After the introduction of the sugar cane by the Moors, the Portuguese nuns and monks created convent sweets based on eggs and sugar. The nuns in the convents used egg whites to starch their habits, and winemakers needed large quantities of egg whites to "clear" their wines.In order to utilize the yolks that were leftover, monks and nuns developed the pastries and desserts dishes for which they are now well known.
These sweets are today very present in the Portuguese cuisine.
Throughout the year, various festivals related to Conventual Confectionery take place all over the country. Each region has its own specialty sweet receipts, which usually originates from the local convent.
The fact is that the conventual influence poured out of the convents and spred throughout Portugal.
Some major examples would be “ovos moles” (soft eggs) from Aveiro and “pão de ló” (a light sponge cake). The name of “ovos moles” is related with the preparation process. It is a mix of eggs and sugar and it’s original presentation makes it famous: in plant or animal shapes or inside wooden barrels, painted with local motifs.
The Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture gave to “ovos moles” (soft eggs) from Aveiro the status of protected geographical indication, distinguishing the regional quality of the products. It was the first confectionery product to receive this title.
As a curiosity, the Portuguese introduced “pão de ló” to Japan, when they were the first Europeans to reach that country, and today a traditional Japanese desert, called Pan is a direct descendant of this Portuguese dessert.
Many of the conventual sweets are mostly made of eggs and/or nuts and have suggestive names like "barrigas de freira" (nuns' bellies) or "toucinho do céu" (lard of heaven).
The conventual sweets and liqueurs helped to discover many of the tasty secrets that have survived through centuries, after they were hidden in the kitchens of convents and monasteries for many years.
In each region of Portugal there are a lot of different versions of the same sweet influenced by the local conventual life.