Just one week before Easter I had the pleasure to visit Felgueiras, a small city in the North of Portugal, only a 45-minute drive away from Porto. With a small group of journalists from Brussels we travelled to the birthplace of Pão de Ló and attended the festival that’s all about the bread with the hole.
Literally translated, Pão de Ló means bread of Ló, but taste and texturewise it’s more a sponge cake than a bread. Its production dates to the beginnings of the 18th century, when a certain Clara Maria started to produce the today famous Pão de Ló de Margaride. The little bread factory, that is more of a vintage bakery, still exists today and is located right in the heart of Felgueiras. We were quite lucky to visit it and watch the hard-working ladies and men during the whole process. It was an exciting experience to see how this traditional cake has been prepared for centuries and retained its charm over all this time.
Pão de Ló is made from eggs, sugar and flour. It’s just the egg yolks that are being used and Guilherme, the owner of Pão de Ló de Margaride, told us that 25 egg yolks go into a kilogram of batter. The yolks are first beaten with the sugar until a creamy batter has formed. Only then the flour is added, and everything is mixed to an even dough. The dough is then filled into clay cake forms that have a hole in the middle and are lined with a thick white paper. Once the dough has been evenly distributed, the cake is baked in the oven for 40-45 minutes. The final product is a beautiful, slightly browned cake with a little crust and a golden, fluffy inside that smells like eggs and perfection. It’s served in the paper it was baked in and it’s usually not cut but ripped off by hand, so the airy texture of the cake doesn’t get lost. You’ll find the cake in bakeries mostly before and during Easter, but also during the year it’s a popular dessert, best enjoyed with a glass of Port wine.
The factory visit wasn’t the only highlight of our visit. After a delicious lunch in the city, we headed to the actual festival of the Pão de Ló, which is taking place every year, a week before Easter. The festival showcases the biggest and best producers of Pão de Ló and this year was the first time that also international exhibitors took part in the event. Similar types of the spongecake exist in Japan for example, so you could find Japanese-inspired matcha sponge cake. We were introduced to all the Pão de Ló producers, who keep their family recipes a secret since generations and are all well known in the region. They won several awards both nationally and internationally: Fábrica de Pão de Ló de Margaride, Casa do Pão de Ló Agostinho de Sousa, Pão de Ló de Margaride de António Lopes, Pão de Ló de Margaride Mário Ribeiro (Fernando Jorge Cibrão Ribeiro), Casa Rosa Sousa, Alojamento e Produtos Regionais.
After the festival our blood was full of sugar and to set this off, we first attended a very interesting wine tasting at Quinta da Lixa. The lovely lady explained to us everything we needed to know about the famous wine of the region: Vinho Verde that is a big part of the local and regional economy. To finish the evening we enjoyed an amazing, local dinner with fresh and regional produce at the restaurant Brasão, headed by the known and talented chef Carvalho. If you visit the city, don’t miss out on his codfish soup or the incredibly tender steak with hand cut, fried chips.
Regardless why you’re visiting the region, there is plenty of things to do and see. Besides being known for its Pão de Ló, Felgueiras and the neighboring towns are famous for their wine and textile production. The area is also part of the Romanic route where you can visit different sights from the Romanic era, like the Mosteiro do Salvador de Travanca. One thing is for sure: you won’t be disappointed by a visit to the region.