Clowns, bouncy castles, balloon artists and and personalised napkins: childrens’ birthday parties here can be elaborate affairs. But the one thing no party would be complete without is the simplest: the brigadeiro, a dark, dense mouthful of caramel-chocolate sweetness. The sticky, round balls are every child’s dream, and potentially every parent’s nightmare, as party-crazed children bounce off the walls on a collective sugar high.
Bakeries and sweet shops supply them in their thousands every day for parties across the city, though brigadeiro addicts will tell you there’s nothing quite like making them at home – just so you can scrape the crunchy bits of caramelised chocolate off the bottom of the pan.
Given their celebrated status, it’s surprising, then, to learn that brigadeiros are a relatively recent creation. The story goes that Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, a Brazilian Air Force brigadier, was running for president in 1946 and 1950, and to raise funds for his campaign his female supporters made the sweets and sold them. In spite of these efforts and Gomes’s inspired campaign slogan, ‘vote for the brigadier because he’s handsome and single’, Gomes never got to be president. But his name sake brigadeiros are still winning Brazilian votes today.
The last three or four years, however, have seen the rise of the gourmet brigadeiro in São Paulo. Taking this national obsession to new levels, confectioners such as Brigadeiro Doceria & Café started to raise the quality of brigadeiros, making them with premium chocolate. Soon after, brigadeiro ‘boutiques’ such as Maria Brigadeiro and Brigaderia started to roll out brigadeiros made with all manner of unusual and luxurious ingredients, from white chocolate to chilli, wasabi and liqueurs.
The once humble brigadeiro is now being packed in dainty boxes and jars, and given a designer makeover by the likes of Alexandre Herchcovitch, the fashion mastermind behind Maria Brigadeiro’s paper napkins, and Farm, the boutique that crafts Brigaderia’s boxes. Even restaurants are getting in on the craze, serving brigadeiros in every shape and form. We’ve trawled the city to find restaurants, sweet shops, and bakeries serving the best – and bizarrest – of brigadeiros.
The Brazilian cuisine at Jardins restaurant, Capim Santo, wouldn’t be complete without the nation’s favourite sweet. So chef Morena Leite serves a trio of brigadeiros on teaspoons with coffee, or on its own as a dessert. The trio of colours is as visually striking as it is flavoursome, ranging from dark chocolate to pale yellow Brazil nut and green lemongrass. Her newest restaurant, Santinho, in the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Pinheiros, does a lunch buffet at the weekend where for dessert you can help yourself to as many dollops of brigadeiro mixture as you can stomach, served with queijo branco. Alameda Ministro Rocha Azevedo 471, Jardim Paulista (3068 8486, capimsanto.com.br). Read more on Capim Santo
Las Chicas Gourmet-Garage
The only thing ‘garage’ about this new eatery is its size: about ten tables fill a small, brightly-coloured space in which breakfasts and light bites are served. With simpler food than Carlota, which is also headed by chefs Carla Pernambuco and Carolina Brandão, Las Chicas does things in the same feminine-chic style. Just one block above Avenida Rebouças, on Rua Oscar Freire, Las Chicas is perfectly located for combining lunch with a shopping trip to the chic nearby boutiques. Most of the desserts are served in little mugs, including the brigadeiros, which come in dark and white chocolate flavours. Rua Oscar Freire 1607 (3063 0533, laschicas.net.br).
Les Delices de Maya
Even more miniscule than Las Chicas, this twee lunch and coffee spot in Vila Madalena has a couple of tables sandwiched between the fridges and the counter, with a handful more lining an adjoining corridor. The brigadeiros here come on little spoons with coffee, or in big heaped spoonfuls to be devoured on the spot. If you’d rather save the pleasure for later, buy the cute brigadeiro-filled mini mugs or pans, which can be brought back for refills. Rua Mourato Coelho 1044, Vila Madalena (3813 3498).
Praça São Lourenço
A leafy oasis in the midst of Vila Olímpia, this restaurant is a great option for families since it has a recreation area open at weekends plus a special menu for kids, including a trio of brigadeiros. For the grown- ups, a sophisticated variation on the theme is a brigadeiro and hazelnut tart served with apricot syrup. Rua Casa do Ator 608, Vila Olímpia (3053 9300, pracasaolourenco.com.br).
Pile up your plate with simple dishes from the buffet at this Pinheiros restaurant. The options change daily, and include Brazilian classics such as bobó de camarão – a coconutty prawn stew,and, of course, brigadeiros for dessert. Rua Antônio Bicudo 25, Pinheiros (3083 6849, restaurantesinha.com.br).
Benjamim Abrahão – Mundo dos pães
Born in France, Mr Abrahão started his life-long obsession with bread and baking by working at a confeiteria at the tender age of ten. Grandson Felipe Benjamin took over the helm in the kitchen following his grandfather’s death ten years ago. The Jardins branch, one of the newest, is a great place to catch the afternoon sun from the upstairs terrace whilst trying brigadeiros such as the pistachio or ‘crunch’ one, covered with chocolate-coated cereal balls. Rua José Maria Lisboa 1397, Jardins (3061 4004, benjaminabrahao.com.br). Other location Rua Maranhão 220, Higienópolis (3258 1855). Read more on Benjamin Abrahão
Brigadeiro Doceria & Café
Despite its name, cakes share as much of the limelight at this cute café-cum-patisserie as do brigadeiros. Come for a cuppa and a slice of cake, and take home a box of brigadeiros to be devoured at leisure. Rua Padre Carvalho 91, Pinheiros, (3813 6656, brigadeirodoceria.com.br). Read more on Brigadeiro Doceria & Café
Now a relatively large chain selling snacks, cakes, ice cream and sweets in twenty locations across São Paulo, Ofner has grown from its simple beginnings back in 1952 when Hungarian immigrant Anna Ofner opened the first one in Bela Vista. Ofner is a good place to indulge in midnight munchies, as four of their branches (Moema, Itaim, Pinheiros and Jardim Paulista) are open for snack attacks 24 hours a day. Rock up at all hours to try the traditional brigadeiro, or their brigadeiro ice cream. For a list of shops in São Paulo, visit ofner.com.br or call 5693 8600.
Pâtisserie Mara Mello
As you might expect from the swanky location on São Paulo’s ‘design avenue’, this sweet shop may be small, but its contents are most certainly perfectly formed. Team a coffee with a spoonful of brigadeiro mix in a jar. Alameda Gabriel Monteiro da Silva 1308 (3081 5229, maramello.com.br). Read more on Pâtisserie Mara Mello
Following in the footsteps of Maria Brigadeiro, this boutique brigadeiro shop sells, well – just brigadeiros. It may be niche, but there's no lack of unusual flavours to tickle your tastebuds. Shopping Market Place, Avenida Dr. Chucri Zaidan 902, Santo Amaro (5181 3901, brigaderia.com.br). Read more on Brigaderia
Former journalist Juliana Motter swapped pens for pans when she launched the first brigadeiro-only shop in São Paulo and took the simple brigadeiro to new ‘gourmet’ heights. At the Pinheiros shop you can see Juliana’s team in action, rolling up to 3,000 brigadeiros a day. Rua Capote Valente 68, Pinheiros (3085 3687, mariabrigadeiro.com.br). Read more on Maria Brigadeiro
Carol Piovesani – Doces e Salgados
We’re not sure how many vegans there are in São Paulo, or whether they’re feeling left out by the brigadeiro craze. Just in case, it’s Carol Piovesani to the rescue with her vegan brigadeiro, also suitable for lactose intolerant people – note that it can only be ordered by phone or email, with a minimum order of 100 brigadeiros. (3942 5570 or 8988 8833, email@example.com).
These sugar-free brigadeiros are packed with fibre, so you can indulge and aid your digestion at the same time. Bonus! Other guilt-free options include their sugar-free brigadeiros minus the hydrogenated-fat vermicelli, which is replaced by ‘farofa de chocolate’ – a kind of chocolate-biscuit crumble. Brigadeiros can only be ordered by the kilo (R$86). Alameda dos Guatás 220, Saúde (5589 3865, clarisalimentos.com.br).
Day By Diet
At this sugar-free pâtisserie, the brigadeiros are concocted with a special kind of condensed milk, created by nutritionist and owner Flora Lys Spolidore using skimmed milk. The flavours range from traditional chocolate to ‘diet Nutella’, walnut and the South African liqueur Amarula, amongst others. Alameda Tietê 489, Jardim Paulista (3082-4751, daybydiet.com.br).