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.
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.
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…