Why you should care

This simple-to-make sweet is a national comfort food in Brazil.

Surely Jamie Oliver did not mean to insult an entire country. But mess with the brigadeiro and you’re messing with Brazil.

On July 16, during an appearance on a Brazilian TV show, the British TV chef made the mistake of insulting the brigadeiro, calling it “all a load of old shit, f**kin’ ’orrible.”

Admittedly, there’s not much to the brigadeiro. It’s simply the result of heating together three basic ingredients: butter, condensed milk and cocoa powder. And then it’s rolled into a ball. That’s really it, nothing fancy.

But what a result it is. This ridiculously simple combination inspires a sense of national pride in Brazil: The brigadeiro is the country’s official dessert. And while the brigadeiro may not be the most sophisticated of sweets in Brazil, it is the most adored, and for most Brazilians it conjures up memories of childhood glee or acts of love.

You need to cook them until the bottom almost burns and you get little crunchy pieces in it.

 

As a result, Oliver found himself skewered for his surprising insult among a swell of local media chatter. “A real chef wouldn’t insult the culture of a country,” said one commenter. “The English judging food — hilarious,” said another. Disparage Brazil’s development, politics or police … all of that’s fine, but insult the brigadeiro? Now you’re asking for trouble.

In some chic environments the brigadeiro’s been fancified, rolled in all variety of toppings, resulting in salted licorice brigadeiros, coconut milk brigadeiros and even potato chip brigadeiros.

In another version of the brigadeiro, called brigadeiro de colher, or “spoon brigadeiro,” cream is added so that the mixture does not quite harden, leaving something between a toffee and a pudding that is eaten with a spoon out of tiny cups. If you thought the original was gluttonous, think again.

It may seem simple, but for Brazilians the brigadeiro is a big deal and a matter of national pride, hence the stern reaction to Oliver. Once, I made brigadeiros as a thank-you present for some police I had worked with. I spent the evening preparing the brigadeiros, rolling them in my buttered hands, then coating them in chocolate sprinkles and coconut, and of course, tasting plenty along the way.

I was so proud when I brought over my creations. But they bombed. I looked around the station at the men in bulletproof vests smacking their mouths and studying the balls with a look of slight disgust.

“You didn’t cook these for long enough,” one finally said.

“Yes, you need to cook them until the bottom almost burns and you get little crunchy pieces in it,” another added.

The squad proceeded to school me on how to make brigadeiros correctly. Finally the colonel came to my defense: “Guys, give her a break — she’s not Brazilian.”

And maybe that’s the secret to brigadeiros. Sure, they are superbasic, and sure, anyone can make them at home. But in the hands of a Brazilian, they become something so comforting that you may forget all about your own national dessert. Chocolate chip cookies who?

As for Jamie Oliver, give him a break. He’s not Brazilian.

Basic Brigadeiro Recipe

  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter (plus more for coating your hands to roll the balls)

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine all three ingredients. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon frequently, until thickened. This should take about 10 minutes, but the true test is when you scrape the bottom of the pan to see if the shiny concoction fills back in or if the scrape mark stays. Once the scrape mark stays, it’s time to kill the heat.

Let the mixture cool until you can handle it, and then shape it into pingpong-size balls. Roll them in your choice of toppings; classic options include chopped nuts, coconut flakes, sprinkles, powdered sugar and pistachios. Serve them at room temperature in tiny cupcake foils, or store in the fridge. Don’t forget to try one yourself, if only in tribute to Jamie Oliver.

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