Sweet Belem’s Portuguese tarts are renowned in Sydney for being the best. Once you bite into the flaky outer shell to the warm custard inside it's not hard to understand why some travel far to try them.
The Sweet Belem Cake Boutique on New Canterbury Road in Petersham was taken over by Jose Silva. He has kept the recipe for the infamous Portuguese tarts given to him by the shop’s previous owner of 10 years, John De Almeida. Jose’s cousin, George Silva has been learning the art of pastry since he was 14 years old. He moved to Sydney from Portugal last year, and he is now the pastry chef at the boutique. George worked with De Almeida for a year to learn the tips and tricks, and then Jose was asked if he wanted to take over as the owner.
Silva was the head chef at Guillaume at Bennelong at The Opera House, which closed in late 2013, after which he started full time at Sweet Belem. Working alongside George to create the Portuguese delicacies seems to be working. “My cousin has got the traditional Portuguese side, and I’ve got my side.” Says Silva, of his past as head chef at the French fine-dining restaurant. “From working in fine dining to a pastry shop – it’s very different. It’s a good change.”
New Canterbury Road is known as the Little Portugal of Sydney, and Sweet Belem well and truly has the desserts covered. “I used to always come here – obviously to buy the tarts – and I’ve always loved this shop,” says Silva. “I live in the area and pretty much grew up here. It’s a very close community, you get to know everyone. There’s a lot more places opening up around the area – which I think is very important.”
So what goes into making Sweet Belem’s best sellers? The outer shell of their Portuguese tarts is a puff pastry that is book-folded many times to create the layers, then rolled into cylinder. Next, it’s sliced into discs and layered the other way, facing upwards when pushed into the mould. Then in goes the custard, and the tarts are baked and then sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon on top. “We basically bake all day, starting at 4am to prepare everything. Then we bake as we sell, so there are always fresh, warm tarts,” says Silva.
There are other shops that make Portuguese tarts on the same street, but it’s Sweet Belem that people from all over seek out. “The tarts aren’t traditionally served straight from the oven, but our customers love them warm. People come in from everywhere and take them to a lot of places, to Melbourne, Canberra, to Brisbane. And once we had customers take them to Singapore!’ says Silva.”
“On a weekend day we probably sell anywhere between 600 and 1000 tarts.” Silva has started trying different flavour combinations with the tarts such as raspberry, passionfruit and chestnut.
Although the custard tarts are by far the biggest seller at Sweet Belem, there are many other delicious options on sale, such as Portuguese doughnuts filled with a traditional egg custard, called Bola de Berlim. Portuguese brioche croissants are also available, and so is the Portuguese Napkin; a square of sponge cake folded in half with custard inside. Many of the traditional cakes have egg jam in them, which is a very sweet Portuguese custard made of yolk and sugar. “The Portuguese tend to love egg, or really the yolk,” says Silva.
The gluten-intolerant will rejoice at the large variety available, and coffee comes from a Bellaroma blend. Sweet Belem also bakes its own bread, including a traditional, dense, corn bread called Broa de Milho which goes well with seafood, and Päo da Àgua (grandma’s bread) which is crusty on the outside and soft in the middle, popular for breakfast toasted with ham and cheese or chorizo.
35 B New Canterbury Road, Petersham
(02) 9572 6685
Wed to Sat 8.30am–5pm