Our columnist talks about how this delight became part of Brazilians daily life and reveals her favourite cake

“Do you know how the habit of making and offering cakes started in Brazil? The cake already had a social function in Portuguese life and, upon arriving here, it gained more and more importance. In the first century of colonization it was something for the highest part of the society. Little by little, it stopped being exclusively made for celebrations – such as birthday, engagements, weddings, “birth” visits (to new mothers and babies) – and started to appear as a symbol of solidarity in illnesses, condolences (in this case, the tray was covered in black satin).

Among many varieties, it is worth mentioning the sponge cake, one of the oldest cakes in history. It was the first cake to arrive in the country. It was served with great ceremony: it was a habit only at the wealthiest priests and former magistrates’ homes and it was put on the table in a golden dish. The fluffy dough and the very thin crust gained everyone’s heart. A curiosity: a generous slice of this delicacy was served to those condemned to the gallows. And always accompanied by a glass of wine.

As the time passed by, ‘foreign’ cakes began to arrive here, especially European and American recipes. In Europe, chocolate was the favourite one; and in the United States, the caramel flavour was the preferred recipe. All preparations had a Portuguese touch to the ingredients, such as wheat flour, eggs and spices.

Also with the time passing, Brazillian ingredients gained space and we got the recipes of fubá cake, coconut cake and manioc cake. Manioc was used in natura, grated or in its by-products,such as puba (also called carimã), a paste extracted from fermented manioc. After that there were recipes using condensed milk, double cream, marshmallow, fruit juices and even guaraná.

But, for me, the cake that best reflects our culture, the most delicious and the most Brazilian of the cakes, is Souza Leão cake. An icon of Pernambuco cuisine, it is made with puba dough, egg yolks, coconut milk, butter and sugar. Sociologist Gilberto Freyre, one of the pioneers to study the history of food in the country, credits the family that gives the cake its name, which later spread throughout the State, especially because of the sugar cane mills, where each family developed their ‘perfect’ recipe ”.