The Lisbon Cooking Academy pastry class: custard tarts and laid-back cultural chit-chat

The final result of our Lisbon Cooking Academy Portuguese pastry class

At this pastry class by Lisbon Cooking Academy, you will not only learn how to bake the perfect pastel de nata, but you will also have plenty of room in between cracking eggs and buttering tiny cake molds to chit-chat about traditional Portuguese food and trying to guess the secret recipe of the famous pastéis de Belém.

A plate of pasteis de nata freshly baked

Our pasteis de nata, freshly-baked

Search for Portuguese food cooking classes and workshops in Lisbon, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the options, price points, and experiences in the city, most of them claiming to be the best at teaching you how to bake the perfect pastel de nata.

It’s all fine if all you really want to learn is to bake the envy-inducing pastel de nata and show off to friends and family when you return home. Then again, you’d probably get the same results from watching a YouTube tutorial…

This newly-opened company (considering all the much-deserved buzz around the Academy’s events and classes, you wouldn’t believe it’s less than six months old) offers unique experiences in Lisbon because you’ll find here what you won’t find elsewhere in the city – founder Ana Viçoso’s passion for her lifelong dream and her love for teaching.

Ana, Lisbon Cooking Academy founder, explains what the class is all about

Chef Ana Viçoso, Lisbon Cooking Academy founder and our teacher for the day

Setting the mood for the perfect cooking experience

The only difference between your kitchen and Lisbon Cooking Academy’s, crisp-white aqua-green-and-mustard-yellow-tiled, is the industrial appliances and the TV-cook-show layout (that you probably secretly dream you could have at home).

There was no line between teacher and students (in fact, we moved freely around the space quite frequently), the temperature of the room was just right for comfort, and there was music softly playing in the background for atmosphere. Kind of like what you’d do in your own place if you were having friends over for dinner.

It was a hands-on experience from start to finish for our group of three, with one of us bringing their own Portuguese-cooking-influenced apron. No, it wasn’t me, but I regret not thinking about it first. But don’t worry, the ones the Academy provides are pretty nifty too and include a much-appreciated front pocket to keep your phone handy for the million Instagrammable shots you won’t resist taking.

In this particular class, pastel de nata may be the star of the party – it is Lisbon’s celebrity sweet treat after all – but you’ll also learn the recipe for another Portuguese pastry.

A tray of pasteis de nata before baking

This is what our pasteis de nata looked like before baking

Cooking up the perfect pastel de nata

I always thought that making a pastel de nata from scratch took hours perfecting the custard and stretching dough (clearly, my pastry-making-knowledge is reduced to the eating part, which can also be considered an art. Or so I’d like to think).

Well, preparing the dough does take a while and needs a good amount of patience, that’s why she had prepared some for us in advanced. If you really want to make it from scratch, the pastel de nata recipe (that will be emailed to you after the class) includes instructions for the dough and Ana will spare a few minutes explaining some basic techniques of stretching and resting the dough.

A tray of freshly baked pasteis de nata at Lisbon Cooking Academy with a special trick

There’s a special trick to make the pasteis de nata look this shiny. Want to guess what it is?

I won’t get into more details about this traditional Portuguese cooking experience because I want you to go and try it for yourself. I could go on about the rhythm of the class and how Ana intertwines historical facts with ingredients list and basic baking techniques – and I do believe this is one of the best things about this class and the small detail that makes Lisbon Cooking Academy stand out.

Although my actual baking activity was limited to cracking eggs, separating yolks from whites, and thumb-molding pastel de nata dough into tiny baking pans (and that, folks, is the secret of all handmade pasteis de nata, by the way), I’m pretty sure those were the best pasteis de nata I’ve had in a while. Yes, they even beat the ones in Belém. And I happen to know why, but, you have to try it for yourself to find out.

Pastel de nata fun facts:

  • Real bakers use unsalted butter, not margarine
  • A true handmade pastel de nata has a spiral at the bottom
  • The recipe is pretty much the same for all pasteis de nata and the secret touch could be something as simple as the baking temperature or the amount of sugar used

the spirals on the bottom of a pastel de nata is the secret to finding out if a pastel de nata is handmade or not

The spirals on the bottom are proof that these were handmade

The other Portuguese pastry in the room: papos d’anjo

If someone lined up Portuguese conventual sweets on a table and asked me to choose one, papos d’anjo would never be my first choice. They look dry, bulky, and rock-hard. Of course, this was before my enlighted introduction to the step-by-step process of baking them and actually eat one for the first time.

Yes, they are pretty basic to make (there is no rocket science behind it, just pastry science) and, to the untrained eye, they would probably still not make it to the top ten list of Portuguese sweet treats. So, I guess this one is the offbeat side of pastry? But a squishy-good one, I promise.

Portuguese sweet "papos d'anjo" before baking

Our papos d’anjo before baking

The name alone should be enough of a warning of what to expect – papo is Portuguese slang for double chin (due to their shape after baking) and anjo is Portuguese for angel.

The dry look is just an illusion because these “angel’s double chins” (I hope the translation doesn’t take the fun out of trying one) are actually infused in syrup after baking, still warm from the oven.

The inclusion of the mythical reference in the name is both an attempt to soften the blow of the potential guilt of eating sweets and a nod to the surprisingly light and airy end product.

Papo d'anjo fun facts:

  • Although they look like small cakes, no flour is used
  • Just like pasteis de nata, they are made all over the country with some recipe changes depending on the region
  • The syrup is what makes it or breaks it

Portuguese sweet "papos d'anjo" baked

Freshly-baked papos d’anjo. Do you notice the double chin?

The best part of the pastry class (besides eating your creations)

A big open space could mean a cold first impression of the Lisbon Cooking Academy if it weren’t for the central table already set for us with bright-yellow napkins and branded placemats. There, after the pastry class was over and with the messy kitchen behind our backs, the four of us could do what Portuguese do better: sit and talk while eating.

Over coffee and tea and pastries, the conversation flowed from feelings about the cooking class to the state of over tourism in Lisbon, from the cultural quirks of our home countries to expectations of getting to know a city for the first time.

We slowly let our guards down at the cooking station, guided by the always-upbeat and patient Ana, so by the time we sat at that table the hard part of networking and connecting was over. There’s a reason why the trick to a great sustainable cultural tourism experience, like this local cooking class, is keeping the groups small.

Buttered tiny cake pans for Portuguese sweet "papos d'anjo"

The buttered tiny cake pans we used for the papos d’anjo at Lisbon Cooking Academy

Everything you need to know about this pastry class

Duration: 1:30 hours (Starting hour: 9:30 am; Ending hour: 11 am – estimated)
When: Wednesdays
Where: Rua Ilha Terceira 51A, 1000-172 Lisboa
Language: English
Price: 35€/person
Group size: Minimum number of 2 students and maximum of 8
How to book: click here to book a class

My next cultural experience with them will definitely be Mama’s Dinner. For three reasons. One, I don’t have to cook (the founder’s mother, Isabel, cooks delicious, typically Portuguese comfort foods for you). Two, I get to geek over Portuguese culture and food with her while she cooks (Ana’s mother is a retired Anthropologist). And, three, I don’t get to experience this anywhere else in Lisbon.

Do you still have questions about this class? Ask me anything you need to know in the comments below.

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