Christmas Around the World: Portugal

December 16th, 2016 by Dália Marques

Christmas Around the World: Portugal | Wilton Cake DecoratingWe’re celebrating Christmas with our Wilton friends all over the globe! In our Christmas Around the World Series, a guest contributor will share their favorite Christmas recipe and story with you. Today’s story comes from Dália Marques in Portgual. 

The Christmas celebrations in Portugal are very important and the sweet treats that are typical of this holiday are usually available at the start of December. Sweets like Bolo-Rei or Pão de Ló can be found at every bakery all over the country by this time. We have a rich history of traditional sweets, and although each region has its own traditions regarding sweets, one thing everybody can be sure of when eating one: they are very rich in eggs and sugar and absolutely delicious!

In the northern region on Christmas Eve, the grandmothers and mothers start making desserts for the Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day lunch. And although each home has its own recipe, Rabanadas, Leite-creme, Aletria, Formigos never miss the dining table.

A must at my in-laws’ family table are also the Bilharacos, which are deep fried little pumpkin cakes that are, after being cooled, dipped in a sugar syrup bath and remain there soaking until they are fished out and eaten. My first experience eating Bilharacos was after I met my partner. His grandmother was the one that made these little cakes and she did so until a very old age. She is now is 105 years old and stopped cooking around 95. Her daughter has since taken on the job of making the Bilharacos. This is her recipe that I have been using ever since.


For the pumpkin batter:
6 1/2 lbs pumpkin
1/3 cup wheat flour + more as needed
8 egg yolks
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the sugar syrup:
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick

Vegetable oil for frying

Prepare the sugar syrup in advance. Mix the sugar with the water in a pan, add the cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, let it boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Let it cool with the cinnamon stick in the mixture.

Cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds, filaments and the skin. Cut in pieces and put on a pan. Cover with water and add the salt. Cook at 350°F until soft, about 45 minutes. Let it cool to the touch and strain the excess water by wrapping the pumpkin in a clean cloth and pressing as much as possible.

Put the pumpkin in a bowl and mash. Add the flour, sugar, egg yolks, whole eggs and the vanilla and stir very well until it forms a consistent batter. If necessary, add more flour.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, and use two tablespoons to mold the batter into little oval shaped cakes; drop them immediately in the hot oil. Let them fry until they start to float in the oil and become golden.


Remove with a dipping scoop and place them in paper towels until they are cool and the paper has absorbed the excess oil. Put the sugar syrup in a bowl and dip the cakes in the syrup. Let rest for some time before serving so that the Bilharacos can absorb the sugar syrup and become really moist. Scoop them out and put them in candy foils and a pretty box to make a great holiday gift!


Dália Marques Dália Marques is the director of the Pasgelpan School for Bakery and Cake Design. She has a degree in Fine Arts – Sculpture, and since her first encounter with sugar paste she traded clay and glass for sugar and chocolate as favorite mediums for expression. She loves sculpting with modeling chocolate, making sugar flowers and painting in sugar. She is a certified Wilton Method Instructor and now teaches others with the same passion for everything sugar or baked.

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