‘Bolinhas do Carlos’ bring sugary smiles to beachgoers

‘Bolas de Berlim’ are one of Portugal’s favourite cakes, a kind of cream-filled sugary doughnut that can be found in pastry shops all over the country but are also sold by vendors on the beach during the summer.

The common ‘bolinha’ – as they are often called – is eaten either plain or filled with ‘creme de pasteleiro’, known as confectioner’s cream in English and used in many Portuguese desserts and sweets.

In the Algarve, one of the best-known ‘bolinha’ sellers is ‘Bolinhas do Carlos’, run by 49-year-old Carlos Cipriano.

Although the traditional ‘bolinha’ remains the favourite choice among beachgoers, Carlos tries to present new flavours and variations of the doughnut cake every year.

As he explains, the trick is to “create fillings that are both delicious and can sustain the high temperatures that the cakes endure while being sold along beaches”.

For example, this year he will be selling ‘bolinhas’ made with turmeric and cuttlefish ink – an odd choice of ingredients that you’ll unlikely find being used in pastry anywhere else!

But if you’re not feeling adventurous enough to try these bold new flavours, you can still choose from a variety of sweet fillings such as the classic ‘creme de pasteleiro’, chocolate, white chocolate, hazelnut, blueberry, passion fruit, lemon, coconut, kiwi, strawberry and Carlos’ personal favourite, apple.

Despite the popularity of the ‘bolinhas’ among Portuguese beachgoers, foreigners are still “not big fans”.

“The British call them doughnuts. The Spanish are starting to buy them and the few French who do, always choose chocolate,” Carlos says.

But the business he enjoys among the Portuguese is more than enough to keep ‘Bolinhas do Carlos’ going.

His pastries are sold on “90% of the beaches between Fuseta and Lagos, he says, and around two years ago he opened a café called Marieta’s on the EN125 road between Olhão and Fuzeta.

His ‘bolinhas’ are made at a bakery in Sítio do Laranjal, Moncarapacho. During the summer season, around 12,000 are made per day and delivered to 70 clients who sell them on beaches, at pastry shops, supermarkets and even five-star hotels.

The secret of his success, according to Carlos, is using “good ingredients and working hard”.

“Sometimes people ask me for my recipes. I’ll give them the recipes because they are not the secret. The secret is using quality ingredients, but no one believes me,” he explains.

Hard work is the other key to success.

“During the bathing season, I wake up at 5am and go to bed at 1am. Sometimes I only sleep three hours. I also have 34 people working with me at the bakery for many years,” he said.

Finding people to work these hours is not easy, Carlos admits.

“That is our biggest problem. We pay well, but not everyone can take it. We all have to give up going to the beach and summer parties. It is not easy.”

Original story written by Maria Simiris for Jornal Barlavento.

Photo: ‘Bolinha’ boss, Carlos Cipriano