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Making pastéis de Tentúgal the traditional way

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Watch artisanal mastery and generations of culinary heritage come together in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal. In a room with clean white sheets draped across the floor, paper thin layers of pastéis de Tentúgal, a Portuguese pastry, are stretched to unexpected widths.

With each pull, gluten and humidity expand the water and fine flour dough into a sheer canvas. Município Montemor-o-Velho documents the process in the video above.

the disk of dough
“This conventual sweet,” Wikipedia explains, “was first created sometime in the 16th century by Carmelite nuns” who lived in nearby Tentúgal, Portugal. Once the phyllo-style layers are cut and collected in smaller sheets, they’re wrapped around a rich egg custard, baked, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Via Milly’s Kitchen:

“After colonizing Brazil and Madeira in the 16th century, Portugal began importing a steady stream of sugar (formerly a luxury destined only for the wealthy) from their plantations abroad.”

egg in the dough

“At this time, there happened to also be a large number of convents in Portugal using egg whites to starch their habits. All those elaborately starched wimples meant a lot of nuns with a lot of extra egg yolks on their hands. One of those nuns had the brilliant idea of combining the surplus egg yolks with the newly abundant sugar, and the classic eggy, sweet Portuguese convent pastry was born!”

pastéis de Tentúgal
Below, watch this video of O Afonso Pastelaria baker Rosa as she stretches the dough farther and farther out to the edges of a room in Tentúgal. From Julie Dawn Fox:

“The nuns who discovered this elastic quality of their dough thought it was a miracle. Even though she knows it’s actually due to the gluten and the level of humidity in the local area, Olga [Cavaleiro, bakery co-owner] tells us, ‘I think it is a miracle because it is magic.'”

stretching the dough

“Rosa leaves the dough to rest for a short while before repeating the process several times. By the final stretch, the bubble billows and ripples like a wave with each pull and the dough is so thin that holes start to appear. Rosa is prepared for this and grabs a white cloth from her shoulder to throw over the gaps.”

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