Brazilian brigadeiros find sweet welcome in KC

Urban legend posits brigadeiros (pronounced bree-gah-DAY-rohs) became popular in the 1940s, when the wife of a brigadier in the Brazilian Air Force who was running for office handed out the candies at fundraising events.

It’s hard to know if the story is true, but these days two Brazilian women who call Kansas City home are on a campaign of their own designed to raise awareness of the caramely, trufflelike confection.

“People fall in love before they can even pronounce it. People ask all the time, ‘Is this a truffle?’ ” says Jessica Antunes, owner of Sweet Kiss Brigadeiro.

Both women agree that one bite is all it takes to win customers over. The traditional chocolate-flavored bonbons have a silky-smooth interior similar to dulce de leche. Brigadeiros have a very short list of ingredients: cocoa powder, butter and condensed milk. The mixture is heated, poured onto a plate and allowed to cool to the point that it begins to harden. The slab is rolled by hand into tiny balls (there is no such thing as an automated brigadeiro roller yet) and covered in chocolate sprinkles.

Antunes and Ibarguren have treasured childhood memories of eating the gooey, rich concoction with a spoon straight from the pan.

But brigadeiro-makers across the country are quickly taking the classic for an artisanal spin. The favorite brand of cocoa powder in Brazilian homes, Nesquik, is morphing into Belgian chocolate. New flavors use clever coatings and fillings, including caipirinha (modeled after a popular Brazilian cocktail) and mother-in-law’s eye (a popular Brazilian combo of dried plum and coconut rolled in sugar).

Both Antunes and Ibarguren arrived here to go to college. Antunes played basketball at Penn Valley Community College and currently works at Garmin. She debuted her sweets at the Nelson-Atkins’ Party Arty and continues to run her business with her mother, Regina, while working full time at Garmin.

Ibarguren graduated from the University of Kansas with a masters in business administration. She married an Argentinian classmate and worked as a volunteer at Natasha’s Mulberry and Mott before deciding to attend pastry school in New York. She currently juggles the demands of a business and a toddler.

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