Historic Recipe, Romantic Sweetness
Brigadeiros are best described as a Brazilian bon-bon, a soft, truffle-like delight made with cocoa and sweetened condensed milk. They are relative newcomers on the confectionary scene, making their debut in World War II, but they are definitely here to stay.
Their exact origins are a bit murky. Some say they are the delicious result of “desperate times, desperate measures” during the war; the inexpensive, shelf-stable ingredients were an accessible alternative to the fresh milk and sugar required of most desserts during lean economic times. Not surprisingly, the easy, affordable recipe was an instant favorite of the sweet-craving nation.
Another slightly more romantic story is that brigadeiros are a tribute to a handsome Brigadier, Eduardo Gomes. With the modest slogan of “vote for the most handsome and single Brigadier,” Gomes was a memorable presidential candidate in the 1945 Brazilian election campaign. Brigadeiros were a novel fundraising tool and, while Gomes would ultimately lose the election, his brigadeiros never dipped in the popularity polls.
In their most humble incarnation, they are eaten with a spoon, directly from the cooking pot, but you’re just as likely to see them at neighborhood farmers’ markets, like I did in London, Ontario, and in gourmet brigadeiros boutiques around the world. Happily, no matter where you are in the world, you can easily find the ingredients to make them yourself.
- 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 can (14oz) sweetened, condensed milk
- more cocoa powder OR shredded coconut for coating
In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stir all of the ingredients together and cook the mixture until it thickens (about 10 minutes -- it will be about the thickness of brownie batter). When the mixture has cooled enough for you to handle it, roll the batter into small balls. This will be STICKY!
Rolling the cooled balls in cocoa is traditional, but I love to roll mine in sweetened coconut; about 1/2 a cup is needed for this recipe, which produces about 12 jumbo brigadeiros or 18 minis.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a bad brigadeiro. Even if your first efforts are a bit amateurish, it’s hard not to fall in love with the lick-the-pot-worthy flavor. With a bit of practice, you can master the perfectly round shape and expertly applied sprinkles, nuts, and candies like you’d see in a real brigadeiros boutique.
I think brigadeiros are the ultimate simple luxury and the ideal compliment to a pot of tea, a snowy afternoon, and a good book. Of course, they’re also the perfect treat to bring along to a dinner party or holiday event. I can’t think of anyone who won’t appreciate the unique combination of their comforting flavor and intriguing history, and they’re just unusual enough to make people sit up to take notice -- and take a second helping!
All photos courtesy of the author.