Monday, March 5, 2012

Pudim - Brazil's Favorite Dessert?

It's impossible to say with any degree of certainty what Brazil's favorite dessert is. There are too many candidates and too many Brazilians with varying tastes to make a rash pronouncement as to the favorite dessert of a nation of almost 200 million persons.

However, it's quite easy to make a short-list of candidates, and few would argue that the dessert (or dessert family) known as pudim doesn't deserve a spot on the list. Pudim (pronounced something like poo-JING in Brazil) is a word that was imported into Portuguese directly from the English word pudding. In English pudding has several meanings depending on region and culture - it can be a catch-all word meaning dessert of any type, it can refer to blood sausage or other sausage types, it can be a steamed cake, or it can be a creamy dessert make from milk, eggs and other ingredients.

In Portuguese, pudim has this last sense, and when Brazilians think of pudim they're generally thinking about the type of dessert called variously around the world custard, flan, crème caramel or crème brûlée among many variations. Brazilian pudim combines milk (often in the form of sweetened condensed milk), eggs and sugar, with many additional flavorings optionally added.

These custard-type desserts came to Brazilian cooking from Europe, specifically from the Portuguese tradition of sweet-making. Often associated with monasteries and convents, Portuguese pastries and desserts frequently are based on the milk/egg/sugar combination. Pudim arrived on Brazilian shores with Portuguese colonists, but was received with enthusiasm by all sectors of Brazilian society, and today pudim has lost its specifically Portuguese connotation.

This simple dessert is infinitely variable, and Brazilians cooks have created numerous "tropical" variations on the original theme. Use of tropical fruits and liquors to spark up the relatively bland flavor of the original recipe is common. Other flavors, such as chocolate and coffee, also enhance Brazilian pudim. In the next few posts, we'll publish a few Brazilian pudim recipes - some very traditional and some modern variations.

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