Many tourists visiting Lisbon never leave the city center, unable to tear themselves from the tile-lined buildings, charming cobblestone alleys, and — of course — the picture-perfect pastéis de nata served on every corner. Few are willing to cross the iconic Golden Gate-esque 25 de Abril Bridge to reach Costa da Caparica, even to stick their toes in the pale beige sand of the closest beaches to the Portuguese capital. And that’s just fine with residents; more claudinos for the locals.
The long, cigar-shaped, flaky pastry filled with velvety cream is ubiquitous on the south bank of the Tagus River. It originated at local pastry shop Papo-Seco before spreading to other nearby shops. Pastelaria O Capote, the standard bearer of the form today, generates long queues that snake out the front of the shop on warm summer days. The pastry has even hopped the river and breached Lisbon, gaining ground in a city already overloaded with sweets as diverse as the azulejos patterns covering ancient walls.
Though you might spot one on your next tour of Lisbon, the best way to enjoy a claudino is in its native environment in Costa da Caparica.
What is a claudino exactly?
Like most Portuguese sweets, claudinos are an iteration of that tireless duo of sugar and egg yolk, which come together in a rich pastry cream along with warm milk and some sort of starch to provide structure. Unlike other local pastries though, claudinos weren’t developed centuries ago in a monastery or convent. In the 1980s, an unidentified pastry chef at Papo-Seco was testing new recipes when they decided to sprinkle sugar on their puff pastry before baking, then use pastry cream as a filling. The result turned out better than expected and it became an instant hit with locals. When Papo-Seco closed its doors 10 years later, some of the former cooks remained in Costa da Caparica and found work just down Rua dos Pescadores at O Capote — and they took the claudino recipe with them to their new employer.
Portuguese pastries, including beloved pastéis de nata, are designed to pair with coffee, delivering the perfect little hit of sugar. That’s true of claudinos as well. But the modern claudino has an advantage over its ancient round competitor: A claudino is the “perfect shape to be enjoyed with a coffee in the other hand,” says Magda Costa, the manager of O Capote.
“A claudino has a narrower, more anatomical and ergonomic shape, which is easier to grab and fits perfectly in the mouth,” agrees designer Rita João, editor of Fabrico Proprio: The Design of Portuguese Semi-Industrial Confectionery, which traces the creation of many Portuguese sweets. She explains that the recipe that appeared at O Capote is a version of another traditional Portuguese sweet, the parra, but in a shape inspired by French eclairs.
“Because it has less surface area [compared to a parra], the pastry cooks evenly,” João explains. With its long, thin shape and open side, “it’s also easier to add the filling, which is handmade, without the use of semi-industrial egg creams that are already so common across the country.” Since the recipe calls for puff pastry instead of the pâte à choux common in French pastries, the claudino isn’t as hollow as an eclair, making it easier to balance the proportion of dough to cream. The innovation at Papo-Seco, to sprinkle sugar over the dough before putting it into the oven, also creates a shiny glaze on the surface. “It’s a winning combination of shape, textures, and flavors,” João says.
Claudinos attract people from all over the country, especially during summer when Costa da Caparica receives hordes of tourists. But claudinos are not restricted to the hottest days of the year. “It’s our flagship all year-round. There isn’t a day that we don’t sell at least one,” says Costa. The sweet has become so popular that O Capote receives orders for giant claudinos (up to two kilos each) to serve as birthday cakes.
Not by chance, claudinos have gained space on countertop displays in pastry shops in downtown Lisbon. A Tentadora, a cafe opened in 1912 in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood, added claudinos six years ago, and the southern sweet represents 10 percent of daily sales. “More and more people order a claudino here. They know that we do it and come looking for it,” says manager Carlos Faria.
The original recipe remains a well-kept secret at O Capote, but a general standard has circulated among competing shops — although some prefer to use egg cream as a filling.
Where to get one
Batches of claudinos come out of the ovens at O Capote all day long. Stop by at breakfast to enjoy one with a meia de leite, the local take on coffee with milk. Or swing by in the afternoon, when a claudino makes the ideal post-beach snack.
40 Rua dos Pescadores, Costa da Caparica, 2825-386
On the same street as O Capote, Pastelaria Copacabana opened five decades ago in Costa de Caparica. Like its famous neighbor, it serves claudinos with traditional pastry cream. The pastry chef, Joaquim Pires, arrives every day at 3 a.m. to ensure the pastry is crispy when the first guests arrive.
3-4 Rua dos Pescadores, Costa da Caparica, 2825-345
Inaugurated in 1970, Xandite has three branches in Costa da Caparica. The one on Rua Dom João is the classic location, with hand-painted tiles covering the walls. The chain concentrates production in their central kitchen, delivering fresh claudinos (made with egg cream) each morning — but they don’t last long.
11 R. Dom João VI, Costa da Caparica, 2825-322
Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer living between Brazil and Portugal. He is the author of the book The Food Revolutions.
Humberto Mouco is a Portuguese photographer and resident of Lisbon. He has been shooting professionally, especially focusing on portraits and food, since 1994.