Tasty Portuguese treats in Stoughton
29 Wyman St., Stoughton
Open Monday to Friday 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Accepts Visa, MasterCard, and Discover
Stoughton Bakery's name gives no hint of the specialized Portuguese confections it churns out, the utilitarian label not exactly conjuring up images of pastel de nata or Portuguese sweet bread.
But here you can find the little custard cups baked in a thin, flaky pastry, and the sweet bread that is similar to brioche, but not as heavy. And for the holidays the bakery will sell king's cake ($16), a Portuguese ring-shaped fruitcake meant to resemble a crown.
The building next to the commuter rail station has been used as a bakery for 25 years, though owner Ann Azul took over only three years ago. "I was looking for my own business, and I like cooking and baking," she said.
The previous owner sold mostly bread, and he spent a few months training Azul in the craft of bread-making, she said. She then added coffee, soup, sandwiches, and more pastries to the menu.
One of her biggest sellers is the kale soup ($5 large, $3 small), which has linguica sausage. Azul had just run out on the day I visited. Several customers wandered in looking for it, each looking disappointed to be denied.
But the spinach and feta croissant ($4) made my trip worthwhile. The filling is creamy and the feta mild, lacking the sharpness that some people dislike. The croissant is flaky and soft with a light yeasty flavor. Almost as good is the linguica sandwich ($3), a crusty roll with the ground sausage baked inside.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, there are several variations of pastel de nata (all $1). Azul follows a traditional recipe and bakes it briefly at a scorching 580 degrees. The original is rich, semi-firm, and creamy. The milk cup version is its lighter cousin, with more pronounced citrusy notes. For a deeper caramel flavor and a more substantial custard, try pastel de feijao, made with honey and pureed cannellini beans.
The pastel de coco has an eggy, coconut flavor. Where the other custard cups look a little sunken after baking, the pastel de coco is puffed up and the top forms a sweet crust, with flaked coconut inside.
There is an abundance of desserts beyond the Portuguese specialties. The Boston cream bombe ($3), a small, chocolate-covered dome, looks stunning. The cake, pastry cream, and bittersweet chocolate taste light but indulgent.
Pecan tartlets ($1) are like little satisfying bites of pecan pie. The filling is smooth with the consistency of apple butter. Tiny cheesecakes ($1.25) are tasty, though their delicate flavor is almost overwhelmed by the abundant strawberry or blueberry topping.
Azul's Portuguese rice pudding topped with cinnamon ($6 for a pan, or $3 for a small box) is thicker and firmer than most recipes; I prefer a looser and creamier consistency. It was all right, but underwhelming compared with the custard cups or cheesecakes.
The chocolate croissant ($2) is filled with a thin layer of chocolate and more is drizzled decoratively on top, but that thin layer gets lost in the puffy croissant. The pastry is also dense, not light and flaky like the spinach one.
Another standout was the raspberry pillow cookie ($1). The cookies are soft, as the name indicates, with a bit of tangy flavor and some raspberry jam concealed within. The outside is like a thin shell, delicately crisp as you bite into it.
Stoughton Bakery also sells sausages like chorizo and linguica ($7 a pound) and some Portuguese pantry staples.
There are also a few cheeses, all made of cow's milk. Azul said in Portugal they would be enjoyed for breakfast on a buttered roll with espresso. The semi-soft ($8 a wedge) was great for breakfast, its nutty and somewhat pungent flavor pairing well with a drizzle of honey on a Portuguese English muffin ($3 for 6).
Azul said the Portuguese English muffin is sweeter than the more common variety, though I found it almost undetectably so. Still, they're well-made and a value considering their large size.
Her Portuguese sweet bread ($6) is a little rich like cake, lightly sweet and perfumed with a light citrus scent.
I expected the corn bread ($3) to resemble that grainy yellow loaf served with Southern fare, but the rounded loaf was beautifully crusty outside and had a soft, white crumb. Its saltiness was unexpected but not excessive, enhancing the sourdough-like flavor.
Azul gets help from her children, Ashley, 20, and Lino, 13, at the bakery. Service is warm and helpful, and Azul cheerfully greets regulars. The small space is decorated for Christmas, and there is seating for 12.
Azul comes from the hardware and retail industry. She said she always enjoyed cooking and baking, but had not done much of either "beyond the traditional mom stuff" before her training.
"Knowing that someone likes what I bake makes me happy," she said.
-- Shirley Goh