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wanted dead or alive: doce da casa

After the overwhelming response to my last post I have decided to write only about serious issues from now on. That’s why I’ve chosen the subject Doce da Casa for this week’s take-no-prisoners-alert-the-pope controversial post with a moral and a message.



Exhibit One

When I first came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for three months for breakfast lunch and tea and during this time became fully acquainted with the dessert menus of Portugal. Invariably they contain an item named Doce da Casa which as any self respecting phrase book will tell you means, in the literal sense, Sweet of the House, i.e., vis-à-vis, chef’s specialty. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or not worked in a restaurant knows that this is also code for whatever we need to get rid of tonight because it’s going in the bin tomorrow. At least where I come from. You’ll never get a bad dessert in Portugal. I’ve certainly never had a bad Doce da Casa, whatever a Doce da Casa really is.

I was in those days, innocent. I never thought that the whole Doce da Casa name might be a cover-up for a hotly guarded secret. Like the secret Lucia had to keep after the visions at Fatima. Something worth hiding from the people for their own safety.


Exhibit One: Detail

The second time I came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for breakfast lunch and tea for five months and it was during this time that I began to suspect Doce da Casa was in fact the name of a recipe with defined ingredients, with which a cook may be creative, resulting in variations on-a-theme.

Over the last few years I have further intensified my belief that Doce das Casas, or Doces da Casa or Doces das Casas ARE BASICALLY ALL THE SAME.

The One, however, thinks otherwise. He says he’s been given chocolate things and even baked apple things when ordering Doce da Casa. I say it’s just because he’s English that the restaurant seizes the opportunity to give him the sell it now before anyone sees the maggots dessert. No one would try that on an Australian. We have dangerous spiders and snakes.

So then: we tested the question on google. Just 9 and-a-half million hits of recipes all containing the essential ingredients of Doce da Casa: condensed milk, maria biscuits, chocolate and cream. Emma: one, The One: zero.


Left, Exhibit Two. Right, Exhibit Three.


Next I email Elvira of Elvira’s Bistro. It’s obviously a subject too controversial to comment upon because I receive no response. Or maybe she’s busy running a restaurant.

So I ring Isabel, she of Encyclopaedia of Portugal fame. She said,

“Excellent question. Important, relevant, pressing. It’s something we’ve all been asking ourselves but need the leadership of someone brave and unflinching to investigate and resolve for us”.

Actually I made that up. What she really said was that traditionally, Doce da Casa would mean ‘specialty of the house’, but has in recent times has become bastardised into this thing with condensed milk and cream. Shit. Emma: one, The One: one.

Not content to leave it at that, I took the question onto the streets and into the kitchens. Nothing proves a point better than pure, creamy evidence. Let me present Exhibit One, if it pleases Your Honour.

Exhibit One is a perfect example of what I have come to expect from ordering Doce da Casa. Biscuit at the bottom, custardy condensed milk layer next, chocolate layer and then lashings of cream on top.


Exhibit Four

A closer inspection reveals a layer of intact biscuits between one of the layers. This evidence was found at our local churrasqueira and is under copyright control by the cook, Anabella who was very suspicious of my enquiry. Understandably she doesn’t want her recipe stolen, because it was I must say, a very superior Doce da Casa.

Which leads us to speak of Exhibit Two. Some fishy restaurant in Cantanhede served this up after we had demolished an enormous pile of assorted crustaceans. Very elegantly presented and while the omission of biscuit should be noted, it has nonetheless the regulation chocolate, custard and cream layers.

Exhibit Three was from a humble Lousanense establishment called Adega Vila. Biscuit, certainly, cream, absolutely and more than a whiff of condensed milk. But no chocolate and no layering. This, while delicious, fails to satisfy the requirements of a Doce da Casa. One might surmise that it is the specialty of the house. Someone clever reading this will know what its real name is, I’m sure.


Exhibit Five

Exhibit Four shows an interesting variation in that the crushed biscuit and chocolate layers have been mixed together. The condensed milk/custard layer is there and the cream is there, although the cream was not exactly of bovine origin.

With Exhibit Five, from the local pizzeria, we return to the text book style of the Doce da Casa, dessert flute and all. Let’s not quibble about the absence of chocolate. It is what it is.

And there I rest my case. Doce da Casa is mostly a recipe and more rarely a house specialty. Where have all the specialties of the house gone?

If your local restaurant is serving a true house specialty then, please, we need to know. It’s in the public service.


  1. Lauren April 19, 2011 4:45 am Reply

    The temptation is just too much! Keep these awesome posts on the noms of Portugal coming…I plan on hitting the gym hard before we visit Portugal in October so that I can try 2 of every dessert you post about and hopefully still fit into my jeans. 🙂

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  2. Fred April 19, 2011 8:45 am Reply

    Can you please stop sticking your spoon into the exhibits prior to photographing them! It is bad form for the rest of us denying us the same opportunity. Any fructose in that dessert or just lots of fiber: http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=16717

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    Emma   Reply: April 19th, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Well I’m sorry but I believe in a thorough investigation. And they just look like a creamy blob in the befores… did you actually watch that video?

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    Fred   Reply: April 19th, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    @Emma, Yes I did watch the video and so should you!

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    Emma   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 8:36 am

    All 89 minutes worth? Avoid fructose, eat more fibre. That’s the message. And I’m trying, I’m trying!

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    Fred   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 8:43 am

    @Emma, All 89 minutes as I wanted to understand why it is important. It makes sense why you eat more when you eat/drink fructose and why I quickly lost 8 kilos when I stopped etc.

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    Emma   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    8 Kilos! ok I’m watching it now

  3. Richard April 19, 2011 9:18 am Reply

    I`m putting on weight just by reading and looking at these awesome posts! haha

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  4. maryb April 19, 2011 2:09 pm Reply

    I was close to breaking my sugar addiction before…

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    Emma   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I’m sorry. I was on a diet before. I hatched a plan where I would order them and he would eat them… but he wouldn’t play!

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  5. Elsa April 19, 2011 8:27 pm Reply

    Lauren, Every time I go to Portugal I come back 5 kilos heavier. Just walk around a lot when you get back, it goes away. Am hoping to come in June, thanks for the temptations Emma, keeps my doubts about the funding the trip at bay. I miss Portugal!

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  6. Melanie April 20, 2011 2:29 am Reply

    You’re killing me….

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    Emma   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I’m sorry. Really. The biscuits aren’t too bad and condensed milk is quite low in fat. The cream is the killer and forget the chocolate. You could mix whipped egg whites with low fat cream, and also include egg whites in the condensed milk/custard layer. Drink 2 glasses of water before you eat it and a 2 hour walk afterwards… it’s not killing you anymore is it 😐

    [Reply to comment]

    Melanie   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 10:11 am


    Ok now I know what to do next time I am there! I had to substitute with two cookies i bought from Ikea….just not the same 🙁

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  7. Isabel April 20, 2011 7:32 am Reply

    We all know that there are thousands if not millions of marketing experts around the world pouring on the importance of the word GRANDMOTHER on the label of jams, cakes, etc. and what it evokes.

    There must be hundreds if not thousands (we will know after the Censos are finished) of Portuguese restaurant owners who just KNOW, without even thinking, the importance of the word CASA to their Portuguese customers, and what it evokes.

    Just ask yourself: can you really conceive a Doce da Casa with alcohol? Or 73% chocolate? Or a mean lemon curd? Or even bazillion yolks and tones of ground almonds?

    Nah, it would be plain wrong. Milk, bolacha maria, cream… Docinho da casinha (da mãe).

    [Reply to comment]

  8. Rochelle April 26, 2011 10:18 am Reply

    I now plan to figure out how to make this dessert from scratch, biscuits and all! This has gone on my list of Portuguese desserts to make at home when we get moved to Portugal next week, and then blog the recipe afterwards.

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  9. Délio Faria May 11, 2012 10:04 pm Reply

    Stop posting these delicious things, i’m seeing this an hour before lunch, this is ultra über torture.

    Now lets discuss “Doce da Casa” for a bit, my opinion is that someone invented (or stole) that recipe and called it Doce da Casa, it was so good that other restaurant owners started doing the same recipe, with a few changes, just to look smart and called it the same thing, because it looks good to have a Doce da Casa, nowadays every single restaurant has it 😛

    [Reply to comment]

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