Milk Caramel Is A Sweet Treat In Brazil
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Brazil is the world's biggest sugar producer, and plenty of it gets consumed within the country - from heaping spoonfuls in cups of strong coffee to an array of pastries, cakes and sweets. One of the most popular ways to get a sugar fix in Brazil is a treat called doce de leite.
Reporter Annie Murphy went to sample this national delicacy.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
ANNIE MURPHY: People come from all over the world to try the food at Xapuri, a simple, open-air restaurant outside the city of Belo Horizonte, filled with wooden tables and potted orchids hanging from the rafters. This region in southeastern Brazil was one of the first places settled by the Portuguese, and the food reflects it: slow-cooked meat dishes, doused with olive oil and studded with garlic, onions and peppers, big wheels of fresh cheese and sweets - a lot of sweets.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
MURPHY: Customers are lining up to fill plates. There are over 40 sweets, each labeled in a glass dish. Some people murmur the names as they ponder - coconut pudding, candied oranges, passion fruit preserves.
Others go straight for classic doce de leite: milk and sugar cooked into a dense, silky sludge. It often has a deep, caramel color and taste, but here it's pale golden,�and the flavor is more like sweet cream. Most people, like six-year-old Nicole Silva, eat it straight up.
Ms. NICOLE SILVA: Doce de leite.
Ms. MARIA SILVA: (Portuguese spoken)
MURPHY: Nicole already has some doce de leite on her face and nonchalantly dips a finger into her plate. Her mother Maria says that it's the only dessert Nicole eats. The food is really good, Maria says, and the variety of sweets is sinful.
Owner and chef Nelsa Trombino started out selling doce de leite to make ends meet, relying on word of mouth. She later opened a small restaurant on rented land. Now it's one of the most acclaimed spots in Brazil, and Trombino's serious about the sweets that started it all.
Ms. NELSA TROMBINO (Chef): (Portuguese spoken)
MURPHY: She says: I believe that a person who makes sweets has to be very sensitive, because if you're off just a little bit, it's all over. It has no charm.
Most recipes call for about six cups of milk to one cup of sugar. But Trombino uses 10 cups of milk to one of sugar to make her doce de leite creamier and less sweet. Then, there's the pot.
Ms. TROMBINO: (Portuguese spoken)
MURPHY: She says: You can only make sweets in a copper pot. Why? Because it gives better flavor, better color, gives more shine. Some people say that copper causes problems, but it doesn't do anything like that, she says. I've done it this way for more than 50 years, and I never heard of anyone with a problem.
With that, Trombino hands me a dish.
Tastes kind of like whipped cream, but very thick. It's sweet, but it's not as sweet as you might expect. It's not cloyingly sweet.
MURPHY: In addition to a sensitive cook, the right proportions of milk and sugar and the right pot, real doce de leite requires a wood fire and a lot of time.
Erika Gracien has a huge smile and a very damp forehead. She was handpicked by Trombino to cook doce de leite.
Ms. ERIKA GRACIEN: (Portuguese spoken)
MURPHY: Gracien says: It's really hot and it takes a long time, three hours cooking over a wood fire. And whoever starts has to finish, too. You end up with really strong arms.
For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
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