Portugal: Pao de Lo

A famous Portuguese airy cake with multiple global and regional variations, pão de ló only contains three ingredients: egg, sugar, flour. #vegetarian #christmas #easter #portugal #portuguese


pao de lo

Welcome to Lamego! It is this municipality in northern Portugal hosts this year’s Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades, the day of Portugal, Camoes and communities, i.e. Portuguese National Day on June 10th.

It is the opportunity to discover this town of 27,000 inhabitants, located in northern Portugal, in the district of Viseu, which is particularly famous for the remains of the old walled city, or for its sanctuary Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, a pilgrimage dating from the eighteenth century with a typically baroque architecture. It is precisely in the eighteenth century that the city knows a great period of prosperity, thanks to the production of vinho fino, which is none other than the ancestor of the famous Port wine.

Although Portuguese National Day is a national holiday celebrated across the country on June 10th, the official commemorations in the presence of high officials of the state and foreign guests, take place every year in different cities since 1977. In 2015, all eyes will be on the city of Lamego.

Lisbon (1983, 1987, 1992, 1998 and 2012) and Porto (1985, 1995, 2001 and 2006) have repeatedly hosted the festivities, during which successive military ceremonies, cultural exhibitions, concerts, parades and an award ceremony attended by the President of the Republic, are held.

But many other cities have also been honored such as Evora, Viseu, Faro or even Guarda last year.

While navigating through the country map to locate these different cities, I realized with regret and astonishment that Portugal was one of the few countries in this region of Europe that barely visited, as I only spent a couple days around Faro, on the southern coast of Portugal, in 2002.

Given the wealth of historical, cultural, gastronomic, but also the variety of landscape to explore the different regions, I hope to spend more time over there very soon!

Pão de ló (plural Paes de ló) is just part of the Portuguese culinary heritage. This is a classic recipe that is invariably found on the Portuguese family tables throughout the year, and at least twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, celebrations during which it is unavoidable. And yet it is the simplest cake that exists with a limited list of ingredients as it comes down to flour, sugar and eggs. Three basic ingredients to prepare this specialty that has many regional variations as in Alfeizerão, Ovar, Margaride or Arouca.

“But how can you have so many variants with so few ingredients?”, you might ask. Everything comes down to the proportions of the three basic ingredients that make up the recipe, how to incorporate and mix the ingredients to each other, as well as in the baking techniques.

The recipe I chose for today is one of those variations, but I could have easily picked another one, which may have used a larger quantity of egg whites, or would have used beaten egg whites before adding yolks, sugar and flour for example.

It is difficult to trace the exact origin of this ancient recipe, although its official name pão de ló has been certified since 1990. It seems that this recipe dates back to the sixteenth century and originates from a monastery in Ovar. There is mention of a pão de ló recipe in the cook book of Infanta D. Maria at that time.

The cooking technique consisted of a baking over a wood fire in a covered terracotta mold with a hole in the center.

Today, clay molds lined with baking paper are more common practice, and the hole in the center of the cake is still in use.

It is also during this same sixteenth century that the Portuguese first who arrived in Japan brought this cake recipe with them. This recipe was adopted and adapted to become the famous Japanese kasutera.

This kind of airy sponge cake is also widespread across the globe, like the Anglo-Saxon sponge cake, Italian pan di Spagna or the French gateau de Savoie.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the pão de ló at breakfast!

I also think that it could be an excellent basic cake preparation to cut and fill with a ganache or cream and cover with a glaze or icing.

A basic recipe that will quickly become a staple.

pao de lo

Recipe of Pão de Ló

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes

Ingredients (for 6 people)

6 large eggs
1-1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
1-1/2 cup flour, sifted


Preheat oven at 350 F.

Beat the eggs at high speed for about 20 minutes, incorporating the icing sugar gradually.

Gently incorporate the flour.

Place in a pan lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool before unmolding.