Our day in the village of Tentúgal, near Coimbra, was a high point in our travels across Portugal. There Olga Alexandre Gonçalves Cavaleiro, owner of a local pastry shop, introduced us to pastéis de Tentúgal, a sweet made according to a 16th century recipe from Tentúgal's Convento do Nossa Senhora do Carmo. We then had an opportunity to watch production, taste freshly baked pastéis with cups of tea, and visit the crumbling convent itself.
Makingf pastéis de Tentúgal is a mesmerizing performance in a purpose-built room, fitted only with a white cloth floor covering. A baker stretches a lump of flour-and-water dough into a huget, paper-thin form, and cuts the pastry into rectangles for filling. The show continues in the kitchen as pastry logs are filled with a sweetened egg yolk mixture and brushed with a feather dipped in Danish butter before baking. It takes two years to learn to stretch the dough, we learned, and the pastry maker has been wielding her feather for more than 40 years.
Just five shops make pastéis in the traditional way. Calveiro is the passionate leader of efforts to ensure the village's right to produce the sweet under governmental IGP (Indicação Geográfica Protegida) designation.
The pastries we sampled tasted nothing like their listless look-alikes sold at Lisbon's international airport. The treats from O Afonso were delectable, light, crispy bundles of egg-y goodness, well worth a journey to little Tentúgal for the real thing!