made and sold the pastries to the population, in an attempt to survive. However, in 1834, religious orders were extinguished and all monks and nuns had to leave their convents. As a result, lay workers who lived in the space, including pastry chefs, went looking for new jobs.
Luckily, one of the monastery’s confectioners met a merchant, Domingos Rafael Alves, who owned an old sugar refinery. He, completely interested in the recipe, managed to discover the secret of the preparation, taking the monk to work with him.
The merchant then began to sell the sweets, which were called “Pastéis de Belém”. Initially, he sold them in the refinery itself and, later, in a shop called “The old confectionery in Belém”.
When Lisbon became an international tourist itinerary, the recipe’s fame crossed borders and spread to other parts of the world, from New York to Japan, always keeping the original recipe a secret.
The secret of the original recipe
Of course, over time, confectioneries and cafes around the world, especially in Lisbon, tried to discover the secret of the recipe. However, even today it is preserved by masters who have made a confidentiality agreement, including within the four walls of the “Oficina do Segredo”.
The current owners of the “Confectionery of Belém” brand, keep the mystery and do not disclose the recipe, even resisting opening others shops or working with franchises, precisely so that the secret is not shared. It is worth mentioning that in 2011 the Pastel de Belém was considered one of the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy.
Currently, it is possible to buy pastéis de nata (custard tart) in many shops in several countries besides Portugal, such as Brazil, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong, but only the originals receive the traditional designation “Pastel de Belém”.
About 20 thousand pastries are manufactured and sold daily. This amount doubles on weekends due to the high number of visitors who go to the traditional store to purchase the product.