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Pão de Ló vs Kasutera (Castella)

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Maybe the best-known cake in Portugal, this cake dates back to the 15th Century. It was made in Nunneries and, as with all Portuguese cakes, was very rich in eggs.

The recipe of Pão de Ló was taken to Japan in the 16th Century by Portuguese missionaries in the city of Nagasaki. Because at the time it was also called Pão de Castela, the Japanese adopted the recipe and call it Kasutera, one of the most typical cakes in Japan.

Pão de Ló: a typical Portuguese cake with a fascinating history

Pão de ló cake (designation of origin since 1990) (also called sponge cake) is a cake made with eggs, sugar and flour. In Portugal, there are regional varieties of this sponge cake that have become symbols of these regions, such as Alfeizerão la Ovar, Margaride and Arouca.

In Portugal, there is also a recipe for this cake called "pão de ló à brasileira", very different from the traditional recipe because in particular, it requires fewer eggs.

In Italy, this cake is called pan di Spagna, which is Spanish bread.

In Anglo-Saxon countries, there is also a fairly similar recipe: sponge cake.

The first Portuguese to arrive in Japan in the 16th century brought with it the recipe for pão de ló, also known as pão de Castela. This recipe has evolved over the centuries to become one of the most typical cakes in Japan: Kasutera.

The origins of the Pão de Ló Cake

We know that its origins are certainly in the region of the Portuguese city of Ovar and that pão de ló is certainly a monastic recipe. Indeed, the Portuguese female orders were often integrated into the Portuguese royal family and prepared the dishes that were served at court. The first recipe named pão-de-ló appears in the recipe book of Infanta D. Maria (1538 - 1577).

Initially, the pão de ló was made in terracotta moulds and over a wood fire.

Pão de ló is eaten all year round, but especially during Easter and Christmas. The pão de ló is of course a dessert or a snack, but it was also indicated in the diets of convalescents and bereaved families. It was, indeed, a gift given to them to comfort them.

All "pão de ló" are referred to as soft cakes and made with very few ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour. The proportion of these ingredients, the way of mixing them and especially their shape and the time to beat them will create their diversity.

A trip to the land of the "pão-de-ló"

The greatest variety of pão-de-ló is found in the Portuguese region of Minho. The know-how related to their preparation is essential and in particular how to beat the ingredients, a bit like the French omelette of the mother hen.

Pão-de-ló de Margaride is certainly the one that has experienced the greatest commercial expansion. It is baked in a clay mould covered with paper. The same amount of yolks and whites were beaten with sugar and flour.

The Portuguese region of Minho still offers Pão de ló de Vizela which is also called Bolinhol, with a rectangular shape and drizzled with sugar syrup, which turns white after cooling.

Also in the north, we have Pão-de-ló de Freitas, district of Amarante where two types of flour are used. After beating the yolks with the sugar, beat the egg whites until stiff and add them to the previous preparation. Then add the potato starch, rice flour and baking powder.

From the region of northern Portugal Tras-os-Montes, we find the only pão de ló recipe that starts with beating the egg whites until stiff, then adding the sugar and a few drops of lemon juice, the yolks of eggs, and then flour. This region also offers the Pão-de-ló de Mirandela.

Going down the Douro, we will find cakes from the pão de ló family: the famous Cavacas Resende. Made with a lot of eggs that fight in a greater amount of yolks than whites, directly with the sugar for about an hour. Flour is added at the end. The cooking is done in moulds like rectangular trays, the whole being sprinkled with cornflour. Once cooked, slices are cut which are called cavacas.

The most famous and prestigious Pão-de-ló is Ovar. What's special is that it stays slightly damp in the centre as if it were slightly undercooked.

We still have Pão-de-ló Arouca. Arouca is part of the district of Burgo. O pão de ló de Arouca was born in 1840 and differs from other versions because it is prepared in a rectangular mould. It is often offered in individual, packaged portions. Before wrapping, the slices are dipped in hot sugar syrup.

There is also the surprising Pão-de-ló Alfeizerão, probably a recipe accidentally born in the 19th century. It would be the work of a nun who had mistaken the cooking time. Thus, it is creamy which enchants its amateurs. It may be that its origin is in the Convent of Cós, near Alcobaça.

Curious is the Pão-de-ló of Figueiró dos Vinhos. There are references to this cake as early as 1893. Its most visible difference is the way it is baked.

Then we still have the Pão-de-ló Saloio or Pão-de-ló of weddings, Pão-de-ló de Extremadura, o Pão Leve known in the Beira Baixa, and again Pão-de-ló de Alpiarça in the Ribatejo. The list is not complete, but it already gives you to see all the richness of this recipe as simple and refined as it is old centuries. This allows us to see that gastronomy is a real art and an immense source of culture.

Pão de Ló Recipe

Ingredients for making the Pão de Ló

  • 12 eggs and 8 egg whites (Separate the egg yolks and whites, and keep 8 whites, to beat them to stiff peaks)

  • 150 g of sugar

  • 100 to 150 g of sifted flour without yeast

  • 1 pinch of salt

Preparation of the Pão de Ló

Preheat the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F with the pan in, but without the foil.

In a bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff.

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the salt and sugar for 10 minutes.

Add the flour to the egg yolks, and beat everything well again.

Gently fold in the egg whites until stiff.

Remove the savarin mould from the oven and place the paper in it to make a hole (be careful, because the savarin mould will be very hot). Pour in the dough, and close the clay mould with the lid (where, if it is your mould, cover the dough with aluminum foil, and make a hole in the centre of the chimney).

The dough begins to cook in the heat of the clay. Bake at 180 ° C / 350°F for about 15 minutes.

In the end, remove the mould from the oven and uncover it.

Do not unmould it just yet, let it cool completely because the heat from the pan will continue to bake the cake for over 10 minutes.

Kasutera カステラ (Castella)

The "Castella" or "Kasutera" カステラ is a Japanese cake that originates from the Portuguese Pão-de-ló. It was introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese missionaries in the city of Nagasaki and quickly became famous. It is now popular across Japan. Its name is derived from the Portuguese "pão de Castela" (bread from Castille). There are now various variations of the original recipe with chocolate, red beans and more matcha tea.

Castella cakes have a finer, more compact texture than traditional sponge cakes, while still being lighter than pound cakes or butter cakes. The castella cake is ideal for serving during afternoon tea, or for dessert.

In Nagasaki, the very well-known and reputable brand Fukusaya 福 砂 屋 for the traditional recipe of castella while saying that they do not use preservatives. It has existed since 1624. Traditions, natural, craftsmen are the strong words of this company. You will also find individual parts and beautiful boxes.

Its specialty is castella with granulated sugar at the bottom. A must-see if you are passing through Nagasaki.

"Kasutera" - カステラ recipe

Ingredients of Kasutera

  • 6 egg yolks

  • 4 egg whites

  • 100 g of sugar

  • 2 tablespoons of honey

  • 1 pinch of salt

  • 90 g of sifted flour

Preparation of Kasutera

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns white. Then add honey, salt, flour and mix well. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then incorporate them delicately and little by little into the previous preparation, lifting the mixture. Pour the dough into a buttered mould and bake for about 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 180 ° C / 350°F. The cake should be golden brown and a knife blade stuck in the centre should come out clean. Finally, cut out the sides so that you only have the top and bottom brown.

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