Sweet smell of the south

. February 27, 2013.
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Quick: Name a Brazilian specialty food. No meat allowed.
“Brigadeiros,” pipes up Dexter resident Andreia Antunes.

Okay, that wasn’t really fair, given that Antunes hails from Porto Alegre, a lesser-known but big city in the south of Brazil. But what the heck is a brigadeiro, and why should we eat one?

Andreia, with the help of her husband and translation assistant José, explains. “There was a guy running for political office, a brigadeiro, which is like a commanding officer in the army. He made these treats for people as part of his campaign. He didn’t win, but people still eat the dessert.”

All tales of political bribery should end with such ethical and tasty results. The brigadeiros that Andreia makes are silky smooth wonders, rich puddings featuring condensed milk as a key ingredient, beautifully presented in individual cups and garnished with fresh fruit and tiny candies. Similar to truffles, the sweets are equally delicious , offered in several types of chocolate (milk, white, or dark).

While she enjoys all cooking, desserts are Andreia’s favorite thing to make, and have been since college. “I could make desserts even in a tiny dorm room kitchen. I started making them just because I like them, but then I realized I could sell them to help finance my school costs.” When she moved to the U.S. — first to Tampa, then to Dexter — she continued to cook. “The brigadeiros are a traditional dessert for children in Brazil. They’re served at birthday parties, so I was surprised that they were such a huge hit with adults,” she says. “Though in the last several years, they have gotten very trendy. In Brazil, you can get whole books on brigadeiros!”

Friends helped to spread the word about the heavenly treats, as well as Andreia’s other specialities, which include a sandwich cookie that attaches two thin biscuits with a dulce de leche-like filling and finishes with a sprinkling of coconut; with no special name, Andreia simply refers to them as “Brazilian cookies.” (Search that term on Facebook to see pictures of some of her creations.) “Sometimes a friend will ask me to help her with a baby shower or a birthday party. I’ve made as many as 300 [brigadeiros].”

Currently she has no plans to open a formal business. With two sons — Joao, six, and Gustavo, two — Andreia’s days are full. “I cook once the kids are asleep,” she says. “I don’t want to do this all day.” Nonetheless, she stays on top of dessert trends via websites, new cookbooks, and a few cooking shows (Cake Boss and its star Carlo’s Bakery is a favorite, along with  Cupcake Wars).

Andreia and José enjoy America, but they do miss one thing from Brazil: “Coffee! You just cannot get the amazing coffee you can get in Brazil in the US.” She does give the mochas at Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee Co. on Jackson Blvd. a big thumbs up. Her very surprising insider tip, should you visit Brazil: “McDonald’s has great coffee. It’s expensive, too, not at all like here. But I’m serious, it’s terrific.”

Overall, Andreia approaches American food with a sense of fun and appreciation. “We have one kind of burger, the X burger it’s called, in Brazil. It’s amazing, and I can’t get it here,” she says. “But burgers are still probably my favorite American food. And cheesecake!” Will she be trying her hand at that dessert? “No need,” she says. “I’m happy bringing my desserts. You can bring the cheesecake!”

For more info, visit www.brigadeiroesweetbites.com.