A Brazilian Xmas Dessert

The traditional Christmas feast in North America usually culminates in a big slice of pie – usually pumpkin pie, though there are families that swear by mincemeat. And (at least according to Mr. Dickens) in England everyone wants to finish their meal with a serving of steaming hot Christmas pudding with hard sauce.
In Brazil the Christmas meal often centres on roast turkey, just like in North America or Europe. The bird is unlikely to be stuffed though, and it was probably baked not in the house, but down the street where the neighborhood bakery roasts everyone’s turkey at the same time, for a small fee. But when it comes to dessert, Brazil steers its own course. No pie, no pudding. In fact, nothing that Northerners would consider dessert at all.

What Brazilians love to eat for Christmas dessert is something called rabanada. It’s a dish that certainly most Americans or Britains would recognise, though they’d probably be shocked to see it served as a dessert and served outside the breakfast hour. Rabanada is the Portuguese word for French Toast (aka eggy bread) – thick slices of day-old bread, dipped in a mixture of milk and beaten eggs and fried in butter. For Northerners, French Toast is a special treat for weekend breakfast, or at the latest for brunch. Never after 12 noon. But for Brazilians, eating rabanada at the end of the Christmas meal – which means about 2am on Christmas Day, as the Christmas meal normally begins at midnight on Christmas Eve – brings on remembrances of shared Christmases past that pumpkin pie or Christmas pudding do in Pennsylvania or East Anglia. It’s a Proustian moment that’s repeated yearly in homes everywhere in Brazil.

Rabanada is a dish that Brazil has inherited from its colonial mother-country, Portugal. In that country rabanada is also associated with Christmas dinner. Along with the fried bread itself, the sweet syrup that accompanies rabanada is also something that Portugal passed on to its largest former colony. What we call French Toast is usually served with maple syrup, though unfortunately that syrup is likely to be artificial. But maple syrup is unknown in Brazil and the syrup which is drizzled over the hot sweet bread is made from a Port wine reduction. Made from Port, honey and a cinnamon stick, the syrup adds sweetness to the dessert as well as a hint of spice from the cinnamon stick.

It’s unlikely that American or English families are going to switch their Christmas dessert this year to anything other than what’s always been served. However, rabanada does make a wonderful dessert and need not be served only at Christmas time. Try it at the end of a fancy at-home dinner party or even when you’ve got friends over and are trying to whip together a meal from available ingredients in the house. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how well it wraps up a meal. To honour its origins as a Brazilian Christmas dish, serve it with a hearty Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas in Portuguese).

by James Pearce, who runs the fantastic Flavors of Brazil blog – a great place to learn more about the foods of Brazil.

Top photo by Taidoh

Check out our Food & Drink section to learn more about Brazilian food and other Latin American cuisine.

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