Brazilian Kopenhagen Chocolate
A Distinctly Brazilian Confeitaria
|Address:||Author: Judith M Wilson
Tiburon/Belvedere, CA 94920
HOT ON THE TRAIL OF A TROPICAL TREAT
By Judith M. Wilson
It was hot, just two days before the first day of summer in the southern hemisphere, and although it was mid-December and well into the countdown to Christmas, chocolate was the last thing on our minds. The tropical temperatures would have made it a gooey mess in our bags, and água-de-coco – coconut water — was far more refreshing in the heat. Besides, Brazil is more famous for bikinis, the slinky rhythm of samba-swaying hips, strong coffee and exotic animals than it is for chocolate, so it really wasn’t a consideration — until the very end of the trip, when we discovered Kopenhagen, a distinctly Brazilian confeitaria despite its European name.
The wait in São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport was a long one. My travelling companion Armelle and I had killed a fair amount of time indulging in one last snack of Brazilian pastel and fresh juice before our departure and admiring each larger-than-life Papai Noel (Santa Claus) mannequin we encountered. Now, we were down to the stores.
We spotted Kopenhagen with its distinctive red storefront and gold lettering and decided that stocking up on some chocolate for the holidays was a good plan. With unfamiliar choices galore in a crowded shop, it was difficult to choose, but I finally settled on some bars of dark chocolate that were sturdy and would be easy to tuck into the tiny space left in my carry-on. Armelle was a little more daring and declared that we needed a treat. And so she picked a large confection, sight unseen but carefully wrapped in paper, and her selection was probably because she’s French, and the presentation appealed to her Gallic sensibilities. I took note of the name, Nhá Benta Maracujá — maracujá is Portuguese for passion fruit and always gets my attention. It was our last purchase before checking in for our flight to the United States.
By the time we were airborne, it was after 10 p.m., and we were hungry, so somewhere over the interior of Brazil we decided to break out the chocolate. “You do it,” said Armelle, instructing me to split it into two. I carefully unwrapped what turned out to be a conical confection and did the honors, then, after handing over half, I shamelessly started to lick my sticky fingers so as not to lose a single bit. Now, while it might place below fine chocolate on my index of taste favorites, passion fruit is right up there near the top, so pairing the two flavors struck me as brilliant, a taste sensation to be sure.
The chocolate shell was silky milk chocolate, not the dark variety that we usually opt for, and inside, on top of a thin wafer, was a fluffy marshmallow filling delicately flavored with passion fruit. Wow! It had the taste buds tingling. This was one marvelous creation. We both gasped in dismay. We’d bought just one solitary chocolate to share. All we wanted to do was turn around and go back to get more. Shorty after arriving home, I headed to the computer to find Kopenhagen’s website. After all, we can order just about anything online, right? The word “disponível” appeared next to Nhá Benta Maracujá. Unavailable. My heart sank. I did eventually find a recipe for something similar on the Internet, but it required passion fruit-flavored gelatin, which seemed to be a mysterious and unattainable item in North America. Experimentation with frozen passion fruit pulp and concentrated juice yielded recipes for a wonderful passion fruit chiffon cake, cookies and delicious ice cream, all of which lend themselves well to pairing with chocolate of any kind, but nothing close to the elusive Nhá Benta Maracujá. It was more than three years before I returned to Brazil, and the memory lingered. The first thing I did after checking into my hotel in Rio de Janeiro was to seek the location of the nearest Kopenhagen. With a wave of her hand toward the side door, the desk clerk said that the closest shop was down the street, just a couple of blocks from the beach in Copacabana. In fact, Kopenhagen, which Latvian immigrants Anna and David Kopenhagen founded in 1928, has been keeping sweet-toothed Brazilians happy with quality chocolate products for three generations and has 283 shops in 60 cities, so it’s fairly easy to find one.
On my first visit to the store, I learned that Nhá Benta, Kopenhagen’s signature chocolate, comes in several flavors, and although my personal favorite is maracujá, friends on this trip swore by coconut. Tradicional (vanilla), moranga (strawberry), chocolate and canela (cinnamon) are other options. This time, with lots of space in my bag, I returned home with a variety of chocolates for everyone and treated myself to one individual chocolate as well — passion fruit, of course — savoring it with gratitude for Mother Nature’s wisdom in giving us fabulous flavors and the skill of chocolate aficionados in using them creatively. Finally, for good measure, I visited the local supermarket, Pão de Açucar, to stock up on passion fruit-flavored gelatin. I’ve decided not to try to replicate Nhá Benta though, suspecting that trying to match something that’s already perfect is doomed to disappointment. Instead, a vision of handmade passion fruit marshmallows dipped in rich, dark chocolate has taken shape in my mind, and I might just try making such a confection now that I have the requisite ingredients in my own kitchen. As for the treasured Nhá Benta, I’ll reserve it for another trip to Brazil.