Meet Brigadeiros: The Rich Brazilian Dessert Inspired By Politics

When you think of iconic Brazilian foods, you're probably imagining cuts of steak, small cheesy rolls, or hearty bean and meat stews. But there are quite a few treats and desserts that are popular and prevalent in Brazil, and one of those is the brigadeiro. This sweet treat originated in Rio de Janeiro, but is now a celebrated and beloved candy across the country and around the world. The brigadeiro isn't just a candy, it also bears an interesting history that's tied to Brazilian politics in unexpected ways. 

The brigadeiro is basically a ball of milky chocolate covered in sprinkles, so what could be better? Their consistency is hard to describe — it's almost like a blend between a chewy caramel and a piece of fudge. There are only a few ingredients needed to make a brigadeiro — all the classic recipe calls for is sweetened condensed milk, butter, cocoa powder, and sprinkles. A traditional brigadeiro is covered in chocolate sprinkles, but there are many other variations where you may see the ball of chocolatey-goodness covered in things like nuts or coconut shavings.

How are brigadeiros made?

There aren't a ton of ingredients or fancy utensils required to make brigadeiros, so they're easy to try out at home. To make brigadeiros, you'd melt your butter, then combine it with condensed milk and cocoa powder over heat. This mixture thickens while you stir for about 15 minutes. After cooling, it's ready to be formed into brigadeiro balls that you can then coat in sprinkles. While the chocolate brigadeiro recipe is the classic, there are many other variations that can be made. Though chocolate sprinkles are the traditional coating, they aren't the only thing brigadeiros can be rolled in — other recipes use rainbow sprinkles, shredded coconut, varieties of nuts, pretzels, crushed cookies, or mini chocolate chips. 

If you're not a huge fan of chocolate, there are also numerous recipe variations for the brigadeiro that highlight other flavors. Coconut brigadeiros, or beijinhos as they're known in Brazil, are another popular version of the confection in which the coconut flakes are incorporated into the body of the brigadeiro as well as being used as a coating. Other traditional non-chocolate variations include cazujinhos which are made using cashews, supresa de uva which is a unique grape flavor, and you'll even a recipe that incorporates strawberry Nesquik. There's also a traditional version called brigadeiro de colher, or "spoon brigadeiro," which is basically the filling of traditional brigadeiro, but in a spoon-able, scoop-able format. 

So how is candy connected to politics?

This small and innocuous treat is connected to Brazilian political history. The brigadeiro rose to popularity in the 1940s at a time when food was being rationed in Brazil; the usual ingredients used in making candies and desserts became expensive or unavailable, and condensed milk was used in desserts with increasing frequency. In 1945, a man named Eduardo Gomes ran for president — he was an Air Force Brigadier who was known as the "brigadeiro." He was famous for his popularity with women, a quality he even incorporated into his campaign slogan, "vote no brigadeiro, que é bonito e solteiro," which translates to "vote for the brigadier, who's single and handsome." Legend has it that women supported Gomes by making and selling confections at his rallies, and the candies came to be called brigadeiros. Ultimately Gomes lost the election, but the desire for brigadeiros never quite died down. 

Their candies' longevity was also a product of wartime practices. Sweetened condensed milk became even more popular during World War II when food-rationing intensified. The war also had a major impact on what could be imported into the country, so people had to make do — and make desserts — with what they had easy access to. Around this time, Nestle also started marketing their cocoa powder and condensed milk products in countries like Brazil, so it really was the setting for the brigadeiro to shoot to success.

Where can I find brigadeiros?

So, where can you get brigadeiros? You can make them at home — they're fairly simple to create and shouldn't require more time or effort than a batch of brownies. But if you aren't inclined to make them from scratch by yourself and spend 15 minutes over a steaming pot of condensed milk, you can purchase them online and in stores. 

One retailer called Tiny B Chocolate specializes in producing the candies. Their box of bestsellers includes flavors like Orange Milk Chocolate and Passion fruit, and can be purchased online. They also offer DIY brigadeiro kits for families or parties. Other online retailers like Obrigaderia sell authentic brigadeiros, as well as brigadeiro-inspired confections like brigadeiro chocolate spread and shortbread brigadeiro cookies. All you really need to do to get brigadeiros delivered right to you is to do a quick Google search, you'll find plenty of online sellers to choose from. Another way to get your hands on these confections is by doing some research on bakeries in your area — there are bound to be local joints offering brigadeiros.