My Top 5 Christmas desserts with recipes

There are a lot of Portuguese Christmas Sweets and most recipes are super easy to make and so tasty that I invite you to try them. I am sharing with you my favorite desserts and recipes: 

1. Aletria 
2.  Mexidos or Formigos
3. Rabanadas (Portugal's version of French toast), 
4. Sonhos de Natal (Portuguese Christmas Doughnuts), 
5. Filhós (delicate fried dough coated with sugar and cinnamon).

 From traditional sweets to fried dough pastries, here are the best Portuguese Christmas desserts you need to try. This is probably the sweetest post you will find on this blog. Enjoy!  These recipes are the ones we make at home, me, my sister, and mother, sometimes with small variations. You can trust it.

Bom apetite!

1. Aletria is a Portuguese Christmas dessert that uses a special kind of noodles, called Aletria. "Aletria" was probably brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century. In Portuguese cuisine, it designates a kind of dough of very fine threads, with which this typical Christmas sweet dessert is prepared. The word aletria may correspond to the Italian vermicelli or capellini or the French vermicelli.

The Aletria noodles are cooked in milk and egg yolks and aromatized with an orange or lemon peel. When all the milk is absorbed by the noodles the dessert is done. After it cools you just have to sprinkle cinnamon powder to decorate, normally with Christmas motifs. Some people like to add crystallized fruits in tiny pieces.


150g of aletria
5 dl of milk 
50 g of butter
200 g of sugar 
4 egg yolks
1 lemon or orange peel 
cinnamon powder
1 pinch of salt

How to prepare it:

1. Cook the aletria in water seasoned with salt. Drain the water. Separate the threads with a  fork when possible.
2. Heat the milk with a thin lemon/orange rind. When it boils gradually add it to the aletria, keeping the heat low and stirring constantly. 
3.  Add the butter and then the sugar. 
4. Beat the yolks and mix in a little milk in it.
5. Remove the aletria from the heat and add the egg yolks with care.
6.  Take it back to the heat for a minute or two without letting it boil. 
7. Place the aletria still warm on a platter. Let it cool a little and decorate it with cinnamon to your liking.

2. Mexidos or Formigos

This is a Mexidos or Formigos recipe that I learned from my mother. Mexidos or Formigos is a Christmas dessert from the region of Minho in the North of Portugal. I spent my childhood in the city of Braga and this one was a favorite of mine. It is a simple but amazing dessert made with stale bread, pine nuts, honey, raisins, dried fruit, Port Wine, lemon peel, and cinnamon. You simply need to boil the wine, the honey, and the lemon peel, then add the dried fruit and the bread. I like to eat Mexidos while still warm. Some will be decorated with cinnamon.

On the internet, you will find lots of variations of this recipe and many contain eggs. This one has no eggs and is just as delicious. This recipe was taught to my mother by a neighbor from Braga in the 70s. Mexidos or Formigos is a very old recipe. I was told that to have a sweeter Christmas, people in Minho region invented this recipe. The stale bread was not expensive and they had lemons, and honey from local production. Many families raised chicken so they could afford to use some eggs in the recipe also to make it more festive. Finally, the richer families could afford to put in dried fruit and Port wine.

I believe they could also have used plain red wine. Why? Wine and bread were a common mix. There was something called Sopas de cavalo cansado - "The tired horse soups" - today a reminder of hard times when people had to be inventive not to starve even if that meant eating an unhealthy diet. Families ate this at breakfast before going to work in the fields, as they needed lots of energy. Sometimes honey, cinnamon, and maybe eggs were added. This wine soup,  made of wine, pieces of bread, and sugar,  was given to tired animals so they could go on working, also, some believe.

 "Mexido" is something like "scrambled". You use the term for "scrambled eggs". Mexidos could be translated as "Scrambled bread", maybe. Perhaps the name comes from the fact that you have to the bread in the pan for it to break down well and to mix for all the ingredients to be well incorporated. When you taste this candy you will never guess what it is made of.

"Papos secos" is commonly used to make Mexidos.
But you can use any type of bread, though.


6 common papo-secos (two days old or more)
1, 1/2 L water
200 gr sugar
50 gr of butter
1 small wineglass of Port Wine
1 small glass of honey - you can have more if you like
Half a lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
a pinch of salt
100 g pinenuts
150 g walnuts cut into tiny pieces
100 g raisins
 ( You can use almonds, too)

How to prepare it:

1. Cut the bread into fine slices.
2. In a small bowl add the raisins and Port wine and let it soak in it.
3. In a pan put the water to boil with the sugar. When the water is boiling add the bread and cover. Turn the fire off and let it rest for some minutes Then use the blender.
4. Now you have a bread mixture. Add the pinenuts, walnuts, sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon stick to this bread puré and let it boil always stirring with a spoon. The fire must be slow so the water evaporates slowly.
5. When this mixture is smooth add the honey and keep stirring. The bread mixture must be consistent, sometimes it takes more than half an hour to get there.
6. At last, you add the raisins and the Port Wine. This must be done in the very end so they keep their shape. Keep stirring for more 5 minutes.
7. Add the salt and taste it because it may need more salt.
8. Pour in a large platter and decorate with cinnamon if you wish!

3. Rabanadas 

Portuguese French Toast differs from American French toast in several ways. Both are a way to use up stale bread, but rabanadas are commonly enjoyed as a dessert rather than as breakfast. This Christmas dessert is very similar to French toast or, as the French call them, "pain perdu." In Portugal, they are also called "fatias douradas" (Golden slices).

RABANADAS with Port Wine (Fried French toast with wine sauce )


2 cups of milk
1/2 cup of water
1 cinnamon stick
60 g of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 lemon peels
1/2 loaf /baguette of bread (about 10 slices, use one or two days old bread )
2 eggs
vegetable oil
100 g sugar, for coating
5 g powdered cinnamon, for coating

For the Wine Sauce

500 ml of Port Wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange peel
2 cloves
1-star anise
75 g of tablespoons sugar

How to prepare the wine sauce?

Place the port wine, cinnamon stick, orange peel, cloves, star anise, and sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil and lower the heat and let it cook for about 30 to 45 minutes. The liquid must be reduced 50%.

A baguette (french word) or "cacete" is usually 500gr.
(Don't cut it all at once in slices as it may be a lot for this list of ingredients)

How to prepare the fries?

1. Cut the bread into about 10-12 slices, each about 2.5 cm thick. Place the bread slices in a baking dish where the milk will be poured.
2. Warm the milk, water, cinnamon stick, sugar, salt, and lemon peels.
3. Mix the eggs in a bowl
4. Pour the milk mixture over the sliced bread. It must be soaked.
5. Gently, pick up a slice of the milk-soaked bread and dip it into the egg bowl, coating both sides. Let it drip back before placing the bread into the oil. (You may want to use soup plates instead to organize the process. In the first place the milk, then the beaten eggs, then one with absorbent kitchen towel paper. Prepare to change this one a few times. In the fourth sugar and cinnamon..)
6. Cook until well-browned on one side. Flip the bread and cook again.
7. Move the slice or rabanada to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining slices of bread, cooking several if you can.
8. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over both sides of the rabanadas.
7. Serve with the wine sauce on or let the people add the wine to a dessert plate of their own.

RABANADAS in the OVEN with Port Wine


For the slices:

a baguette/cacete of bread already two days
500 ml of milk
4 eggs
4 tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon powder
2 lemon peels
50 g of sugar
a cinnamon stick.

For the wine sauce:

200 ml of water
100 ml of port wine
100 g of sugar
2 lemon peels
a cinnamon stick.

How to prepare:

The wine sauce

In a saucepan, place the water, the Port wine, lemon peels, cinnamon sticks, and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir. When it starts to boil, lower the heat and leave for five minutes. Take it out and let it cool down.
When it is warm, remove the peels and cinnamon stick.

The slices:

1. Put the milk, the cinnamon stick, the lemon peels, and the sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until boiling. Remove from heat to cool.
2. Turn on the oven at 180º. Beat the eggs.
3. Cut the bread into finger-thick slices. Place the slices on an oven tray. Pour the bread with warm milk, you can do it with a tablespoon. On one side and the other.
4. On an oven-it tray: cover with adequate oven paper and grease with butter.
5. Pass each slice through the egg, letting it drain, and place it on the board.
6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the slices are golden brown. Then, remove the tray, and turn the slices over, to brown on the other side as well.
7. Pass each french toast through the sugar and cinnamon mixture.
8. Place on a plate that is deep. Drizzle with the syrup using a spoon.

4. Sonhos de Natal (Christmas Dreams)

"Sonhos" means "dreams" in Portuguese. The basic recipe contains eggs, flour, and sugar.
Sonhos live up to their name, they are fluffy and light, deep-fried balls, with an orange outer hue and soft and yellowish inside. We al dream about eating Sonhos at Christmas time!  After frying, cover the balls in the traditional sugar and cinnamon mix or with sugar syrup. Some say that the origin of Sonhos is Turkey.


125 ml of water
100 g of unleavened flour
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
2 lemon peels
25 g of butter
Frying oil
A mixture of sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle

How to prepare:

1. Put a pot on the stove, add water, and turn on the fire. Add a pinch of salt, lemon peel, and butter. Leave it will boil for a minute. Remove the peel. Remove from the fire.

2. In a bowl with the flour, add the yeast to the flour, stir, and pour into the pan all at once, stirring constantly until the flour is all in a ball.

3. Add one egg at a time to the dough and incorporate, beating by hand or using a mixer. Remove, place on a plate, and leave for 20 minutes.

4. Put the oil to heat in a frying pan. There must be plenty of oil as the dough balls have to be turned over on their own. If they don't turn gently help them with a fork. They have to be golden brown. Oil can't be too hot to prevent them from getting raw inside. Place small balls to fry, a dessert, or a soup spoon. Note that the balls grow a lot!

5. Place on a platter with absorbent kitchen towel paper. Then move the balls to another while they are hot and sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon.

Pumpkin Filhós ou Filhoses

(In Porto they are called bilharacos and Port Wine is used instead of aguardente. Aguardente is made with fresh pomace that comes from red grapes. You may find similar recipes with or without aguardente or Port Wine)

It's Christmas fritters. There is a variety of these sweet pastries, deep-fried in oil - something between like 500-750ml is needed - and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon when ready. Filhós are usually made with flour, sugar, eggs, sometimes also with pumpkin, and carrots, and flavored with orange zest or maybe aguardente or Port Wine. They are originally from Beiras. Olive oil is expensive and many use vegetable oil. Sometimes they are rounder and more compact, sometimes they are kind of rectangular shaped, more crispy. A long time ago it was traditional to prepare the dough and leave it to rise while going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Returning home people would heat up some oil and fry the batter and eat the tasty filhós with a glass of Port wine.

"Aguardente" gives the fritters a distinctive flavor

Belhós ou belhoses de abóbora (Fritters with pumlin the way my grandmother did it!)


2,400 kg of pumpkin
1 glass of water
A pinch of salt
300gr of self-raising flower
1 small glass of aguardente
cinnamon powder
cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle

How to prepare:

1. Peel and cut the pumpkin into quarters. Cook in a little water (one glass) with a pinch of salt. Once cooked, drain as much water as possible. Put it in a cloth bag, and hang it to dip somewhere for 24 hours.
2. Put the pumpkin into a bowl and stir, pressing with a wooden spoon to help release the rest of the water. Mix well to break up the pumpkin and make it soft.
3. The wheat flour is then added, little by little, and stirring constantly, beating the dough.
4. Add a glass of aguardente and cinnamon and keep stirring.
5. The dough should be shaped into balls with the help of two soup spoons. You can test if it has the right consistency when it falls slowly from the spoon. If so, it's ready and...
6. you can start to fry in olive oil or vegetable oil. Olive oil is the best but it's more expensive. 
7. You should take a test. Fry one and taste it. It can't be soaked. If this happens, add a bit more flour. The flour quantity varies because pumpkins are different.
8. Put in a plate covered with absorbent paper.
9. Move to another plate and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Pumpkin Filhós or Filhoses ( another recipe)

(In Porto they are called bilharacos and Port Wine is used instead of aguardente. You may find similar recipes with or without aguardente or Port Wine. This is the recipe that my sister follows. )


500 g of cooked pumpkin
100 g of sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
20 g of baker's yeast 
zest of one orange 
100 ml of orange juice
3 eggs 
2 tablespoons of aguardente 
500 g of unleavened flour
oil for frying
3 tablespoons of sugar 
1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon.

How to prepare:

1. Peel the pumpkin and cook it in salted water. Drain, place inside a fabric bag and hang to drip from night to day. If you don't have a bag I think you can use cloth. Put the pumpkin inside, join the four fabric corners and squeeze out the water very well. Improvise and hang it somewhere! I believe that to get 500 g of pumpkin you must buy double.

2. Place the sugar, cinnamon, and whole eggs in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer or a spoon.

3. Dilute the yeast in the orange juice. Stir well. Add to the bowl along with the orange zest. Mix well.

4. Now add the flour and mix well until everything is combined. Add the aguardente and stir again.

5. Let it rest. The dough will rise for 30 minutes to an hour until it doubles in volume. Cover and muffle the bowl, which has to be big enough to accommodate the dough.

6. Put oil in a frying pan. Prepare a big plate with an absorbent towel ( kitchen paper)

7. When the oil is hot - you put a piece of dough and it bubbles will form- put a spoon of dough in it. Drop more spoonfuls of dough into the oil. It is necessary to turn the balls of dough so that they cook well.

8. Remove and put over the paper so the oil is absorbed.

9. Get another plate and move the filhós in it. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. 

And this is how the Portuguese Rooster has a sweet tooth! Being Portuguese is impossible not to develop a craving or fondness for sweet Christmas desserts! If you're looking for sweet Portuguese-inspired Christmas or New Year's Eve gifts and cards, you may want to check A Portuguese Love Store.