When you think of Brazil, your first thoughts are probably the sunny beaches in Rio de Janeiro or eco-tourism in Bahia. Yet Brazil is much more than the beach culture. It is the Amazon rainforest, happening cities like São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília. It’s a great source for arts and culture, with museums and art galleries opening all the time. It’s home to a range of music styles, ethnicities, history, and of course, delicious food and desserts.
What kinds of desserts are there in Brazil? With such a variety of facets contributing to Brazilian culture, taste-testing is certainly a diverse experience. Here are a few from the ever-long list of dessert options here in São Paulo, where I live.
Did you know that Brazil has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan? This means finding Japanese cuisine is almost as easy as finding rice and beans. If you’re in São Paulo’s Liberdade district on a Sunday, you can’t miss the outdoor food market. This neighborhood is home to many of the city’s Japanese and Chinese migrants who are serving up some great eats.
Japanese Brazilians make a sweet snack called doce de feijão azuki, which translates as “treat with azuki beans.” In Japan, the beans are called anko and the dessert is called dorayaki. Simply put, this treat is a delicious pancake stuffed with a sweet bean paste. It is made quick and easy by boiling the azuki beans, mashing them into a paste, and sweetening with sugar or honey. It’s served warm.
Brigadeiro is a popular homemade candy in Brazil. I had my first brigadeiro experience at a party with friends in São Paulo. Everyone watched, eagerly waiting for my reply, as I tossed the bite-sized treat in my mouth. Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but of course I loved it!
The tasty dessert is made with condensed milk and cocoa powder that’s boiled and then dipped in sugar. It is usually embellished with sprinkles, but can also have nuts or coconut flakes. According to allrecipes.com, people also use the brigadeiro recipe for cake fillings or frostings.
Let’s go back to that party I just mentioned. Next to the brigadeiro were individually wrapped slices of cake, and if there is one word I know perfectly in Portuguese, it is bolo. This coconut cake was divine and is another popular Brazilian dessert. Similar to the Spanish tres leches cake, the texture of this tasty slice of coconut heaven is smooth, but not as soggy. It is served chilled and topped off with a rich syrup made from a little water, sugar, condensed milk, coconut milk, and coconut slices. Some variations add a little chocolate.
If you like apple streusel, then cuca de banana is the treat for you! Inspired by the popular German crumb cake, this treat can be found in cafés and served alongside your favorite cup of tea or with an espresso. This simple twist on a classic is extra-special in Brazil because of the bananas. Here, bananas are on another level! The smaller the banana, the sweeter, and you can never have enough.
I enjoyed cuca de banana for the first time at Ekoa Café in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. The cake was not as flaky as I normally like, but it still had the perfect blend of banana and cinnamon. It also had a few oats on top.
In the café, the barista was very patient with my broken Portuguese. The Wi-
Fi password was sorria hoje, which in English asks, “have you smiled today?” Amid the cuca de banana, the pleasant barista, and the clever password, I left with a grin so wide my dimples could have poked holes in my cheeks.
I mentioned pastel in 8 Ways to Snack in Brazil, but I focused on only the meat and cheese fillings. However, I recently discovered that pastel is also served for dessert! During Carnaval my husband and I wanted a late-night snack and stopped at a pastelaria for something sweet. Continuing my obsession with the sweet bananas, I went for the pastel filled with bananas and cinnamon. Nutella is another added filling.
The outer layer of the fried dough was also covered in cinnamon sugar. This treat was so good I walked in the rain the next day just to try it again. As it turned out they were closed that day, but I went again the following day for another fix. I had to be sure my drunken munchies were not fooling me. Just as I hoped, they were still yummy.
Stephen Grant is a web communications professional, freelance writer and expat currently in São Paulo, Brazil. Stephen has a column for The Huffington Post Blog that covers mostly music, arts and travel. He has written for websites such as EQ Music, Too Good for Radio, The Arts Paper and #ARTNHV. Follow articles by Stephen online at stephenjgrant.com.