images Soraya Vasconcelos
Fabrico Próprio is Portuguese for “made properly”, and it’s what cafes in Portugal hang in their window if their cakes are made on the premises. It’s also the name of a new book by Frederico Duarte, Rita João and Pedro Ferreira celebrating the neglected art of Portuguese confectionery, which it treats as a semi-industrial design product.
“Cakes are such a big part of our culture,” says Duarte. “They can be design objects – the machinery and processes are common to, for example, ceramics. For the pastel de nata you need an oven that goes up to 400º, something you wouldn’t have at home.”
The pastel de nata is also the cake that started it all, a flaky, creamy staple that Duarte, João and Ferreira wrote about for icon back in October 2006. Since then the trio has spent 18 months cataloguing cakes and, more importantly perhaps, recording the stories behind them. “We got quite obsessed [with] finding out these stories,” Duarte says, “and we realised that there’s no written record about this kind of pastry in Portugal at all, ever.”
The reason this area is neglected is that Portuguese confectionery culture – despite its obvious diversity and richness – is not a source of pride for its practitioners.
“No pastry chef really wants to dedicate his life to these cakes,” says Duarte. “The whole community, all they want to do is wedding cakes and these weird constructions in sugar, they’re really tacky. No one really wants to talk about pastries.”
But the book has been a big success in Portugal, and Duarte hopes it will go some way to restoring pride in the confectioners’ profession. Already the Portuguese tourist authority has told him he has changed the way they promote Portuguese food.
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