Flaky pastries filled with caramelized custard have been flying out the door since Saudade opened his Portuguese custard pie shop in Adelaide Central Market two weeks ago.
The authentic Portuguese delicacy pastel de nata is sold in just about every cafe and bakery in Lisbon.
For Adelaide business owner Carla Alemao, the pie delivers a touch of nostalgia for her home country of Portugal, all wrapped in a package of freshly made custard and puff pastry.
While many of Carla’s customers may not have visited Portugal, they are certainly connected to the love that has gone into every pie since her Adelaide Central Market store opened two weeks ago.
It is the second Saudade store for Carla, who first launched the business from her kitchen in 2017, baking small batches for a pop-up stall in Adelaide Central Market. She then opened a storefront in Mitcham in 2018.
Her company’s name, Saudade, “can’t be translated into one English word,” says Carla, “but it’s a feeling of longing or longing for someone or something that you had and then lost.”
With a background in corporate law and working in human resources, Carla moved to Australia in 2006 with her husband Miguel and their three children.
“For me, I missed the food and friends and family that I unfortunately couldn’t see every day, and that was the downside of moving abroad.
“There are good things and bad things when you leave your country and your culture, but I love Australia and that’s the price you pay.”
When their children were in their late teens and early twenties, the couple decided to take the opportunity to start a business.
The plan to focus on a single food item was bold.
“Portuguese cakes are everywhere in Portugal, but of course their cafes and bakeries also sell many other types of cakes and sweets. So to only sell one product, we had to make sure it was exceptional,” says Carla.
“It was a big investment and quite a bit of risk for just one product, but the adoption was great, so we said, ‘Let’s go for it.'”
After quickly building a following at Mitcham, the pair wanted to expand into the CBD, with Carla always keeping an eye on the Adelaide Central Market.
“I have always loved the market. For a long time nothing was available, everything was taken; it’s such a popular place. We were lucky enough to finally find a vacancy, we approached them and they said yes.
“COVID was still a big thing, but I decided we had to take the risk. It’s such a good location and I knew things would slowly go back to normal.”
As we reported in March, the new store is located at the Grote Street entrance to the market – adjacent to the stalwart O’Connell’s Butcher – and simply offers its signature pies and coffee.
Carla makes a gluten-free version of the Portuguese pie, while all pies come with the optional extra of cinnamon – a difference from the traditional Australian custard tarts sprinkled with nutmeg.
Although she no longer works in human resources, Carla has a strong focus on staffing and workplace culture.
“From the pastry to the custard, we make and bake everything on site. It’s a small factory in a way and we bake all day long so they’re always fresh.
“Everyone works very hard, but in a fun way and in a nice atmosphere; that is the most important.”
It was a baptism of fire, with Mother’s Day falling in the second weekend after opening.
“Last Friday and Saturday were incredible, we couldn’t keep up. There were so many customers that we took the cakes out of the oven and put them directly in the boxes; there was no time to put them on the trays.”
Making and baking custard tarts is an art, with the shop equipped with a special oven built in Portugal. The trays are turned halfway through baking – the custard bubbles away and caramelizes on the surface.
Each batch takes about 10 minutes and should be watched closely and removed at the appropriate time.
“I think our pastry makes a huge difference, it’s very crunchy and very flaky and then you have the softness of the custard — it’s that combination that makes it sing,” says Carla.