As any self-respecting Brazilian will tell you, brigadeiros do not originate in Portugal; they were created in Brazil and are one of their most recognised sweets. However, knowing what a sweet tooth the Portuguese have, it is not surprising that this soft, rather gooey and very sweet version of a chocolate truffle has made its way across the Atlantic and is now a very popular sweet in Portugal. In fact, in Portugal the brigadeiros recipe is often used to make a chocolate cake (bolo brigadeiro) and can be found on the dessert menu in many a Portuguese restaurant, which is where I first discovered it.
The unusual name of the brigadeiro (which means ‘brigadier’ in English) is said to come from Brigadier Eduardo Gomes who ran as a presidential candidate in the Brazilian elections of 1945. He was a handsome bachelor and was popular with his female supporters, who organised fundraising events for his campaign at which sweets made of condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter were sold with the name ‘brigadeiros’. Although the brigadeiro recipe is associated with a Rio de Janeiro confectioner, Heloisa Nabuco de Oliveira, it is likely that a version of these sweets existed before 1945, as sweetened condensed milk was widely used in Brazilian sweets and desserts during the war and post-war years when sugar was rationed. However, it was the association with Gomes’ (unsuccessful) presidential campaign that gave brigadeiros their name and place in history.
The basic recipe usually contains condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter and chocolate vermicelli, but I prefer to follow the luxury recipe shared by the Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, which contains dark chocolate (with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids), double cream and caramelised condensed milk. The chocolate balls are rolled in the grated dark chocolate rather than in chocolate vermicelli making them a proper grown-up version of the brigadeiro.