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On Brazilian Desserts

December 30, 2009

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

-Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish author, ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ (1547-1616)

Celebrating the holidays in the height of the South American summer has been bizarre for me in many ways, both culturally (monkeys with santa hats and palm trees? what?) and culinarily. I don’t want to be negative here, but – overall, I’ve been incredibly underimpressed by the desserts Brazil has to offer. There’s almost no lack of variety – or texture. Every restaurant pretty much serves the same three desserts : pudim (brazil’s version of Flan), a papaya cream topped with cassis, and some type of mousse, usually either chocolate or passionfruit. It’s all…spoonable, and it’s all sickeningly sweet. Maybe I was spoiled growing up with delicious fresh-baked cookies, cakes, and pastries – or maybe all the elaborate desserts the Baking and Pastry majors skillfully crafted at school set my expectations a little too high. I knew I wouldn’t have any of the familiar sights around for Christmas, but I guess I assumed I might have some of the familiar smells of baked goods.

Pudim

Pudim de Leite

Pudim de Leite, Brazil's "flan"

By far, this is the most popular dessert item here. EVERY restaurant has their version of Pudim (pronounced poo-JEEN). Everyone loves it. Personally, I don’t particularly care for the texture – but for education’s sake, here’s the standard recipe, taken from Nestle:

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cans regular milk (fill up the empty condensed milk can twice)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water for the caramel

1) Make the caramel – melt the sugar and water in a nonstick pan over low heat until it bubbles and caramelizes (don’t burn it or stir it). Pour the caramel into a bundt cake mold, coating the bottom and sides evenly. Let it cool.

2) Blend the milks and eggs in a blender until homogenous. Pour into the caramel-coated bundt cake pan.

3) Find a pot or pan that can hold the bundt cake mold and fill it halfway with water. Place the mold in the water bath, cover with foil (or a lid) and bake at 300ºF for 1 1/2 hours (or until a knife inserted into the pudim comes out clean).

4) Chill for at least 6-8 hours until fully solidified, then place a plate under the dish and flip it upside down to release the pudim. It should look something like the picture above.

Brigadeiro

Brigadeiro

Brigadeiro

Brigadeiro are almost never seen on restaurant menus, but every corner bakery displays these little candies – they’re the national candy of Brazil, and one of the only sweets I’ve actually liked here. Brigadeiro (Portuguese for Brigadier; known in some brazilian south states know as negrinho, literally “blackie”) is a simple Brazilian chocolate candy created in the 1940s, and named after the famous anti-Communist Brigadier Eduardo Gomes.

Because of World War II, traditional imports such as nuts and fruits were unavailable – however,   Nestlé had just introduced its brand of chocolate powder and condensed milk in Braazil.  It is believed that the creation and success of the candy was a combination of opportunities: the multinational corporation Nestlé, which introduced chocolate powder and condensed milk; the creators who named it after the famous politician, the need to find a replacement to imported sweets, and its ease of manufacture. Its shape is reminiscent of that of some varieties of chocolate truffles.  It is very popular in Spain, Brazil, Chile, and Portugal. The candy is usually served at parties and is very popular among both children and adults.

It’s made by mixing sweetened condensed milk (1 can), butter (2 tablespoons) and cocoa powder (2 tablespoons, sifted) together. The mixture is then heated in a pan on the stove or in a microwave oven to obtain a smooth, sticky texture. If made on the stove, it’s ready when the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom when the pan is tilted. The candy is then is to rolled into balls (butter your hands to make it easier) which are covered in chocolate sprinkles (that’s the way brigadeiros are served at children’s birthday parties – the adults just pour it into a cup and eat it with a spoon). Brigadeiro can also be used as a topping or filling for cakes, brownies and other pastries. When we did the catering for Peugeot a few weeks ago, we made little brigadeiro cups with Cocoa Krispies cereal on top – it was awesome. 🙂 Some bakeries also vary the recipe slightly by adding fruit purees instead of chocolate powder – it’s a base recipe that has infinite flavor possibilities.

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