On Saturdays, my wife and I usually end up in a café, reading and enjoying a treat. Last Saturday we found a café that carries an exceptionally good version of bolos de alfarroba, a musical name that doesn’t sound nearly as fine in English: carob balls.
Carob has a reputation in the States for being an unsatisfactory substitute for chocolate, which is reinforced by the fact that it’s nearly always used to create truly awful solid “chocolate” confections. The Portuguese have never seen it that way, fortunately. Alfarroba trees (called alfarrobeiras) are a staple of the Algarvian countryside, growing natively and shrugging off heat and drought. Their pods are used for many things, including livestock feed, and their seeds are so perfectly sized, matching so closely in weight, that they were the original “carat” used for weighing precious stones and metals. (The word is related to the scientific name for the tree: Ceratonia siliqua.)
The Portuguese use carob flour in all sorts of wonderful baked goods, including tortes, cakes and these little balls. The best ones come out tasting a bit like a not-so-sweet brownie: chewy, moist, and delightful. These were among the best. We’re going back for more.
Note: I am not certain where the thumb print on the left ball came from. Hopefully not from our server.
For a photo of alfarroba seed pods, a description of the harvest, and a simple cake recipe, check out “o cozinheiro este algarve.” I hadn’t heard that rumor about Coca-Cola, but given that the original Coke recipe was probably developed by (and stolen from) a Spanish company, that would not surprise me.