Portuguese Sponge Cake (Pão de Ló)
Start to finish: 45 minutes (25 minutes active), plus cooling
Servings: 8 to 10
Outside Lisbon, home cook Lourdes Varelia baked for us a classic Portuguese sponge cake called pão de ló. Its outward appearance was, to us, unusual—deeply browned, wrinkly and sunken, and the dessert was brought to the table in the parchment in which it was baked. And another surprise was in store: slicing revealed a layer of gooey, barely baked batter between the upper crust and the airy, golden-hued crumb. Sweet, eggy and tender, the unadorned cake was simple yet supremely satisfying. When attempting to re-create pão de ló at Milk Street, we turned to a recipe from “My Lisbon” by Nuno Mendes, who, in an uncommon twist, adds olive oil, giving the cake subtle fruity notes along with a little more richness. We adjusted ingredient amounts and added some baking powder as insurance for a lofty rise; we also modified the mixing method and the baking time and temperature. The cake is delicious with Mendes’ suggested garnishes—a drizzle of
additional olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt—but it also is excellent with fresh berries and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
Don’t overbake the cake. The best way to test for doneness is to insert a toothpick 2 inches from the edge, not into the center of the cake; the toothpick should come out clean. The type of cake pan—dark-colored nonstick or conventional light-toned metal—affects how quickly the cake bakes, so the recipe includes two different baking times, one for dark pans and one for light. Don’t be alarmed if the cake sinks and shrinks dramatically and forms folds and creases as it cools; this is normal.
120 grams (1 cup) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3⁄8 teaspoon table salt
4 large eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
214 grams (1 cup) white sugar
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Heat the oven to 375° with a rack in the middle position. Cut a 12- to 14-inch round of kitchen parchment. Mist a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and line the pan with the parchment round, pushing the paper into the edge and against the sides of the pan, allowing it to form folds and pleats. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla on medium until frothy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer running, gradually stream in the sugar. Increase to medium-high and beat until very thick, pale and tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.
Reduce to medium-low and, with the mixer running, add the flour mixture 1 spoonful at a time, then slowly drizzle in the oil. Immediately stop the mixer (the oil will not be fully incorporated), detach the bowl and fold with a silicone spatula just until the batter is homogeneous; it will be light, airy and pourable.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is domed and well-browned, the center jiggles slightly when the pan is gently shaken and a toothpick inserted 2 inches in from the edge comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes if using a dark-colored pan or 30 to 33 minutes if using a light-colored pan.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack until barely warm, about 1 hour; the cake will deflate as it cools. If areas of the cake’s circumference stick to the sides of the pan, run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen. Lift the cake out of the pan using the edges of the parchment or remove the sides of the springform pan. When ready to serve,
carefully pull the parchment away from the sides of the cake, then cut into wedges.
Madeiran Pork with Wine and Garlic (Carne Vinha d’Alhos)
Start to finish: 21⁄2 hours (50 minutes active), plus marinating
Servings: 4 to 6
Carne vinha d’alhos, or pork with wine and garlic, is a traditional Christmas dish from the Portuguese island of Madeira and the precursor to the spicy Indian curry called
vindaloo. To make it, chunks of pork are marinated in a heady mixture of wine, vinegar,
garlic and herbs for up to a few days before they’re cooked until tender. The meat is subtly tangy, lightly garlicky and fragranced with herbs, with browned bits that provide great depth of flavor. The version that we learned to make in Madeira informed this recipe, but to achieve results as delicious as what we tasted there, we opted to use pork shoulder rather than leaner loin. But shoulder is a cut that requires lengthy cooking to become tender, so rather than a quick 30-minute simmer, we oven-braise the pork for about 11⁄2 hours. From there we stay true to what we were taught: brown the meat after simmering to develop rich, flavorful caramelization, reduce the marinade/cooking liquid to a light glaze, and finish the pork by coating it with the reduction. In Madeira, the pork typically is piled onto crusty rolls to make sandwiches, but we think it also is great with mashed or roasted potatoes alongside.
Don’t use an uncoated cast-iron Dutch oven. Enamel-coated cast-iron is fine, but in an uncoated cast-iron pot—even in one that is well seasoned—the acidity of the marinade may react with the iron, producing metallic “off” flavors. A stainless steel cooking surface is fine, too, but avoid aluminum unless it has been treated to make it nonreactive. After simmering the pork, be sure to drain the pieces on a rack as directed. This helps ensure nice caramelization when the pork is browned in the skillet. Finally, when skimming the fat off the braising liquid, be sure to reserve it for browning the pork.
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1- to 11⁄2-inch chunks
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup cider vinegar
10 bay leaves
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 whole cloves (optional)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 cup Madeira
1⁄4 cup minced fresh oregano
In a large Dutch oven, stir together the pork, wine, vinegar, bay, garlic, dried oregano, pepper flakes, cloves (if using) and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 48 hours.
When you are ready to cook the pork, heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Set the pot, uncovered, over medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Re-cover, transfer to the oven and cook until a skewer inserted into the pork meets just a little resistance, about 11⁄2 hours, stirring once about halfway through.
Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork and garlic to the rack, removing and discarding the bay and cloves (if used); set aside. Tilt the pot to pool the cooking liquid to one side, then use a wide spoon to skim off as much fat as possible; reserve the fat.
Add the Madeira to the pot, bring to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to about 1 cup, 15 to 20 minutes; set aside. Remove and discard any large bits of fat on the exterior of the pieces of pork.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved pork fat until barely smoking. Add the pork and cook, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until well browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the reduced cooking liquid. Return to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the pork is lightly glazed and begins to sizzle, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, then stir in the fresh oregano. Transfer to a serving dish.
Garlic and Cilantro Soup with Chickpeas (Açorda Alentejana)
Start to finish: 20 minutes
This soup, with its fragrant, bright green broth, is our take on Portuguese açorda alentejana. Soft-cooked eggs are a perfect garnish that also turn the soup into a complete meal. To soft-cook eggs, bring 2 cups water to a simmer in a large saucepan fitted with a steamer basket. Add the eggs, cover and steam over medium for 7 minutes. Immediately transfer to ice water to stop the cooking.
Don’t skimp on the olive oil in this soup. The croutons absorb oil as they toast and the broth takes on a rich, creamy texture when the pesto is stirred in.
2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
1⁄2 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1⁄4 cup), plus more to serve
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika, divided, plus more to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
5 ounces rustic bread (such as ciabatta), sliced 1⁄2 inch thick and torn into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)
8 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
11⁄2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
Two 151⁄2-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 soft-cooked eggs, peeled (see note)
In a food processor, combine the cilantro, Parmesan, jalapeño, lemon zest and juice, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the paprika and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Process until finely chopped, about 20 seconds, scraping the sides as needed. With the machine running, add 1⁄2 cup of the oil and process to a pesto-like consistency, 30 to 45 seconds. Set aside.
In a small bowl, toss the bread with the remaining 1⁄4 cup oil and the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon paprika. Toast in a large Dutch oven over medium, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, return the bread to the bowl, leaving excess oil in the pot; set the croutons aside.
Set the Dutch oven over medium and add the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth and chickpeas and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cook, stirring, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in the pureed cilantro mixture, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the croutons among 4 serving bowls. Ladle in the soup and top each with 1 egg. Sprinkle with additional paprika and Parmesan.
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PHOTO CREDITS: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES