My grandsons have been infected with the travel virus. They have asked their parents about the possibility of visiting Europe in 2017. By then they will be at a good age to enjoy and appreciate what they see, hear, feel and taste. For now, the main criteria they have established is that they want to go someplace historic and with good pastries. The older one has London in mind and I suspect this may be the influence of Dr. Who. The younger one is more focused on pastries. Their desire to explore history while eating fine pastries raises a good question: Where would you travel for pastries?
First, I need to confess that I have seldom met a pastry I did not like. This is probably due to the fact that I lived near the Spring Hill Pastry Shop. As a boy, I assumed Napoleon was famous for creating Napoleons. I have yet to find a better brownie than those from Spring Hill. The Pastry Shop would be the closest I would come to France for many years.
I mentioned my love of the great bakeries and pastry shops in France and Italy in an earlier post. How could you not be attracted to the history of these wonderful countries and know that you could have one of these breads or pastries with your espresso or cappuccino?
I want to add a candidate that often seems to be overlooked. For some reason we fail to include Portugal in our discussions of fine cuisines. When Alla and I visited our friend Paula in Lisbon in 2011, she introduced us to pasteis de nata. They are delicious and come with their own history. Pastéis de nata were created in the17th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. According to the story, at the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to then use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the spread of sweet custard based pastry recipes throughout the country.
While you can buy them in the store, they really are best eaten fresh from the oven while still warm. Paula took us to a shop near the Jerónimos Monastery one evening where we were able to buy freshly baked pasteis de nata. It was a truly religious experience that is beyond my ability to describe in words. You must taste them for yourself. I would gladly travel to Portugal again just to taste the various custard pastries and perhaps for a little ginjinha in the Praça do Rossio. Where would you travel for pastries?