11 April 2009

Easter week begins...let's see how much sugar we can eat!

Throughout Brazil, large, window-box like carts filled to the brim with homemade desserts are parked on street corners, ready to satisfy every kind of sweet tooth. The one I like to frequent is run by a gorgeous, young man with a cheek-to-cheek smile named Ueslei (ooh-es-lee), which is the Brazilian spelling of Wesley. He sets up shop every evening (weather permitting) in our colonial town's historical center and sells each sweet for $2.50 reais (less than $1.25 US dollars). Once a customer selects the goodie they want, he cuts it from its original baking pan, scoops it out with a metal spatula (easier said than done with some, like the toasted coconut-turned solid block one with a toffee-consistency), places it on a paper napkin, and if desired, drenches it in condensed milk (a favorite icing throughout Latin America). Let's take a look at what he has to offer!

Starting with the first photo on the left, the little chocolate balls at the bottom are called "Brigadeiro" (bree-ga-dair-oh). According to Wikipedia, the candy was created in the 1940's after "Eduardo Gomes, a Brazilian Air Force brigadier who first gained notoriety for playing a part in quashing a communist coup attempt in Rio de Janeiro. Later he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1946 and 1950. This was a time of shortage of traditional imports such as nuts and fruits because of the war. But, at the same time, Nestlé was introducing its chocolate powder and condensed milk (known popularly as Leite Moça) in the country." Add a lot of butter and coat in some chocolate sprinkles and you have a truffle-like winner.

Next is an orange-shaded maracujá (passion fruit) tart, complete with the fruit's black seeds on top as decoration. In the next photo is a lime version of the tart. It is amazing how light and fluffy this one is despite being primarily made of heavy cream!

On to a local favorite, pé-de-moleque (pay-dgee-mo-lekee) or "street-boy's foot". Again from Wikipedia, here is the origin of the name. "Certain streets in Brazil were made by laying down various odd rocks in a loose layer of sand/dirt, and having street-boys stomp on them to flatten the surface. Streets made by this method came to be called 'pé-de-moleque.' The appearance of the peanuts stuck together by molasses was found to be similar to that of these types of streets, and so, the sweet took the same name." Here in Paraty, our streets are famous for their imported Portuguese stones that make up the quaint, better-keep-your-eyes-on-the-ground-or-you'll-trip-and-fall-on-your-face cobblestones of the streets in the old part of town. Apparently this same dessert is found in parts of India by the name "chikki." Ok, so that is a great name too, but not as funny as the Brazilian one!

Then we see pudim de aipim e coco, or yucca/cassava and coconut pudding. This hearty, moist, baked dessert combines two favorites of mine: the South American (though it is found throughout tropical cultures) root vegetable and coconut!

Above left, are two more sugary coconut dishes. First is cuzcuz (pronounced like the northern African grain, couscous, and possibly takes its name from the influence of immigrants in Brazil from that region). Though normally found sweet, cuzcuz is made from manioc root and can be made into savory recipes with chicken and vegetables also. This one here is gummy and spongy and not as loaded with sugar, so is a popular candidate for condensed milk as a topping. Next to the cuzcuz is what is named "quebra-queixo", or "jawbreaker!" This is the one that I described earlier that is impossible to cut. I understand the name since trying to bite and chew through the toasted, shredded coconut glued together with caramelized sugar, definitely takes dedication, and good teeth!

The second photo is another type of pudding baked in the oven called "Italian cassarole," made from cheese and coconut...are you kidding...delicious!

My choice on this day is tapioca pudding covered with a caramel sauce. Tapioca in Brazil is not like the spoonable kind in a bowl found in the US. In fact, in the northeast of the country tapioca is common as a both a meal, and a dessert. There the manioc flour from which it comes is formed into a batter that is pan-fried like a crepe, and filled with ingredients ranging from shrimp or beef with cheese, to chocolate, coconut, guava paste and/or banana blanketed with, you guessed it, cheese! Here in the Southeast, tapioca is usually found in a thicker, square form like you see below. Check out the bite mark in the right-hand photo. That is how dense it is, despite still being able to soak-up all that caramel "broth" as it is described in Portuguese. It also retains the texture of "spider eggs" as we used to call them as kids.

Ok, I am officially worn out after my sugar rush and need a nap! I'll be back later with more sweet treats, only this time with more chocolate, Brazilian Easter egg-style! Tchau! (tch-ow) (Ciao) (Bye)


  1. I hope you can cook some of this for me

  2. Well, I have cookbooks so we'll see what can be done about your request!


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