It was a special food history discovery day when I was invited into the kitchen of the famous O Forno Pastelaria (bakery) in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira island. This island in the Azores is part of Portugal and carries on the tradition of baking exceptional pastries in their own unique style. Since the fifteenth century, Terceira has had a history of being a safe harbour for ships crossing the Atlantic, travelling to and from many trading destinations. The islanders had access to spices and foods that otherwise would have remained unknown to them.
While visiting I wanted to learn about the traditional pastries of the island.
I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to watch Dona Amélia tarts being made by one of the pastry cooks, helped and overseen by the esteemed owner of the O Forno Pastelaria, Ana Maria Pereira da Costa. Dona Amélias are baked daily at 6:30 a.m., but Ana Maria had arranged a special mixture to be baked at 11 so I didn’t need to rise at the crack of dawn.
Dona Amélia cakes look plain beside some of the other fancies and normally I would pass them by. But these little bundles of sweetness are more than just a taste of heaven; they tell a story in the ingredients.
The story of the cakes is articulately told on nicely packaged boxes of D. Amélias.
First of all, there was the good land. Then the people came and start sowing cereals. Later on they brought the precious spices of exotic tastes and strange scents from East and West Indies.
In typically Portuguese way, they mixed it all with magic and wise hands. They made new and delicious recipes.
When D. Amelia, the last Portuguese Queen, visited the island for the first time, the inhabitants made very special cakes which took her name- D. Amélia– in her honour.
History tells us that when the people of the island learned that the Queen would visit in 1901, the bakers set to work to create a cake as a gift that would tell the story of their island. Because Terceira was a major port for trading , they had access to many spices and exotic ingredients from far off ports. Each ingredient in the cake represents an ingredient from Terceira, or goods from a trading ship that had landed in their waters.
The simple batter consists of finely ground corn flour grown on the island, eggs and butter from the fields, molasses, raisins, and cinnamon from trade routes, salt and baking powder, with confectioners flour on the top.
When the Queen tasted the cake, she was enamoured by the taste and they named the cake in her honour. It is most common now to make Dona Amélias in the form of small cakes and it is a traditional delicacy of the island.
The owner of the bakery, Ana Maria, is a woman of short stature, but of mighty ambitions. She was raised by parents who owned a bakery several blocks from the current location of her shop. Ana Maria became a teacher but as her life progressed she needed more income to raise her children and opened her own bakery, thirty three years ago. I was told that Ana Maria has collected the old recipes of the island women and of the convents of the island and uses those recipes to bake her pastries. In the past, the nuns would bake and sell sweets to bring in income to support their convents. Although we had no common language, Ana Maria showed me the pastries in the showcase that had originated from the recipes of the convents.
She holds a great deal of culinary history in her mind and has a strong pride in the traditions of the island.
The bakery is located on Rua de S. João, one of the old cobblestoned streets of Angra do Heroismo, a city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the patio patrons can enjoy their food while looking at the historic buildings and people passing. Inside the shop bustles with activity. There are a few tables and counters, and a long showcase of labeled pastries at the end of a glassed in kitchen. On the wall is a display of framed articles that have been written about the pastry shop in many languages. I spotted a framed recipe. Later I learned that was handwritten by Ana Maria’s mother many years ago.
Ana Maria’s shop, O Forno, bakes the pastry history of Terceira each day and keeps the traditions alive.
If you are in Terceira do not walk by this pastelaria without stopping in to enjoy a taste of history. There is a story behind the interesting names of some of those sweets. If you are not in Terceria, look up a recipe for Dona Amelia cakes online and try baking a new taste.
When we search, we find.