As a kid, Marianna Vieira’s fondest memories were sleepovers at her aunt’s house. Her aunt, who was single at the time, would set the alarm clock for two or three in the morning. She’d wake up Vieira and whichever friend was with her; they’d run into the kitchen to make brigadeiro, a simple Brazilian dessert made from sweetened condensed milk that’s kind of like a mix between a caramel and a truffle. While the sweet treats were cooling, the girls would make prank calls to unsuspecting (usually sleeping) strangers. “We would have a little adventure making brigadeiro,” says Vieira. “She was so famous with my friends.”
A Brazilian-trained pastry chef, Vieira is now making her own brigadeiro memories with her appropriately titled company Brigadeiro Bakery (156 Sullivan Street), which is preparing to open its first storefront next month.
Four years ago, Vieira stared filling orders for the beloved sweet treat out of her Brooklyn kitchen. At the time, she was following in the footsteps of many chefs looking for some cash, by hosting at-home dinner parties for clients. Vieira, however, was looking to acknowledge her homeland. “I wanted to have a signature thing,” she says. “I chose brigadeiros because I love them, and it’s a nice little touch at the end of the meal.”
Traditionally, the candies are created with a blend of sweetened condensed milk and chocolate powder, which are then rolled in sprinkles. Vieira does offer the customary versions, albeit in a more upscale form — she adds Belgian dark chocolate to the mix. Her custom flavors, however, are completely original, with selections ranging from pistachio, honey and almond, and coffee to fruity coconut, passion fruit, and banana. For an American twist, she offers Oreo and cinnamon pecan, which has become a fall favorite.
The little bon bon-like treats quickly became a hit, and order by order, Vieira and her husband Marcello Reali started growing the business. She had to start looking for a commercial space to rent. After checking out several options, Vieira was feeling slightly disheartened; many of the spaces were inconvenient (she would have to lug her supplies in and out after every session) and the cost was prohibitive.
Then she became pregnant — there was no way she could work enough to afford the cost of an outside location.
To set up a photo shoot for her business, she asked a friend Felipe Donnelly, chef/owner of Cómodo, if she could stage one in his kitchen. At the end of the day, he offered up his basement to help her expand. “We do brigadeiros for everyone who dines in the restaurant,” says Vieira. “That’s how we pay rent. Who else in the world would hand over the keys to their business?”
That was in October of 2012; now, Vieira’s production is up significantly. To help her keep up with demand, she brought on Mariana Torres to assist in the kitchen a year and a half ago. Earlier this year, her longtime customer Mariana Memoria (yes, there are three Marianas in this small company) came aboard to help with marketing and plans for the storefront. Alvaro Ormeno signed on to help with cakes and pastries. The team now creates numerous flavors of brigadeiros along with other traditional Brazilian cakes and pastries. “We’re getting bigger orders and more important clients,” says Memoria. “We did 3,200 for Havaianas. We’ve done Macy’s, the Food Network.”
In the beginning, Brazilians made up the majority of the client roster. Now, about half of the customers are American. Although Vieira and Memoria have a hard time explaining the candies to newbies, they love to watch people bite in. “We filmed a video for our Kickstarter,” says Memoria. “And the facial expressions when people tried them were so funny.”
In addition to the brigadeiros, Vieira also makes an array of authentic Brazilian desserts. Honey cake ($3.50 per piece) is a honey and spice-filled cake layered with dulce de leche and dipped in milk chocolate. Bem Casado ($2.80 per piece) is a time-honored wedding treat; layers of vanilla cake are filled with dulce de leche, then covered with a thin sugar crust. It comes wrapped in white fabric with a white ribbon tied around.
Although the focus is on the treats themselves, packaging is important to Vieira and Memoria; they’ve hired a Brazilian designer to create hand-designed prints for the boxes at the upcoming shop. “I love what Mast Brothers is doing,” says Vieira. “Both Mari and I are crazy about prints. We’re already thinking about different collections.”
“This is just the beginning,” adds Memoria.
With an expected opening in the beginning of December, the team plans to expand the product line-up. The seven-seat shop (they hope to get permits for additional outdoor seating during the summer) will also serve coffee from La Colombe and savory pastries. They want to add Brazilian-inspired quiche and pies once they get going, but they definitely plan to offer pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread made from yucca flour and half cured cheese. Naturally gluten-free, it’s somewhat similar to a French gougère.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.