Food

What are Portuguese Doughnuts?

Valentine's bolas de Berlim

Given that I rave about Portugal pretty much non-stop, you might suspect I’m about to claim that we make the best doughnuts in the world. I won’t make any such statement. But if you find yourself in Portugal and suddenly crave a vanilla cream doughnut with chocolate icing and rainbow sprinkles… well, this post will tell you what you can realistically expect to find. And no, it isn’t a vanilla cream doughnut with chocolate icing and rainbow sprinkles.

Portuguese doughnuts are known as bolas de Berlim (literally translating to Berlin balls), which are actually a cousin of Berliner Pfannkuchen. German doughnuts made their way to Portugal by a Jewish family fleeing persecution during WWII – and nobody could’ve guessed the impact they would have in Portuguese culture. The bolas de Berlim of today are always coated in granulated sugar and you essentially get two varieties: plain or filled with an egg yolk-based cream known as creme. So if you want to fit in, you really need to learn to order a “bola de berlim com creme” (with cream) or “sem creme” (without cream). Even though I’m a purist with certain recipes, it’s fun to see people inject a little seasonal variety into these recipes, such as these Valentine’s Day themed bolas de Berlim (below) that are perfect for the person you love the most – yourself.

Valentine's Day bolas de Berlim

Celebrating love… and love of sugar

Ironically, Portuguese people don’t lay off the doughnuts to prepare their bodies for summer. Quite the opposite: bolas de Berlim are possibly the most popular food you’ll find at the beach! It’s right up there with ice-cream. I kid you not! In fact, at the beach, when you hear a bell ringing and a man shouting “Olhà bolinha!” (Look here, the little ball!), it’s actually someone who spends all day walking up and down the beach selling bolas de Berlim. You barely have to move to get your bola fix. It’s too easy.

Bolas de Berlim na praia

The man who brings you doughnuts at the beach – part of the Portuguese beach experience. Photo c/o Visao.sapo.pt

Statistically, bolas de Berlim are the third most-consumed cake in Portugal. We love them so much that nowadays companies, such as Bolas da Praia, deliver them straight to you, wherever you are in Lisbon or Porto. You no longer need to head down to a café to get one. The hard part isn’t finding them, it’s deciding com or sem creme

Doughnut delivery

Bolas da Praia will deliver bolas de Berlim to you in these bags, which scream “beach treat!” I just love their branding and details. Photo c/o Bolas da Praia

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    fluflubennett
    February 8, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Where the donuts came from is so interesting. It is very traditional to eat jam donuts during the jewish festival af Chanukkah. I wonder if there is any connection to that at all? Either way, they look so delicious, I wish I could have one now!!

    • Reply
      aportugueseaffair
      February 8, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      I know: It’s amazing how something that is only 80 years old is fully a part of the culture now. The German doughnuts have jam but the Portuguese “creme” took over at some point. It seems like we need to try both the jam and the creme versions side-by-side to compare 😀

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