One of Diamantina's true gems is a woman named Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha. Her story is told on the Brazilian gastronomic-tourism website Sabores de Minas, and although she isn't a professional cook, doesn't have a restaurant or even work in one, the one dish she is known for - a rice-flour cake - has made her famous, and beloved, in Diamantina and beyond.
Her is her story from the site, translated by Flavors of Brazil:
The ringing of church bells announces another religious festival in Diamantina. At the same hour, Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha's oven advises her, "the rice cake is done." In Diamantina during the Festival of the Divine and the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary, in July and October respectively, Dona Zenília has a mission: to make a thousand pieces of rice cake for each celebration. And to accomplish that, her marathon begins early. "I spend from 7 am to 8 pm making these treats", she says. And so, when the bells announce the beginning of the festival, she is ready to distribute her delicious sweets to all the festivals' celebrants. "It's a tradition. I've been doing it for 18 years. My grandparents did the same thing, and passed on the recipe to my mother, who taught me," she explains. The cake is a type of blessing she bestows on those who participate in the religious celebrations. "If there was no rice cake, the festivals just wouldn't be the same," she says. Golden in color due to the presence of squash, the pieces of cake she distributes are fluffy, moist and with a light flavor. This light goodness is real sustenance for the pilgrims, as during the festival they must climb the steep, narrow streets and staircases of the city. It doesn't do to lose one's breath, and Dona Zenília's cake is a guarantee of strength for the thousands who walk in procession during the festivities. Her cake is a blessing for the pilgrim as well as a treat for their palates.__________________________________________________
RECIPE - Diamantina Rice Cake (Bolo de Arroz)
Makes one tube-pan cake
3 cups raw long-grain white rice
3 cups cooked long-grain white rice, cooled
2 cups granulated white sugar
6 whole eggs
one medium acorn squash, or equivalent amount of any other winter squash, cooked and mashed
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/2 lb grated pizza-type mozzarella
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups (1/2 liter) milk
Grease and dust with flour a tube-shaped cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
In a small saucepan, heat the butter in the oil. Only heat until the butter melts, then remove from heat, cool and reserve.
In a food processor, process the raw rice until it is finely ground. Reserve.
In the bowl of a KitchenAid-type mixer, beat together the ground rice, the cooked rice, the eggs, the mashed squash. Alternatively use a hand mixer and a large mixing bowl. When you have a homogenous mixture, slowly add the butter and oil mixture. Then slowly add the milk while continuing to beat the mixture until you reach a cake-batter consistency.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, place in the preheated oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool completely on a cake rack, then unmold and cut into small single-serving pieces.