Saturday, May 8, 2010

SWEETS - Brigadeiro

If feijoada is Brazil's national dish, and the caipirinha is its national cocktail, then there is no question that the Brigadeiro is the country's national sweet. It's impossible to find a buffet table at a birthday party, an anniversary celebration, a wedding reception or any other festive occasion that doesn't include a large number of Brigadeiros. At least at the beginning of the party - at the end, they are usually long since gone from the table.

Besides the sweet itself, Brigadeiro ice cream, candy bars, cookies and other sweet treats are universal in Brazil. If you ask a Brazilian kid what his or her favorite food is "Brigadeiro" is likely to be the answer.

A Brigadeiro is basically a soft sweet, or candy, made from sweetened condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder, with chocolate sprinkles as a topping. They are usually formed into small one-bite balls, but other shapes are possible. They are rich, somewhat like a chocolate truffle in mouth-feel, and incredibly sweet, which makes them perfect for the Brazilian sweet tooth.

The word "Brigadeiro" itself merely means "brigadier", as in the military rank. I've long been curious as to why these chocolate treats are named after a military title, and in researching this posting, I found out. The Brigadeiro was created in the 1940s, and the name is an homage to Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, who ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency of Brazil in 1946 and 1950 (at least his name lives on postumously in the candy!). One version of the story has it that his wife created the treat to serve at campaign fundraisers, another is that some female supporters of Gomes from Rio de Janeiro adapted a local chocolate sweet called "negrinhos" (a diminutive term best translated - and avoided - as "blackies")  to sell to raise funds for his candidacy. In either case, the candies became known as "docinhos do Brigadeiro" (the sweets of the Brigadier) and eventually this name was shortened to "Brigadeiro."

Though Gomes himself is a bit of a footnote in Brazilian political history, he has staked his claim to fame in Brazilian gastronomy. It's probably a good thing he was a Brigadier and not a Private!

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