Saturday, May 3, 2014

Doce de Banana com Creme e Suspiro

This delicious dessert consisting of layers of ripe, caramelized bananas, vanilla pastry cream and crispy meringue was a family favorite when I was growing up, prepared often both by my grandmother and mother, as we always had dozens of bananas and plenty of fresh milk and eggs regularly coming from my grandfather's farm. And because these ingredients are fairly available all over Brazil, this dessert is popular in many places.

As simple as it may seem, there are a few things that can go wrong with this dessert: bananas have to be really ripe, and cooked enough with the caramelized sugar to prevent oozing liquid while being baked. The pastry cream has to be thick enough to hold shape when cut, but not excessively, or it becomes rubbery. The meringue should be baked in a very low heat oven, otherwise the center remains humid and chewy when the surface is already baked and golden brown.

This versatile desert combines several textures and flavors. It is eye-catching, especially when served in individual clear bowls or dessert glasses,  and yet cheap and simple to make. I hope it also becomes a favorite with your family!

Doce de banana com creme e suspiro
(Caramelized banana with pastry cream and meringue)


Caramelized bananas
1 lb (500 g)  peeled ripe bananas (aprox. 5 units)
1/2 lb (250 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks

Pastry Cream
2 1/8 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 generous pinch salt
32 g cornstarch
3 egg yolks
2 oz (60 g) butter, diced

4 egg whites (150 ml)
1-3 drops lemon juice
300 g sugar

1. For the caramelized bananas, cut bananas into thick rounds. Melt the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan until a light caramel forms. Add banana rounds, orange juice and cinnamon stick and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Discard the cinnamon and spread the compote on a 8 x 8 in (20x20 cm) flameproof dish.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds with the tip of a knife. Combine pod and seeds with the milk in a saucepan and heat until just below boiling. Combine dry ingredients and egg yolks in a bowl to form a paste. Add one third of the scalded milk to the bowl, stirring constantly, until well combined. Pour this mixture back into the pan and cook, over medium heat and stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat, discard the vanilla bean pod and add the butter, stirring well to combine. Pour over the banana compote layer spreading evenly, being careful not to mix the two layers. Let cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 200oF (90oC).

4. For the meringue, whisk egg whites and lemon juice in a stand mixer, on medium speed, until the volume is four times the original volume (about 2 minutes). Add the sugar slowly, increase the speed to high and whisk for about 3 more minutes, until it holds firm peaks. Spread over the pastry cream, or use a pastry bag with the tip of your choice to pipe it artistically.

4. Bake for about 1 hour, until the meringue is set and dry in the center. Serve cold.

Optional: use a blow torch to turn the meringue tips dark brown. 

Chef''s tip: this dessert doesn't hold very well in the fridge (1-2 days), because the meringue absorbs the moisture from the other layers and becomes mushy. Good thing is it never lasts that long!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Brigadeiro - easy to make, delicious and authentic Brazilian

Growing up, I'd never been a big fan of chocolate, maybe because it was an expensive delicacy for a family as big as ours (four kids!), or maybe just because we used to have so many delicious fruit compotes and other home-made desserts to choose from that chocolate could be almost forgotten, at least when we were in the comfort of our home. But over time, and especially after I moved to the U.S., I started to appreciate chocolate more and more, both as an ingredient and per se - the more cocoa content, the more I like it!

Brigadeiros are "the" chocolate confection of Brazil, and lately they were so in fashion that one could find "brigaderias" everywhere in Brazil, selling all kinds of variations of this national favorite. But the authentic brigadeiro has only one simple and authentic recipe, which is inexpensive, ridiculously easy to make and, the best of all, you can find the ingredients for it almost anywhere in the globe. There's one thing, though, you probably won't be able to find, at least in the U. S.: the cute, tiny little paper cups they are traditionally served on.

Brigadeiros became popular in the 1940, and are named after a president candidate at that time, Brigadeiro (Brigadier) Eduardo Gomes. In some parts of Brazil, it is also know as "negrinho" (literally, little black boy). It is a mandatory item in birthday parties, especially kids' parties. Mind you brigadeiros are rich and extremely sweet, that's why they are usually made the size of a truffle - roughly 1 in. in diameter. 

Authentic Brigadeiro

1 can sweetened condensed milk (I always buy La Lechera or Carnation)
3 Tbsp good quality cocoa powder
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup chocolate sprinkles (jimmies), approximately
butter to grease the plate and hands

1. Grease a dinner plate with butter.
2. Combine sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter in a saucepan.
3. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for approximately 10 minutes, or until the spoon leaves a track on the bottom of the pan (see picture).
4. Pour onto buttered plate. Let cool completely.
5. Place the chocolate sprinkles in a bowl. Arrange the paper cups (if using) on a tray or plate.
6. Grease your clean hands lightly with butter and roll the dough into 1 in balls (about 1 tsp).
7. Roll each ball immediately in the chocolate sprinkles (if you wait, sprinkles won't stick to it) and place on prepared paper cups. 

Chef's Tips:

- To make brigadeiros even more delicious, I add 1/8 tsp instant coffee and a pinch of salt to 1/4 tsp vanilla, stir well and add to the pan, together with all the other ingredients.
- If the dough is too soft to roll, place it in the fridge for a few minutes to make your job easier. You may also want to wash your hands every now and them to keep them clean. Don't forget to butter them before rolling the brigadeiros.
- You can improvise with the paper cups, or used the smallest one you can find lined with a square or round of cellophane wrap. They look wonderful when displayed on a tray or table.
- Brigadeiros don’t need refrigeration and can be kept for up to one week in a sealed container. Or maybe more -- mine never survived that much!

Coma com moderação!    ;o)