The cake of all cakes. No, really.

Two Pirâmides, façade and section

Two Pirâmides, façade and section

When Sugo asked us to send some news from Lisbon, we first of all decided to indulge in one our Portugal’s favourite pastimes, eat cakes, and then figure out what to do. We then realised this is pretty good news in itself: here we have tens and tens of different small one-portion cakes (bolos) which you can get in any café/pastelaria, all recognisable by first their shape and then their ingredients, coating, filling and variations, and it’s about time someone talks about them.

While in Italy, for example, you have brioche with your cappuccino for breakfast, in Portugal the choice is far wider and if sometimes you can stand in awe at some of the counters over the amount of choice, most of the times you have your own favourite so you ask for it right away: pastel de nata (our most famous cake export), palmier, jesuíta, bolo de arroz (the one with the same paper wrapper everywhere), parra, mil folhas, queque, pastel de feijão, queijada, bom bocado, tigelada, brigadeiro, pata de veado, orelha, rim, tíbia, caracol, bábá, bola de Berlim, xadrez, duchese, eclair… the list goes on and on. Their names are as suggestive as the cakes themselves, and range from body parts to animals to metaphors for social categories or stereotypes; some of them have even become literary terms.

These cakes, however, are by no means “special” or “sophisticated” as you may think cakes are in France, for example: you can get them anywhere, from train stations to your corner café, from your school bar to small neighbourhood cake factories, which open their back door after midnight so you can have a fresh one before you go home after going out with your friends.

Some pastelarias specialise in a specific cake, and they make it better, bigger, sweeter or different than the rest, becoming urban attractions in their own right. But overall cakes are as part of the Lisbon way of life as ceramic tiles, fado and yellow trams, to name some general things everyone knows about the city.

Then there is one cake that has both intrigued and inspired us for a long time. Pirâmide (Pyramid) is, according to urban myth, made of scraps of other cakes, and its contents vary according to the café/pastelaria you buy it from. It has roughly the same shape everywhere (now if you’re probably wondering that is not really a pyramid-shaped cake, you’re right, but that’s just a part of the myth itself): a sort of small cone, chocolate coated more or less regularly, and – of course! – a cherry on top, over a bed of whipped cream.

No one at any pastelaria will admit it is made of the leftover cakes from the previous day, or from the same day for that matter, and no one really tells us how it is done. It’s very sweet  – as all good cakes are – but you never really know what’s it going to taste like. It’s a cake full of surprises, a cake made of other cakes, an eco-cake (recycling pre-consumer cake waste), the cake of cakes.

The reason we chose pirâmide for Sugo is that it is, for us, a good starting point to looking at cakes as something you not can just look at and eat, but also something you can work with.

We’ve been looking into cakes, their names and their shapes, and also their ingredients, and have been wondering how can we as designers (and cake-eaters obviously) have something to do with it. We don’t know much about cooking (although Rita bakes really good cakes at home) but we have been considering challenging our own conception of cakes, how we eat them and how they are, well, designed. Expect more cake news from us soon…

FROM LISBON: Frederico Duarte + Pedrita

Originally published in Sugo Magazine #3, on request from Giorgio Camuffo. This text kick-started theFabrico Próprio project