It is quite possible that you could spend your entire lifetime eating your way through foodstuffs named because of certain geographic locations and their association with the place; Bombay duck, baked Alaska, Frankfurters in a bun, Brussels sprouts, chicken Kiev or Dublin Bay prawns, but when visiting the Centro de Portugal region do try not to miss out on tasting the long fabled, sweet goodness of the confectionery known as the Aveiro Ovos Moles.
Ovos Moles – the sweet taste of Aveiro
The recipe is quite simple; the finest eggs and sugar embraced in a light outer casing of delicate wafer. But the practice of their creation is quite another thing and one which has led to the delicacy being listed by the European Union as being of a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In the Rua D. Jorge Lencastre, a quiet side street in the ridiculously pleasant city of Aveiro, a small house bears a sign above its door declaring the legend ‘Ovos Moles de Aveiro‘ and the date 1882. In order to have been listed as a PGI, the Ovos Moles must be produced in a time-honoured tradition with all care and attention given to the ingredients, the process and the methods employed in their production.
Maria João, the current owner of the concern dresses me in culinary whites, like the ones she too is wearing and invites me inside to sample the sweetheart of the Ovos Moles de Aveiro. It is hot. Outside on the streets and canals of Aveiro the temperature ranges around the mid-twenties; inside the furnace of this small bespoke and traditional ‘factory’, it feels closer to forty.
Beside an open oven a lady places more wooden logs on the fire and continues to stir a large copper pot containing a thick, golden yellow syrup. The pot, Maria João explains, contains the mixture of egg yolks, sugar and water and needs to be stirred constantly at a precise heat for one hour. “This is the traditional method,” she continues, “and because we are a traditional producer we want to keep the whole process as traditional as we can.”
In another part of the sweltering furnace – which the assorted group of ladies calls their workplace – a woman sits at a table separating egg yolks from whites. One after the other, with great dexterity, the eggs are cracked, separated in a swift movement of the hands, dropped into a pair of waiting for bowls while the shells are discarded (I later learned that the shells must be destroyed completely by first cooking them and then through burning). It takes 400 eggs to make one batch of Ovos Moles which produces approximately 600 individual units of the sweet confection.
The mixture in the bowl, once the sugar has been added, really is of a golden nature. The hens which produce the eggs are fed entirely on corn, and are also a regional speciality in their own right, meaning that the finished product has an extra yellowness and is highly rich in protein, Maria João explains.
In the adjoining room, another three women sit at a table completing the final production stage; filling the outer cases made from wafer moulds. By the time the mixture reaches this final stage, it has been boiled and allowed to stand for 24 hours. The first lady uses a spatula to fill the pre-formed casings, which in keeping with Aveiro’s association with the sea come in the shape of shells, fish, whelks, clams, and barrels.
The two sides of the filled moulds are now fitted and pressed carefully together by another worker. It is the job of the third person in the process to delicately trim each of the now full moulds, using nothing more than scissors. Precise work indeed.
But it is this care and attention to tradition (along with the taste of course) which has spread the fame of Aveiro’s Ovos Moles far and wide. The history of the confection is said to have originated with a nun at the Convent of Jesus who had been ordered to fast by her Mother Superior. Unable to contain her hunger this sweet-toothed nun created a mixture of eggs and sugar, the only ingredients to hand. With a fear of being found out, she wrapped the mixture inside the dough used by the nuns to produce the hosts for the service of Holy Communion. The ingredients set and a sweet which has transcended the centuries was born.
Later still one lady by the name of Odilia dos Anjos Soares acquired the recipe from a convent worker and began producing Ovos Moles under the brand name Maria da Apresentação da Cruz & Herdeiros (Maria of the presentation of the Cross and heirs). Today the production is in the expert hands of Maria João and her colleagues, ensuring that every visitor to the enchanting city of Aveiro still has the opportunity to taste this sweet and traditional delicacy which has been handed down through the centuries.
As I taste my first delightful mouthful of this sweet local treasure, Maria João adds one last comment which could have been penned by the offices of some international marketing gurus. She says simply, and sweetly, “Ovos Moles is Aveiro, and Aveiro is Ovos Moles.”
This Aveiro Ovos Moles post is a part of a series of 5 posts I wrote based on my journey to the Aveiro region in July 2016. Please find the links o the other articles bellow:
This Aveiro Ovos Moles post was written by my inspiring friend Brendan Harding as part of my ongoing collaboration with the Centro de Portugal Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Photo credits to Emanuele Siracusa.