Sweet Talking

I am excited when I arrive at the Lagos câmara to meet with Eugénia Militão. She is a Guinness World Record holder, and she has cake! 

But Eugénia´s cake is not just any cake. Her speciality is the Dom Rodrigo, a famous Portuguese sweet that originated in Lagos. And if you think Lagos only celebrates its seafood, think again. You are about to learn the cultural importance of its sweet delicacies. 

Dom Rodrigo is an example of cuisine that uses endogenous products from the region, including egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, crushed almonds and thin egg threads (fios de ovos). Allegedly, nuns from the Convent of Nossa Senhora do Carmo were the first creators of this now traditional confectionery product back in the 18th century. There is a tradition in Portugal of sweets and cakes originating in convents as nuns used the whites to starch their habits and needed to find a use for the yolks, so they invented cakes (doces conventuais). 

Dom Rodrigo

The story goes that the Dom Rodrigo was produced to please the governor and captain-general of the Algarve, D. Rodrigo de Menezes. This dashing man with blond hair got the nuns’ hearts fluttering, so they named a cake after him!

Originally, it was eaten by the wealthy from porcelain or glass bowls. Then, in the first half of the 20th century, the Taquelim Gonçalves house, which is the oldest regional sweets establishment in Lagos, began to present Dom Rodrigo wrapped in aluminium foil, first in silver and then in other tones, to make it more attractive to buyers. 

This sweet is one of Lagos’ most traditional recipes. Due to its antiquity, it is considered part of the city’s cultural heritage, which is why Lagos cãmara targeted it for preservation through a series of initiatives. One of these is to give genuine Dom Rodrigo cake an official seal to prove its authenticity. 

Eugénia Militão

Eugénia has 35 years of experience and started her baking journey by taking a three-year course aimed at preserving the traditional treats of the Algarve. Her course was held in a primary school, with around 20 attendees. The course teachers were mature cooks who knew the traditional methods and wanted to preserve the original treats native to the Algarve. Eugénia is keen to point out that if you think you have sampled traditional Algarve sweets like doce fino because you bought them at a supermarket, think again! Those are not the real deal. 

Doce Fino
Doce de Figo

Eugénia herself spent time researching and experimenting to make her delicious treats. She is passionate about the cake not only being made of the finest Algarve ingredients but also having nutritional value. So she uses biological ingredients where possible and tries not to make it too sweet. She also experiments with gluten-free versions. She is passionate about handing down her knowledge to others as she teaches the traditional bakers of the future. Eugénia showed me a photo of a fabulous marzipan creation she made for Arte Doce in the shape of an octopus, a piece which looks as much like a sculpture as it does a cake.

Therefore, it was natural that the Lagos câmara invited Eugénia to participate in an ambitious project to celebrate the annual Arte Doce event. In 2019, eight bakers, including Eugénia, were asked to make a giant Dom Rodrigo weighing 126.7 kilos. 

The record-breaking Dom Rodrigo cake

Eugénia led a team of eight to cook the giant cake, which was prepared in the kitchens and large ovens of Tecnopolis school. The city hall paid for the Guinness World Record team to come to Lagos to judge the vast sweet offering. They were very strict, filming the entire baking process to guarantee no cheating and even had a food technician present. It took approximately three days to finish the cake, which was eagerly eaten by those attending the festival that year.

I tuck into the portion I have been provided. It is like nothing I have tasted before. It has a moist texture, a strong almond flavour, and a hint of cinnamon. Strands of egg yolks form the body of the cake, making it light and gooey. 

Eugénia is now the president of a new association called ADRA (Associação de Doces Regionais do Algarve), whose objectives are to preserve the traditional treats of Lagos and maintain the history of the Algarve’s delicacies. They are also working towards making the traditional recipe a certified method for the cake.

Every Wednesday at Viv’o Mercardo (Mercardo de Levante), Eugénia sells her wares to an appreciative market. She also makes cakes to order for individuals and restaurants which keeps her very busy. Eugénia promotes her cooking via Facebook and Instagram and has multiple loyal customers who order from her. Now, due to her stall, she has many new customers eager to buy her cakes. Cooking is her life, and she says that working with her hands to create something that is in keeping with the traditions of her hometown and bringing people pleasure is the ultimate joy. She says, “It’s a beautiful thing.” She has two children and two grandchildren. Now, whenever the grandchildren are over, they bake with her and enjoy quality time together.

Eugénia is eagerly looking forward to the Arte Doce event in July, which will be a special year as it is the 35th edition of the event as well as the year of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of April 25 in Lagos. Therefore, one of the competition categories chosen for this year was ‘Freedom’, with others as ‘Quality in Tradition’ (for the best Dom Rodrigo, doce fino, morgado and fig jam), innovation and the free category. The festival also celebrates local ingredients, with the stars of the show being figs, almonds and carob.

As the name suggests, making sweets is considered an art form, and Fábio Ventura, a communication office employee from the câmara, tells me, “It is thanks to the talent and creativity of bakers and artisans that this initiative for the Municipality of Lagos has grown, and attracted more and more lovers of our gastronomy.” Eugénia shows me a past competition entry, an octopus sculpted out of almond paste, and it is truly a thing of beauty.

I ask Eugénia if there are any bitter rivalries amongst the thirty or so entries. Happily, she confirms that all is fair in love and cakes, the competition is very friendly, and many of the entrants are bakers she has taught herself. The câmara selects a panel of judges, which usually includes a member of the câmara, an artist, plus a restaurant owner or a chef, to give a balanced view. Eugénia confesses with a smile that she wins something every year! 

Eugénia’a octopus almond cake which won 1st prize in 2023 for the free theme category

Most times, she enters all categories, but this year, she has declined to enter a recipe with figs. Sadly, due to major climate change, the current quality of figs has begun to slowly deteriorate. So Eugénia, who cares deeply for the quality of food, has abstained from entering with this ingredient as it is difficult to find it locally.

The festival will also host showcookings with demonstrations where participants can try their hand at making the sweets themselves. This year, they are inviting the guest region of the Ribatejo to share its traditions, arts and gastronomy, which will join the Algarve with music, craft stands and entertainment.

1st prize 2023 for the mandatory theme category

Eugénia tells me that many of the stalls sell thousands of cakes over the course of the weekend. Therefore, music is needed in the evening for everyone to dance off the calories. So after the cakes have all been eaten, the concerts begin. Besides shows from local and invited artists from the Ribatejo, this year there will be some renowned live sets from Expensive Soul, Fernando Daniel, the world-renowned Linkin Park Tribute – Hybrid Theory, Plutonio and Luís Trigacheiro. 

I ask Eugénia if she has any more record-breaking ambitions. She dreams of creating a 100-kilo doce fino arrangement. Speaking of which, all this sweet talking has made me hungry and I tuck into one of these delicate creations with relish. Its delicately moulded marzipan exterior bursts open in a mouthful of almondy delight into an interior of moist egg strings. It really is a work of art.

So, if you want to appreciate some sweet moments this month, don’t miss this sugar-coated extravaganza!

Os Docinhos de Gena:


+351 919 420 238

Arte Doce 2024

24 to 28 July 6 pm

Lagos Sports Complex and surrounding area

Free entry

For full timetable of events visit: ​artedoce.pt/2024


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