A quick guide to Easter in Portugal (recipe included!)

Of all the religious-but-not-really-that-religious holidays we have in Portugal my least favourite is probably Easter. I mean, chocolate is great, bunnies are cute, Spring is my favourite season, but it feels a bit strange: there’s pressure to make it a family occasion, like Christmas, but you don’t get as many presents; it has its own symbols (eggs, rabbits, flowers, etc.) but no “magic”. Still, hey, you get a day off and that’s always a good reason to celebrate! So, I’ll be giving you a quick recap about Easter in Portugal and I’ll be sharing a recipe for Portuguese pão-de-ló!

On Holy Week you’ll find several events all over the country. This is also the time when some people choose not to eat meat (some others, at the very least, don’t eat meat on Good Friday, while others don’t care about that at all). Generally speaking, towns and villages will be more focused on religious tradition, while in the cities many people go for a long weekend somewhere else, although cities have processions as well. Most of these happen on Good Friday, a national holiday in Portugal.
On Holy Saturday, some people attend an all-night Easter vigil (called vigília pascal) to welcome Easter morning. Easter Sunday is when, typically, families gather for a big lunch. Like in so many other parts of Europe a good deal of people eat roast lamb, but this is not a strict “rule”. Also traditional are bôla and folar. Bôla is a kind of bread dough, which, at this time of the year, is filled with several types of meat (there are different recipes all over the country). Folar is a sweet bread with a boiled egg baked into its centre and usually covered with glaze. In the Algarve there’s a delicious type of folar which is very different and which consists, basically, of layer upon layer of dough, sugar and cinnamon, all baked together. Delicious, I tell you!

Don’t be surprised if your Portuguese neighbour gives you almonds for Easter, as this is traditional, especially within the family group. Portuguese godparents and god children are also supposed to exchange gifts, mainly folares.

As you’ve probably already noticed, Easter, like several other holidays in Portugal, is a good excuse to eat – a lot. Besides folar and bôla, it’s also traditional to eat pão-de-ló, a kind of sponge cake that can range from the humble simplicity of a poor family’s recipe to the eggy extravaganza of a recipe from one of the many old convents and monasteries in Portugal. If you do a little online research you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of such recipes. Personally, I love the more rustic, simple versions of this cake. To me, pão-de-ló is comfort food that tastes like mother kisses and grandmother smiles. Since I can’t send you a Portuguese grandma’s pat on the cheek I’ll give you the second best thing: a recipe for a simple and tasty pão-de-ló, this one with almonds because, well, it’s Easter.

Almond pão-de-ló  

6 eggs (whites and yolks separated)
250 grs sugar
125 grs thinly chopped almonds
30 grs flour

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, butter and flour a tube pan.
Beat the yolks with the sugar until it becomes light yellow and frothy. Beat the eggs whites until they form stiff peaks (you should be able to turn the container upside down without dropping any egg whites). 
Gently fold the eggs whites into the yolks and sugar mix. Add the almonds and the flour, a little at the time, simply by folding the ingredients into the batter. 
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes (check with a wooden skewer).

Make sure to enjoy a big slice while it’s still a bit warm. I hope you get to make this recipe and enjoy it!  

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