Friday, August 31, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian-style French Rolls ( Pão Francês Caseiro)

For the benefit of those home bakers who'd like to try a hand at making Brazilian-style French rolls (click here to read about them) or for Brazilians living outside Brazil who are dying of saudade for the aroma, the crunch and the taste of  pão francês, we're publishing below a recipe for a home-made version of that iconic Brazilian bread.

We've not tried this recipe, so we can't vouch for how closely the end product will resemble the bread that hundreds of millions of Brazilians buy everyday from their neighborhood bakery or supermarket. The source of the recipe, however, is from a trusted Brazilian source, Terra Culinaria, a large internet collection of Brazilian recipes. The translation and adaptation is by Flavors of Brazil. If any of our readers makes this recipe, we'd love to hear about the results. Just leave a comment below if you'd like to critique the recipe.
RECIPE - Brazilian-style French Rolls ( Pão Francês Caseiro)
makes 20 rolls

8 cups (1 kg) all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup ice water
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp dry active yeast
1 tsp granulated white sugar
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Place the sifted flour in a large mixing bowl. Proof the yeast in the 1 1/2 cup warm water, then add the vegetable oil. Slowly add the mixture to the flour in the bowl, mixing in each addition before adding more, using a wooden spoon. Then begin to add the ice water, again in small amounts, incorporating each addition before adding more, using your hands. When the dough becomes smooth and elastic, stop adding water.

Turn the dough out onto a floured working surface. Using floured hands, knead for 10 minutes. Alternatively, use a Kitchen-aid or similar home mixer equipped with a dough hook. Stop kneading when the dough is smooth, non-sticky, and springs back when poked with a fingertip. Form the dough into a large ball.

Put the dough in a clean large bowl, cover with a clean towel, and leave in a warm, undraughty place for 30 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured work surface. Divide into 20 equal-size portions. Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it. Roll the flattened ball into an elongated, spiral shape. When finished, put the rolls on one or two non-stick baking sheets, well-separated, then cover with clean towels and let rise until they have doubled in size (normally about one hour).

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425F (220C). As soon as the rolls have doubled in size, using a razor blade or very sharp knife, cut into each roll in the long direction. Put them in the hot oven.

Fill a clean spray bottle with water. As soon as the rolls begin to brown, quickly open the oven door, mist the rolls lightly with water, and close the door. Continue to bake the bread until the rolls are nicely browned and, if tapped, sound hollow.

Remove the rolls from the oven and let them cool on wire racks.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Brazil's Daily Bread - Pão Francês

When Brazilians ask for "o pão nosso de cada dia" (our daily bread) as part of the Lord's Prayer, the vast majority of them are most likely thinking not of a loaf of sliced white bread, nor of a heavy rye bread. Not a wholesome 8-grain bread or a baguette, either. The image they have in their mind's eye is of a roll that fits neatly in the palm of a hand with a crisp brown crust and a light-as-air crumb inside. The bread that is generically known in Brazil as pão francês, or French bread.

For most Brazilians, pão francês IS in fact their daily bread. It is almost universally eaten at breakfast and often as part of a snack or a light supper, though almost never as part of almoço, the main meal of the day, eaten at lunch time. The typical Brazilian home breakfast is fruit or fruit juice, coffee, and one or two pieces of pão francês, either eaten simply slathered with margarine or cream cheese, or made into a sandwich with a slice of cheese or ham. At night, Brazilians eat pão francês as part of a supper that is smaller than standard North American or European dinner, again served with margarine or cream cheese, or made into a cheese or ham sandwich.

This pattern of eating pão francês every day dates from the early 20th Century in Brazil, when the style of bread we call French became known to Brazilian troops in Europe during the First World War, and was brought home with them when they returned from the battlefield. At that time, crusty rolls were more popular in France than long loaves (baguettes) and to this day, rolls are preferred in Brazil. Over the course of time the original French recipe became Brazilianized, and today most bakeries sell pão francês that has a pinch of sugar and a touch of butter or some other fat added to the original recipe for French bread dough.

Brazilians have come to prefer a roll that has a very airy and fluffy inside - pão francês is much less dense than French bread found in France or other countries. What is most important to Brazilians is the crust - it must be nicely browned and extremely crunchy. Brazilians love a roll that breaks into small sharp flakes when cut into. Because bread crusts do not remain crisp in Brazil's hot and often humid climate, Brazilians demand the freshest of bread on their tables. Many families buy bread from a supermarket or a bakery more than once a day - once for the breakfast bread, and again later in the day for afternoon or evening eating. Bakeries, by customer demand, are required to have fresh bread coming out of their ovens multiple times a day, so that when a customer comes in the bread is still warm from the oven. One bakery in Fortaleza that is a favorite of ours advertises that they offer 40 different bakings per day in order to assure the freshest possible bread.

Although Brazilians are united in their love for pão francês, the name that they call it varies tremendously from regions to region. For example, in São Paulo it's pãozinho (little bread), while in Ceará (home of Flavors of Brazil, it's called a carioquinha (little girl from Rio). Elsewhere, such varied names as pão massa grossa (thick dough bread - in Maranhão), cacetinho (little stick - in Rio Grande do Sul and Bahia), pão careca (bald bread - in Pará), média (medium - in the port of Santos), filão (long one - in Sergipe), pão aguado (watered bread - in Paraíba), or pão de sal (salt bread - in numerous regions) are all applied to this simple basic roll. It's a task for a foreigner travelling around Brazil to find out what to order in the bakery from one location to the next. Even Brazilians are confused when they travel domestically and find that the name they use at home is unheard of at their destination.

Next post, as a special treat for homesick expat Brazilians, we'll post a recipe for Brazilian-style pão francês for making in a home oven.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Abricó-do-Pará (Strawberry Guava)

In evolutionary terms some fruits, especially showy or aromatic ones like peaches or perhaps raspberries, are clearly meant to be eaten  (no discussion of creationism on this blog, please!). Their color, their perfume, and their sweet luscious tastes are meant to make them desirable food objects to animals. The evolutionary job of these lucky animals is to serve as a transport vessel for the seeds contained in the fruit, depositing them in their droppings miles away from the mother plant. Thus, the fruit species is able to reproduce and spread over distances which would be otherwise impossible for the stationary plants. Anyone who has ever seen tomato plants sprouting from the ponds at a sewage treatment plant will quickly get the idea.

There are some fruits, however, which don't have the evolutionary glamour of the "star" fruits. They might be modest in color, not particularly aromatic, or with a taste that's not particularly appealing. How have they managed to be evolutionary successes? The mechanics might not be clear, but somehow the species in question has solved the botanical world's particular reproductive problem - how can I reproduce and spread geographically when I'm rooted to the soil?

At least a partial answer must come from the animal world's voracious appetite and its natural curiousity about sampling anything that might possibly be food. There might only be one appetizing feature of a fruit - maybe only its aroma, or its inviting color - but that's enough for birds to swoop down to nibble at it, or a monkey to pluck it off the tree and sample it, or a human being to cook it up. If the fruit has a flavor that is appealing to those who consume it, it will have won the evolutionary game, or at least scored significant points. That animal will return again, eat more of the same fruit, and distribute the seeds as an unknowing propogation instrument.

There is a fruit native to Brazil, called the abricó-do-Pará, that is an excellent example of this principle. It really is the ugly duckling of the fruit kingdom, yet has spread from its original habitat of Brazil's Amazonian rain forest as far as Mexico and the Antilles. In Spanish-speaking lands is it generally known as mamey, and in English-speaking territories as mammee, mamey, mamey apple or Santo Domingo apricot.

In appearance, the fruit offers little to attract. It is largish (4-8"), irregularly shaped, and has a brownish-grey, thick rind. Under that thick rind, there is a dry, white membrane that has an astringent taste. It is only when one reaches the flesh itself, which is yellow or orange and not fibrous, and pleasantly flavored, that there is any gustatory benefit to eating abricó-do-Pará. And unfortunately, there is little flesh to eat, as most of the interior of the fruit is occupied by a large pit, or stone, which encases the seed.

Humans eat the fruit raw, or cut up in fruit salads. More commonly though, in Brazil and in the Caribbean, the flesh is cooked down with sugar to create compotes or fruit stews. One of the most unusual uses of the mamey is in El Salvador in Central America, where a mamey-flavored carbonated soft drink, kolashanpan, is very popular.

We here at Flavors of Brazil have yet to encounter abricó-do-Pará at our local farmers market, but researching this post has raised our curiosity and we'll keep an eye out for it. The literature we've found always describes the taste as pleasant, but gives no clues as to what the taste is like. If we find out, readers of this blog will be the first to know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

RECIPE - Pasta with Chicken and Palm Hearts (Massa ao Molho de Frango e Palmito)

Although there is probably no other ingredient that is more Brazilian than palmito (palm hearts or hearts of palm), for palm trees grow almost everywhere in Brazil and Brazilians have been eating palm hearts since long before the days of European settlement on these shores, it is also an ingredient that is relatively easy to find in most corners of the world.

In Brazil, palmito is often eaten fresh in those areas that have commercial cultivation of palm trees, but in most of the country palmito is eaten conserved in water or brine and preserved in a can. It is the canned palm hearts that can easily be found on supermarket shelves in North America, Europe, or Asia. At one time, in the early stages of the globalization of cuisine, canned palm hearts were considered exotic and strange, and they were relegated to the "gourmet" shelf in markets and supermarkets. They were also very expensive. Today, they're easy to find, usually near the olives, capers and canned artichoke hearts, and though they couldn't be considered cheap, the price is no longer exorbitant.

This Brazilian recipe for a light pasta dish that highlights palmito is an excellent way to serve up a can of palm hearts. Although the flavor of palmito isn't super strong, it often becomes a favorite food of those who come to know it. This dish is a perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with palm hearts, and a welcome treat for those who are already familiar with it.
RECIPE - Pasta with Chicken and Palm Hearts (Massa ao Molho de Frango e Palmito)
Serves 6

500 gr package Italian pasta - your choice
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb (450 gr) boneless chicken breast, poached, cooled and shredded or cubed
3 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp chopped green olives
1 14-oz (300 gr) can hearts of palm, sliced into rounds
2 Tbsp chopped green onion, green part only, for garnish
salt to taste
Prepare the pasta according to package directions or to taste.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a medium frying pan. Add the garlic, chicken, tomatoes, olives and green onion, and cook over medium heat for three minutes, or until the garlic is transparent but not browned and the tomatoes begin to break up. Season with salt to taste, then reserve, keeping warm.

When the past is cooked, drain it thoroughly, then put it in a large decorative serving bowl. Add the chicken/palm heart mixture and toss gently to combine everything. Sprinkle the green onion on top and serve immediately.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The XV Festival of Culture and Gastronomy - Tiradentes, Minas Gerais

The small hilltown of Tiradentes (pronounced cheer-a-DEN-cheese), located in the mountains of Brazil's Minas Gerais state, is known as one of the prettiest and historically most important of Minas Gerais' baroque jewels. Named after Brazil's revolutionary dentist-hero Tiradentes (meaning "tooth-puller" in English) the town offers visitors and tourists lovely examples of Brazilian baroque architecture, a delightful small-town atmosphere and a great collection of inns, small hotels, and restaurants.

For most of the year Tiradentes is a quiet, slow-moving town, even if the number of daily tourists often outnumbers the town's 6000 residents. However, once every year the town explodes in Brazil's best-known gastronomic festival - the Festival Cultura e Gastronomia Tiradentes. This year's festival, the fifteenth edition, is currently on and lasts nine days from August 24th to September 02nd.

The festival offers lectures, exhibitions and festive dinners, and features well-known chefs from Brazil and around the world. This year's star attraction among the chefs is Catalan chef Jordi Roca, whose restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca was recently named the second best restaurant in the world in this year's World Restaurant awards. In addition to Sr. Roca, chefs from Chile, Venezuela, and Peru will join their Brazilian colleagues in presenting demonstrations and special dinners.

The culinary focus of this year's festival will be the food and cooking of six out of Brazil's twenty-six states - Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Amazonas, Ceará, and Rio Grande do North. One interesting innovation this year is a series of festive dinners created by pairs of chefs from diverse regions of Brazil, for example combining a chef from Pernambuco and one from Amazonas to create a five-course meal, or another with chefs from Rio de Janeiro and Ceará.

Because of the limited number of hotels, pousadas and restaurants in Tiradentes, the festival always sells out, and many festival-goers have to resort to staying in other nearby towns, returning each day to Tiradentes.

The festival has an excellent website, with full details of festival programs, menus of the festive dinners, and plenty of photos and videos (in Portuguese only.) Click here to visit the site.

We here at Flavors of Brazil have yet to experience the festival, but hope to attend the XVI edition in 2013. If we do, there will be extensive reporting on our adventures here on the blog.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

RECIPE - Apple Coffee Cake (Cuca de Maçã)

This recipe for a crumble-topped, apple-flavored cake is probably not all that different from the one that readers of Flavors of Brazil have in their cooking repertoire, but it is an authentically Brazilian one - one that highlights the German contribution to the cake known in Brazil as cuca.

Cucas are customer favorites in the many Teutonic-style coffee shops in the mountainous regions of Southern Brazil. Apples are extensively cultivated in these regions, so flavoring the cake with spiced apples makes good culinary sense. It also makes for a delicious cake.
RECIPE - Apple Coffee Cake (Cuca de Maçã)

cake mix:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 whole eggs, separated
1/2 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 ripe cooking apples

crumbled topping:
6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
fresh lemon juice
Prepare the topping:
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, then using a pastry blender or two knives, mix everything together, cutting up the cubes of butter and distributing them through the mixture. Reserve in the refrigerator.

Prepare the cake mix:
Core and peel the apples, then cut them into thin slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning. Reserve.

Beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Reserve.

Combine the egg yolks, sugar and butter, then beat with a hand or electric mixture until you have a homogenous, creamy mixture. Beat in the milk, then the flour in 1/2 cup batches. Mix in the baking powder, then fold in the egg whites, being careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into a 12 inch round cake pan, greased with butter and dusted with flour. Top with the apple slices, coving the entire surface of the batter. Finally, sprinkle the pre-mixed topping mixture over the surface, covering it completely.

Bake in a preheated 350F (180C) oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Brazilianization of a German Cake - Kuchen into Cuca

The Portuguese word cuca (at least the culinary meaning of the word) is a direct derivation from the German word kuchen, meaning cake. The word is much used in the southern states of Brazil, where large numbers of German immigrants settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and where German culture flourishes to this day. Among the most transportable of cultural elements, food traditions and recipes from Germany can be easily found in Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, the three states that constitute Brazil's southern region.

Cuca in Portuguese does not refer to all cakes - there's another word, bolo, to serve that purpose. A cuca is a specific kind of cake - the cake that North Americans call a coffee cake. Often containing fresh or preserved fruits, or alternatively, spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves, cucas are not frosted. Instead they are topped by a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar and butter.

Cucas are most often flavored with apples and bananas, two fruits that grow particularly well in the climate of southern Brazil, though recipes for cuca exist that call for many other types of fruits - particularly fruits of the temperate zone, within which the south of Brazil lies.

Brazilians eat cuca as part of a breakfast buffet, or as a mid-morning or late-afternoon pick-me up with coffee. It's less likely to show up as a dessert, though that's not unheard of. For the millions of Brazilians who don't live in the south, a cuca is an entirely Brazilian conception and few of them would be able to spot its German origins. In areas where temperate zone fruits can't survive, apples or cherries are likely to be replaced by mangoes or cajus, making the treat more Brazilian and less German. But at heart, a cuca is still the same homey cake that is was in its European homeland, back it's still called a kuchen. In Germany a warm kuchen served with coffee at the kitchen table is a symbol of gemütlichkeit, in the USA or Canada a coffee cake served the same way symbolizes coziness, and in Brazil, a slice of cuca means aconchego. Whatever you call it, it still symbolizes the human warmth of the family kitchen and it still tastes just as great.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Weird Food News Brazilian-style: Possum-spit coffee

Pardon us if we sound a bit P. T. Barnumesque, but a recent article in São Paulo's Folha de S. Paulo newspaper brought his "sucker born every minute" quote to mind. We can't speak for our readers, but we have a feeling that very few of our followers would spend R$900 (USD$450) for a kilo of coffee beans that had been chewed, then spit out, by a gray four-eyed possum. Those readers of Flavors of Brazil who would fork out that kind of cash, consider yourself among those to whom Mr. Barnum was referring.

Accord to the article, this rather extraordinary coffee bean, is a marketing idea conceived by Rogério Lemke, owner of a coffee plantation called Camocim, located in Pedra Azul, Brazil. Pedra Azul is located in the state of Espírito Santo, which is situated on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, just north of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The cuica
When interviewed by the newspaper's reporter about his R$900/kg coffee beans, Sr. Lemka explained that he discovered the beans by accident. He had long been puzzled by the fact that every morning the earth around his coffee trees was sprinkled with partially chewed coffee beans. The shell that normally protects the bean on the tree was missing, as was the sticky, sweet substance that surrounds the bean, called "honey." Even though he picked up the fallen beans, there were more of them the following day. One night, he decided to stay up and watch his trees to see what happened. And what happened was this: after dark, a native, nocturnal marsupial that inhabits the area, called cuica in Portuguese (and gray four-eyed possum in English) would settle in the coffee trees and begin to sup on the fruit. The little critters appear to love the shell, adore the honey, yet only tolerate the bean itself, spitting most of it out. The beans that Sr. Lemke found daily on the ground were the cuica's left-overs from their nightly coffee binge. He now says that he has determined how best to treat and to roast these beans, and plans on bringing them to the market beginning this November, at the startling price mentioned above.

There's no indication of how the market will accept these beans, but being followers of Mr. Barnum's philosophy, we won't be surprised if Sr. Lemke's (and the cuicas') coffee turns out to be a big success.

Sr. Lemke noticed that the marsupials didn't eat every fruit, and that they appeared to be quite selective in choosing which fruits to eat. Taste tests of coffee made from the cuicas' reject pile proved that they only ate the very best-quality fruits. Thus the coffee beans that they spit out constituted the best of Sr. Lemke's crop.

Being entrepeneurially inclined, Sr. Lemke decided to harvest the coffee beans that the cuicas rejected separately, a time-intensive and expensive process. He roasted these beans separately and began testing them for flavor, color and aroma. Having come up with what he thinks is the best roast for these beans, he plans on launching these beans on the market in November of this year. There's no real indication how these extraordinary beans (and their extraordinary price) will be accepted in the marketplace, but we have a feeling that Mr. Barnum might be proved right one more time. We'll have to wait and see.

Monday, August 13, 2012

RECIPE - Stewed Beef with Cachaça (Carne na Cachaça)

This Brazilian take on the French classic dish boeuf bourguignon retains traditional French touches like pearl onions but makes a bold leap by substituting Brazilian cachaça for the hearty red wine called for in the original. This switch takes the dish from the vineyards of Burgundy to the sugar-cane plantations of tropical Brazil, and it changes the character of this dish completely but interestingly - adding smoky notes that aren't present in the original dish.

Stewed beef with cachaça is a good example of the way in which Brazilian chefs are opening up their minds to the potentials of cachaça as a recipe ingredient. (Click here to read more about this trend). Reinterpreting classics, creating entirely new dishes, all with the distinctive taste of cachaça - just part of how Brazilian gastronomy has shifted its focus from its former slavish imitation of classic French or Italian cuisine. Now native Brazilian ingredients and techniques are front and center as Brazilian food steps into the world's gastronomic spotlight.

This dish is total comfort food and not difficult to make. It's especially suited to cold or damp evenings, especially when accompanied by mashed potatoes, as suggested in the recipe. Cachaça is increasingly easy to find in North American and European liquor shops, so there should be a problem sourcing all the ingredients. As an added bonus, you'll have plenty of cachaça left over, so you have all you need to make your own caipirinhas!
RECIPE - Stewed Beef with Cachaça (Carne na Cachaça)
Serves 6

2 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 lbs (1 kg) stewing beef (chuck or similar), cut into large cubes
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cachaça
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups pearl onions, peeled
finely chopped parsley to garnish
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan, then brown the meat on all sides, in batches if necessary to prevent crowding. Remove the browned meat from the pan and reserve. Add a bit more oil if needed, then saute the onion and garlic in the same pan just until they begin to brown. 

Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan along with the water, the cachaça and the tomato paste. Mix thoroughly to dissolve the tomato paste, then add salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook at low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

Add the peeled onions and cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, or until the onions can be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife.

Put the stew into a decorative serving bowl, sprinkle over chopped parsley and serve with mashed or boiled potatoes.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cooking with Cachaça - A Few Inventive Recipes

There's more to Brazil's national liquor cachaça than hard-core shots and tropical caipirinhas. At least according to some innovative restaurants in Rio de Janeiro there is. Rather than only offering cachaça as a cocktail or digestive, chefs in Brazil's capital of tourism are taking another look at it - wondering how it might be properly used in the creation of new recipes.

Cachaça-seasoned fresh ham at Bar Bracarense
A recent article in Rio's major newspaper, O Globo, highlighted some of the inventive ways chefs are putting cachaça to use. A restaurant called Bar Bracarense, located in the tony Leblon neighborhood, offers the most spectacular cachaça-infused dish in Rio. Bar Bracarence uses aged cachaça to season a whole fresh ham, adding the smoky flavors that result from barrel-aging cachaça to the huge joint of meat. The ham is only made to order as it weighs 8 kgs (almost 20 lbs) and serves 10-15 diners. But it has proved a hit with regular patrons of the restaurant, which charges R$300 (approx. USD $150) to prepare it.

A Quinta da Boa Vista, another long-established Rio restaurant, takes advantage of the way cachaça combines with tropical fruits in a dish called Camarão Dom Pedro, named in homage to Brazil's first emperor. The dish consists of cachaça-marinated shrimps, sauteed and served in a half pineapple, served with rice accented with raisins. An Italian restaurant in Rio, Spaghetteria, adds a cachaça twist to the Italian classic Spaghetti Arrabiata by topping the pasta with two or three sauteed fresh sardines that have been flamed in cachaça .

It's not just in main courses, though, where cachaça is being put to good use in Rio these days. At Aconchego Carioca, a typical boteco-style bar, diners can choose a cachaça flavored tapioca pudding to end their meal, and at Mangue Seco they flambee bananas in cachaça then serve them hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

As cachaça makes its move from behind the bar to kitchen shelves in restaurants not just in Rio de Janeiro but around Brazil, this list of recipes with cachaça will continue to grow. It's all part of the ongoing evolution of cachaça , just as is the current boom in aged, artisanally produced cachaça , which are rapidly becoming the drink of choice of sophisticated Brazilian connaisseurs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

RECIPE - Cupuaçu "Hot Chocolate" (Leite Queimado com Cupuaçu)

Creative Brazilian chefs, paying attention to the botanical relationship between cacau (the source of chocolate) and cupuaçu, an Amazonian fruit that is a close relative of cacau, are beginning to explore the possibilities of substituting cupuaçu for chocolate in recipes - seeing when and where this substitution might result in an interesting "it's-chocolate-but-it's-not" moment.

In a recent series of articles in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper on the culinary uses of cupuaçu seeds, Brazilian food writer and blogger Neide Rigo posted some reinterpretations of standard chocolate recipes, substituting cupuaçu. Things like a mole-style sauce for chicken, a mousse, and a chip-laden cookie, all of which replace chocolate with cupuaçu.

She also recreates hot chocolate with cupuaçu seeds, and the result is a creamy, sweet drink that's perfect on a damp or chilly day. (Incidentally, contrary to what many people believe, there are damp and chilly days in Brazil - either in the far south, or in high-altitude locations elsewhere in the country.)
RECIPE - Cupuaçu "Hot Chocolate" (Leite Queimado com Cupuaçu)
makes one drink

10 cupuaçu seeds
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp sugar
1 clove
small piece of cinnamon stick
small piece of lime zest - green part only

In a blender combine the cupuaçu seeds and the milk, and process completely. In a saucepan, caramelize the sugar (click here to read about caramelizing sugar). Add the mixture from the blender, the clove, the cinnamon and the lime zest to the caramelized sugar, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring rapidly to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes for the flavors to blend.

Pour the liquid through a sieve into another small saucepan, and heat to just below the boiling point. Serve immediately.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Developing the Cupuaçu's Full Potential

cupuaçu fruit
Although it's as yet virtually unknown outside Brazil, chocolate's close relative, the cupuaçu, has always been loved in Brazil. People there line up in ice cream parlors to get a double scoop of cupuaçu ice cream. And when Brazilians want a rich, creamy drink they often go for a glass of freshly-prepared cupuaçu juice. Mousses, puddings and cream fillings of all sorts are often flavored with the richly aromatic fruit.

What is interesting about the two closely related foods, chocolate and cupuaçu, is that up til now, each of the two fruits has been exploited entirely differently, their biological relationship notwithstanding. Chocolate is derived from the fermented and dried seeds of the cacau fruit, but when it comes to cupuaçu it's the succulent pulp which is eaten. A look inside these two botanical cousins gives an indication why this might be so - there is little pulp and a large number of seeds inside the cacau fruit but inside the cupuaçu the portions are reversed, with plenty of creamy pulp and a smaller number of seeds.

Recently, however, there have been some very interesting developments in the exploitation of cupuaçu. Food scientists, creative chefs and food-security activists in Brazil are taking a second look at the cupuaçu. They're moving beyond the pulp and concentrating on the seeds. The thought is that since the world has long been addicted to chocolate in all its variety, it might be worthwhile seeing what the gastronomic potential is of the seeds of the cupuaçu. Perhaps it could come to stand alongside chocolate as one of the most commercially valuable members of the Theobroma genus. Theobroma does mean "food of the gods" in Greek, and maybe it's time to add cupuaçu to the pantheon as well.

fermented cupuaçu seeds
Fresh from the pod, neither the seeds of cupuaçu nor cacau are edible - it's only after fermentation and drying that the seeds can be used in the kitchen. The chemical changes involved in this process are a gastronomic transformation that is the culinary equivalent of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Horticulturists and nutritionists are now looking at cupuaçu with a new eye. The potential for gastronomic use of the seed far exceeds the market for pulp. Chefs in Brazil are already creating recipes that exploit the best characteristics of the seeds, NGOs are helping farmers in the rain forest develop sustainable cupuaçu agriculture, and media campaigns are already underway to educate the public about cupuaçu seeds.

On Wednesday, we'll feature recipes from the Brazilian press which focus on this unique fruit and it's entirely new use.

Friday, August 3, 2012

RECIPE - Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)

The Brazilian repertory of cake recipes is large and there's no question that Brazilians have a serious ongoing love affair with, as the dictionary defines it, "a sweet, baked, breadlike food, made with or without shortening, and usually containing flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and liquid flavoring. " Brazilians eat cake for breakfast - some people every day; others only on special occasions or when breakfasting at a hotel or resort . They eat cake as a sweet pick-me-up at various times during the day. They also eat it as dessert, though less frequently then.

What distinguishes the majority of Brazilian cakes from those found in North America or Europe is that Brazilian cakes are generally not frosted (with the notable exception of party cakes such as birthday cake). There's something about the texture and sweetness of frosting that really doesn't suit Brazil's hot climate. Even if the frosting doesn't melt, it really doesn't appeal.

Instead of frosting a cake, Brazilian cooks often prefer to make a fruit-based syrup and then, when the cake is fresh out of the oven, pour that syrup over the cake. The syrup soaks into the cake and infuses it with the heady flavor and aroma of fresh fruit, turning what is basically sweet bread into something marvelous. Brazilians employ this technique using a variety of fruits and are especially fond of using acidic fruits, like citrus fruits and passion fruit, as the base for the syrup. The acidity in the syrup balances its sweetness and prevents the syrup from cloying.

This recipe is for orange cake, one of the most popular of the fruit-syrup cakes in Brazil. It's perfect served with tea or coffee mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and makes a great dessert topped with a dollop of whipped cream or a ball of best-quality vanilla ice cream. The recipe is from Brazilian food website Panelinha, translated and adapted by Flavors of Brazil.
RECIPE - Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)

For the cake:
2 medium oranges
1 cup neutral vegetable oil (canola preferred)
2 whole eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 tsp baking powder

For the syrup:
juice of one large orange
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Generously grease a rectangular, tube or Bundt cake pan with unsalted butter, then dust with flour.

With a paring knife, peel the oranges, then cut the segments open and cut out the flesh. Discard the peel and the papery covering of the segments. Put the orange segments in a blender along with the oil and the two eggs and blend until you have a completely homogenous mixture.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, the sugar and the baking powder. Add the liquid from the blender slowly, stirring in with a wooden or plastic spoon, making sure to break up any lumps. When all the liquid is added, continue stirring until the mixture is homogenous.

Pour the batter from the mixing bowl into the prepared cake pan, and carefully place in the middle of the preheated oven. Cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and place it, still in the pan, for about 30 minutes to cool.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the orange juice and sugar in a small pan, heat over high heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar completely. Bring to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and reserve.

When the cake is cooled, turn it out, reversing it, onto a platter with a raised edge. Using a fork, pierce the surface in many places to aid in the absorption of the syrup. Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, letting it soak in as you pour. Don't let the syrup pool on the platter.

Serve the cake immediately, or let stand, covered for up to 24 hours, prior to serving.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

RECIPE - Homemade Linguiça (Linguiça Caseira)

Making sausage at home, any type of sausage, appears at first to be a daunting task. Particularly the whole business of getting that mixture of ground meat, fat and spices into those tubes of (horrors!) cleaned-out intestines. The machines needed to do this work look positively infernal, and the sight of a rapidly filling sausage casing isn't for the weak of stomach.

However, the results can be very good indeed, and well worth all the fuss and bother, much better (and much healthier) than commercially made sausage. And if the idea of filling all those lengths of sausage casing seems to be too much work, the product can be formed into patties, like hamburgers are, which gives you all the taste without much work at all.

Brazilian linguiça is a style of sausage that's quite straightforward, and the recipe below will give you the authentic taste of Brazil's most popular family of links. If you want to form the sausages with using either natural or artificial sausage casings, there are many sources on the internet to help you with that process. Some good ones can be found here and here . The recipe is for the filling only - remember, you can always take the lazy way out and fry or grill patties. They'll still be delicious.
RECIPE - Homemade Linguiça (Linguiça Caseira)
10 portions

5 lbs (2.5 kgs) ground meat - not too lean; beef, pork, lamb, or a mixture of beef and pork
3 Tbsp salt 
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 - 2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1/4 cup
2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
2 Tbsp finely chopped green onion, green part only

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Using your hands, knead and mix the ingredients together until you have a firm and totally homogenous mass. Form the mixture into the shape of a ball, then turn out into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic film and refrigerate the sausage mixture for at least 24 hours for the flavors to blend.

The next day, remove from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to beginning the process of stuffing sausage casings. If forming patties, the mixture can be used straight from the refrigerator.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

RECIPE - Roast Linguiça (Linguiça assada)

This super-easy-to-make dish of linguiça sausages, roasted with tomato halves and rings of red, yellow and green peppers and seasoned with fresh rosemary, makes a wonderful homestyle supper for family or for a casual dinner with friends. All that is needed to accompany this substantial dish is a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread to sop up the juices, a simple green salad to refresh the palate, and a hearty bottle of red wine to refresh the soul.

In Brazil, this recipe is made with linguiça sausages, usually either linguiça calabresa or linguiça toscana. You can make the recipe with any good quality fresh, uncooked sausages - preferrably artisanally made. If you wish to make a less fatty version, before you begin the recipe prick the sausages all over with a fork, then pop into boiling water for about 4-5 minutes. Then drain, rinse and proceed as below.
RECIPE - Roast Linguiça (Linguiça assada) 
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb (600 gr) good quality fresh sausages, linguiça or similar
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb (500 gr) small ripe tomatoes, halved and seeded, but unpeeled
1 small green bell pepper
1 small red bell pepper
1 small yellow bell pepper
2 large onions
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
a few sprigs fresh rosemary
salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375F (200C).

Heat a medium frying pan, add the oil then the sausages. Brown them on all sides, turning them frequently.

While the sausages are browning, seed the peppers and cut them into rings. Cut the onions into thick rings.

Arrange the pepper and onion rings, plus the tomato halves, cut side down in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle the optional balsamic vinegar over, if desired. When the sausages are browned, place them atop the vegetables in the dish. Add the rosemary sprigs. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, then place in the preheated oven.

Cook for about 30 minutes, then remove from oven and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, in the baking dish.