Window Cake

C is for Cake, B is for Birthday, L is for Laranja

Truth in advertising: today is my birthday.

Birthdays lead us to adventures of intrigue and excess.

Before we get to the adventure, let me set the stage:

A few years ago I went on a Portuguese cooking binge, thanks mostly to David Liete’s outstanding cookbook The New Portuguese Table. The best thing I learned to make, and one of the very best desserts in my repertoire, is his orange olive oil cake, or bolo de laranja.

Let there be no mistake! It is an awesome recipe and you should all try it for yourself:

Now for the adventure:

I go all excited when we started planning our trip in earnest and saw tickets to Lisbon were cheap:

“I could go to Portugal try the real orange olive oil cake! Like the one that inspired David Liete! Yum!”

Adventure, Part 1:

Could we sleuth out the location of the restaurant, called Papas, which inspired his recipe? It’s mentioned by name in the cookbook and his blog, but no specifics are given.

Outcome? Failure. Nothing we could come up with in English or Portuguese sounded like the right place.

Adventure, Part 2:

Could we charm David Liete into giving better intelligence on Papas restaurant? Connecting with the writers…that’s what blogs are for, right?

Outcome? Mixed. David Liete answered quickly, giving the address but also cautioning that based on his own recent Google search, it appears the restaurant had closed.

We did climb the hill past the Cathedreal in Sé in search of Rua Limoeiro, 13. With heavy hearts we discovered that where Papas once was, a fruit stand and little grocery now serve the neighborhood.

Adventure, Part 3:

Could we find someone else’s bolo de laranja and compare it to what we make at home.

Outcome? Love’s labor’s…found. Barely.

Innocent, we figured this quest would be like shooting fish in a barrel, since about every fourth door in Lisbon is a coffee shop, restaurant, or bakery. But no! It turns out bolo de laranja is most often made in the winter (when oranges ripen, of course) and we searched for several days, striking out in bakery after bakery. It was looking bad. Bad. Sad. No-cake-empty-heart-with-only-one-day-before-my-birthday sad.

And then we hit it! And then we got lucky and hit it again! And when we got luckier and hit it a third time, we couldn’t say “não.”

So what did we do? We bought three of the orangey-gold bundt-style cakes and lugged them back to the room to try. What else could we do? None of the three places we found would sell their cakes by the slice.

Here are the sources, princes and the results:

  1. A Padria Portuguesa: 3.99 Euro. This was unquestionably the best cake of the three. Alison’s favorite. The tenderness and fine crumb told us it was made with cake flour. The olive oil flavor was noticeable, and even with the sweetness toned down compared to the other two, it had a honey-like aspect at its edge that was captivating.
  2. Pingo Doce: 2.99 Euro. This had the strongest orange flavor of the three. Chris’s favorite. Let’s be clear, this is a (European) super market cake. And let’s be equally clear that if it lacked delicacy and refinement, it made up for it in strength of flavor and value. It was such a pleasure to nibble into bits of orange zest, one of the fundaments of the bolo de laranja recipe I love.
  3. Pastelaria “Corinto:” 5.1 Euro. We wonder if this cake was mis-labeled. While it had many fine qualities–color, crumb, density–it hadn’t the faintest hint of orange flavor. Think pound cake made with olive oil instead of butter.

None of the three bolo de laranja we could locate and test had anywhere near the orange-olive intensity of Mr. Liete’s recipe. We can only imagine that the cake from Papas must have been truly extraordinary!

A photographic note: the three cakes shown in the picture below are in winning order from left to right. A Padria‘s cake is on the left, Pingo Doce‘s is in the middle, and Corinto‘s is on the right.


Three bolos de laranja, consumed at the end of Chris’s birthday.