I have already written about cake. I have sampled muffins, cupcakes and lemon cake galore. All the evidence is on this blog and cannot be denied. But what of the Portuguese pastry? This is the tale of my encounter with Joaquim's Pastéis de Belem, in case you missed it the first time round.....
Chaussee de Charleroi is busy, as usual. Meanwhile, in le Petit Forcado’s kitchen the oven is busy heating to 445 degrees, ready for its next intake of pastéis de belém. “I make everything by hand”, says Joaquim, waving his hands to illustrate his point. He flashes me an impish grin; “Everything you’ve read about me is true, even my bad temper.”
After many years of running a restaurant next door, this former political refugee from Lisbon now just concentrates on his first love, baking. Most of the work is done on the weekend, when there can be as many as 15 to 20 different choices. “I can’t do any more that that, otherwise my wife will give me the red card”, he laughs. One of his weekend specialities is “ le mojito”: a fresh-sounding concoction of mint, natural rum essence and lime; and then there’s a fiddly sounding one involving 16 sheets of puff pastry, lard, apples, cinnamon and almonds. Recipes do not always work out, however. One found online was judged to be “immangeable!”; and then there was the orangey cake which tasted too much of eggs, and was also summarily rejected. Food allergy sufferers need not look on grinding their teeth, for Joaquim considers himself a bit of an expert at gluten-free cakes. All his pastries freeze well (one of his customers regularly stocks up before she returns to Norway, so Britain should be OK). His customers are from the whole world, probably only 1% are Portuguese.
The famous pastéis de belém are offered in two versions: the more traditional one with crème fraîche, and the much more common milk version. From sight you couldn’t tell the difference, but the crème fraîche version has a creamier lemony flavour while the milk version is flavoured with cinnamon. Nearby the lemon puff pastry parcels lie innocently – invented by Coimbra nuns as a use for leftover egg yolks (the whites were used on their hair, but to what effect, one wonders?)
“When everything’s made by hand, sometimes it doesn’t work out”, Joaquim smiles. Technically wrong, perhaps, but still yummy wonderful. We’re offered slices of one such “gâteau raté” whose goey orangey moistness leaves us stammering, stuttering in our praise. We buy up the rest of Joaquim’s “mistake cake”, and later my Mum confesses that this is her favourite. Meanwhile landlady, neighbour and housemates are all asking: where can I get hold of these?
Back to the selection. This weekday lunch-time, there are around 6 different cakes in the window, and the coffee, raspberry, chocolate and belém are depleting fast. The reason? “I only make what I want, when I want and how I want to!” So I would advise you to come early, because when they’re gone, they’re gone, although Joaquim will still be there to welcome you with his pots of jam and humour, which do not sell out quite so fast.
Each cake costs 1 euro 50. If you don’t know where to begin, buy one of everything, but don’t miss the mistake cake.
Chaussée de Charleroi, 190c
+32 (0)2 539 00 19
Open Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 to 17:00, except public holidays