One of the greatest pleasures of living in the UK is a trip to the bakery at opening time, to grab a freshly made, still warm, jam doughnut (or three). However, in Portugal you are as likely to find jam in a doughnut as you are to find Jeremy Clarkson wearing a tie and judging X-Factor.
The Portuguese equivalent of our jam doughnut is the “bola de Berlim” – which basically means a Berlin ball – and it’s filled with an eggy cream. The name is inherited from the apparent origin of the cake (in Germany – which is where Berlin is. See? You do learn some things here). You might think it’s called a Berliner, but Berliners call it a Pfannkuchen. So, the Portuguese adopted the Berliner part and added “ball” because theirs is larger and rounder. Like a ball, you might say.
Th filling is no surprise in Portugal because you find egg yolk being used extensively in many cakes here. There’s a historical reason for that. Many of the popular perennial desserts and cakes in Portugal were developed in the monasteries. In these monasteries, they used tons of egg whites for things like clearing wine. So they had tons of egg yolks left over and they used them to develop sweet desserts.
A bola de Berlim is an excellent cake to have with a strong meia-de-leite coffee, as long as it’s reasonably fresh and not one that’s been sitting out all day hardening in the sun. Give one a go, but not before you ask the waiter for a jam doughnut to see if he looks at you funny.