As Sweet As It Gets
Brazil’s favorite sweet, brigadeiros, are finding a very welcome reception in the US.
Brigadeiro [pronounced bree-gah-day-row] is the go-to treat at every Brazilian party, the country’s most traditional and beloved sweet. This bite-size truffle, somewhere between fudge and caramel, is made with sweet condensed milk and butter and comes in multiple flavors – from the traditional cocoa, to pistachio and coconut, as well as seasonal flavors such as passion fruit. Each hand-rolled ball is then dipped in special toppings such as sprinkles, shaved coconut or walnut crumbs. Brigadeiros are winning the hearts – and mouths – of people from other nationalities too, as they get more popular and easier to find across the US.
One of the brigadeiro specialists in New York is Paula Barbosa, a carioca who arrived in New York in 2010 and enrolled in a business class. Her thesis project was My Sweet, a small business devoted to making brigadeiros. Paula had always made brigadeiros to please her friends and they started requesting them more and more frequently. And then the thesis became reality. She got her first retail Gourmet Market and very soon, a review at the New York Times. The demand kept growing and so is her business.
To understand the brigadeiro phenomenon, we spoke to Paula, owner of My Sweet, a brigadeiro shop based in Brooklyn.
How do locals enjoy brigadeiros? Did you have to change the recipe?
In my opinion, what defines a brigadeiro is the consistency. It is unique and always a pleasant surprise. At My Sweet, since the beginning, we have decided to use the highest quality ingredients, so I can say, it was slightly adapted not only to the American palate but to a high standard of quality. We use 100% cocoa, organic nuts and a local sweet condensed milk producer.
What were the challenges when opening your own shop, business in New York?
You don’t really know the real challenges until you face them. Learning all the details about licenses and certifications for a food business wasn’t easy. The source of the ingredients is also very difficult.
How do you come up with novelty? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Living in NY is in itself very inspiring. Tons of things happening all over and so fast. I love the mix of cultures and the rich exchange I have from clients, neighbors, friends. I always have my eyes opened to fashion, music, and technology.
Tell us about the partnership you made with Häagen-Dazs?
Häagen-Dazs approached us to develop a new ice cream flavor inspired by our original brigadeiro. The collaboration started with the idea to recreate one of our favorite flavors, the “Happy Couple” (casadinho in Portuguese) that combines dark chocolate with the pure sweet condensed milk taste. We worked together for over a year to recreate and reach the right taste and consistency. The final result is the Tres Leches Brigadeiro part of the limited edition Artisan Collection, available in the US and Canada. It was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to work in an environment where we could try and create with no limit of resources.
Any recommendations you would give to other young entrepreneurs wanting to start something on their own?
I would never say anything different than go for it! It is a crazy adventure, a rollercoaster of emotions and there is a lot to be learned. Patience is very important and every single step of the process is worth it. You have to stay positive, work hard and make it happen.
Where do you live? Where are the hotspots in your neighborhood? And where do you like to take your friends when they visit from Brazil?
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since 2011 and I love it, but the neighborhood has been changing intensely and has become trendy super fast. I usually take friends for a drink at Hotel Delmano or St. Mazie. Best tacos are from La Superior and my favorite pizza place is Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint. I also love to bike around and stop by Brouwerij Lane for a beer.
Do you have a favorite quote or a personal mantra you live by?
I think my quote and mantra could be resumed in one word: optimism. I try to live my life and keep my head up by thinking that everything is gonna be alright :)
Thanks, Paula, we agree!