Visiting Felgueiras, Portugal: home to the traditional ‘Pão de Ló’ cake

The oldest Pao de Lo factory in Felgueiras

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.  

*The organiser kindly invited me to the two day trip to the city and the festival.

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.  
Port wine and Pao de Lo at the oldest factory in Felgueiras

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.    

The biggest Pao de Lo

A piece of the biggest Pao de Lo cake at the festival

One of the Pao de Lo producers at the festival
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.
Wine tasting at Quinta da Lixa

The cod soup with a runny egg yolk at Brasão

Juicy steak and handcut chips at Brasão
The chef Carvalho at Brasão serving tender asparagus

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.

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