(Review) The Lisbon Cooking Academy pastry class

(Review) The Lisbon Cooking Academy pastry class

At this pastry class by Lisbon Cooking Academy, you’ll learn how to bake the perfect pastel de nata. There will also be plenty of room 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. 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 it off to friends and family when you return home. Then again, you’d probably get the same results from watching a YouTube tutorial.

This woman-owned small company 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. Music softly played in the background for mood — kind of like what you’d do in your own place if you had 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. They include a much-appreciated front pocket to keep your phone handy for the million Instagrammable shots you’ll be taking.

In this particular class, pastel de nata is the party’s star; it’s 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 fair amount of patience. That’s why she had prepared some for us in advance. If you really want to make it from scratch, the pastel de nata recipe (emailed to you after class) includes instructions for the dough. Ana will spare a few minutes explaining some basic techniques for 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 class’s rhythm and how Ana intertwines historical facts with ingredients list and basic baking techniques. That is one of the best things about this class and the 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 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 proper handmade pastel de nata has a spiral at the bottom.
  • The recipe is pretty much the same for all pasteis de nata. 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 enlightened introduction to the step-by-step process of baking them and actually eating one for the first time.

Yes, they are pretty basic to make (there is no rocket science behind it, just pastry science). They would probably still not make it to the top ten list of Portuguese sweet treats to the untrained eye. 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 tell you what to expect. Papo is Portuguese slang for double chin (that’s what the pastry looks like after baking), and anjo is Portuguese for angel.

The dry look is just an illusion because these “angels’ double chins” are infused in syrup after baking, still warm from the oven.

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

Papo d’anjo fun facts:

  • Although they look like small cakes, they don’t include flour.
  • Just like pasteis de nata, you can find them 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)

An open floor plan could mean a cold first impression of the Lisbon Cooking Academy if it wasn’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 overtourism in Lisbon, from our home countries’ cultural quirks 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. 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 is keeping the groups small, as this local cooking class.

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 

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