The Weekend Dish: The love story of Brazil’s Brigadeiro
The Weekend Dish
There once was a firebrand politician. He was adamantly opposed to communism and ran as president for the conservative party. Many progressives despised him, while he was revered on the right. He was seen as either a wannabe dictator or savior of freedom.
You may guess who I am talking about, but you probably are incorrect. This particular politician is long dead and only mentioned in passing in the history books. He was also Brazilian, and his name lives on in loving chocolate.
Eduardo Gomes was known by many in Brazil as “the Brigadeiro.” While his name has faded, “the Brigadeiro” lives on through the famous eponymous Brazilian sweet.
Gomes had an illustrious yet notorious career in the Brazilian military and even helped to establish the Air Force in the 1930s. He had been wounded in battle, and arrested and released by his government twice.
After his military career, he entered politics and ran for the presidency of Brazil in 1946. Not only did he seem to have bravery and passion, but he was also easy on the eyes. He believed himself to be so handsome that his slogan was “[v]ote for the brigadier, who’s good-looking and single.”
Needless to say, women liked him. His election was one of the first-ever that allowed women to vote in Brazil (with some restrictions). He also proposed significant changes to the dictatorship, while ironically being a retired military officer, so he was seen as the “change” candidate.
According to legend, his legions of admiring women were fundamental to his fundraising efforts. They decided to sell homemade chocolates to raise money, but since this was 1946, Brazilian citizens still faced rations after the war. Instead of using fresh milk, they turned to their rationed condensed milk to make the confection. The results were better than expected. The group of women raised money for Gomes’ campaign by selling small chocolates they had prepared with the limited ingredients they have.
They thought the new dessert was so sweet, like their beloved Brigadeiro. He adored them for their efforts, and with a wink and smile, he flirted for their votes. If only politicians and their constituents today had such a sunny relationship.
I never knew that these little chocolate balls were even a thing until my friend, Marcina Lacerda, shared some with me. Back in August, I featured Lacerda and her world-famous pão de queijo in this column. Since then, she has been traveling the world, while introducing new people to Brazil’s culinary past.
“I don’t know why Brigadeiro is not more popular outside of Brazil,” Lacerda said. “It’s so easy to make!”
Lacerda is a magician in the kitchen. Cooking comes as naturally to her as breathing comes to some of us. So when she says something easy, I worry I can’t replicate her magic.
I needed some reassurance that I could indeed make Brigadeiro without her help in the future.
1 can (14 ounces) condensed milk, sweetened
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of salt
chocolate or rainbow sprinkles
- In a small saucepan, combine milk, cocoa powder, salt, and butter—in that order—and stir over medium heat.
- Continuously stir the mixture while heating. It’s done cooking when it is as thick as brownie batter and moves thickly across the pan. It usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow it to come to a boil. If it starts to boil, reduce heat and continue stirring vigorously.
- Remove from heat immediately. Place mixture in aside to cool for a few minutes
- On a large plate, spread your sprinkles evenly.
- Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, grease your hands with butter or non-stick spray, and vigorously roll the Brigadeiro into little balls.
- Gently roll balls into the sprinkles and place them in candy cups or a decorative box. Best if kept refrigerated.
“I don’t even remember the first time I made this,” Lacerda said. “All the kids in Brazil make this on their own birthdays. All the parties since we were babies.”
I guess if a baby can do it, then so can I. And after watching her make these, I can attest that they are actually easy to make and only need five ingredients. My hands will never be the blur of motion that has known years of culinary devotion, but I am lucky to know someone like Lacerda who can show me. She can teach one many things about the culture and foods of Brazil (Marcina Lacerda’s adventures around the world can be followed on Instagram @marcinaroundtheworld).
Traditional Brigadeiro is adorned with chocolate sprinkles where it stands out against the vivid tropical palette of Brazil. Since we are in the middle of winter in Colorado, Lacerda wanted to add the colors of home to her creation. She used rainbow sprinkles instead.
The Brigadeiro can also be made with non-traditional ingredients such as coconut, lime, or even white chocolate. An elegant Brazilian tradition is to put these into decorative boxes and give them as gifts.
When I asked Lucerda about Eduardo Gomes, she said that she never heard of the connection between him and the Brigadeiro dessert. I confirmed this with several other Brazilian friends who thought it was a cute story.
While Gomes was well-known in politics during his day, he never actually was elected to the presidency. He continued to be a large and loud presence in Brazil until his death in the early 1980s. Maybe the old cliche about winners writing history is true in this case.
Even if Gomes isn’t memorialized as a great leader of Brazil, he will live on through the Brigadeiro. He undoubtedly did great things for Brazil, but he will be most remembered because of the women who adored him.
Politics have always been messy and sometimes ruthless. Much like the political figures of today, Gomes was loved by one side and despised by the other. Behind his handsome face, he had ambitious plans and a real connection to the people. There was love in politics.
As divided as all of us are today, we should look to the Brazilians and the Brigadeiro. Derived from politics, it is beloved by those on all sides today. If chocolate can’t bring us together, then nothing can. Who will love us enough to immortalize their affection?
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One of Phil K. Walter’s favorite memories of his FBI career is when his wife pitched in on a case.