Last November a friend reminded me that the annual Mostra Internacional de Doces e Licores Conventuais was going to held again inside the monastery of Alcobaça, so we made plans to drive down there and sample some of the treats. For those that don't speak Portuguese - this is a festival dedicated to conventual desserts and alcohol. While not every pastry, candy, or liquor is currently being made by nuns or monks, all of the recipes supposedly originated in a convent or monastery. While the delicious treats on display were mainly Portuguese; Spain, France, and Belgium also represented with a number of their own tasty sweets and drinks.
The Mosteiro (or Monastery) of Alcobaça is located in the town of the same name, about 1.5 hours from either Lisboa or Coimbra by car and easily accessible by train or bus. It is one of the more popular Portuguese monasteries, known for being the final resting place of Portugal's most famous star crossed lovers, Pedro and Inês. When Pedro was crown prince to the throne, his family decided his relationship with Inês was unacceptable because she wasn't of noble birth and had her murdered in Coimbra. Years later, when Pedro ascended the throne, he had her killers assassinated and exhumed her body, placing it in a throne and forcing the entire court to swear allegiance to her as the Queen of Portugal.
Many of Portugal's famous pastry and dessert recipes originate in convents because the nuns had many leftover egg yolks after using the whites to starch their uniforms. Also, in 1834, after the Portuguese Civil War, the king suppressed all religious orders and confiscated much of their property. In need of money to support themselves they created pastry recipes made mostly from egg yolks and sugar which continue to be sold today.