There’s no Christmas without pavê
Simple and traditional, this biscuit-based dessert appears at any number of Brazilian Christmas suppers.
"Who hasn’t had that cake on their Christmas table, made from cream, condensed milk, biscuit soaked in champagne, chopped peaches, canned sour cream with sugar and angel hair with cherries on the top?” The rhetorical question is from Lucas Corazza, one of Brazil’s most famous confectionery chefs, and refers to the classic Christmas dessert: pavê.
Easy to prepare, the dessert favourite of grandmothers and aunts, it helps sweeten the Christmas supper table and tugs right at the heartstrings. Roughly speaking, a pavé consists of layers of cream, biscuit and a topping. The cream can be pâtissier, a mousse, or a more stodgy brigadeiro; the biscuits may be dipped in champagne, but can also be the rich tea, corn or buttery variety; the topping has no rules: you see different types of fruit used, fresh, dried or in syrup, plus chestnuts, sweets or whatever takes the imagination!
In Lucas’s case, he swears he can remember a version with walnuts, chocolate butter cream and chopped nuts, but has never dared repeat the recipe - after all, you don’t mess around with your mother’s legacy, do you? With all the respect in the world, however, this pâtissier chef has invented his own interpretation of tradition: "A lady finger (or savoyard biscuit) cake, cream with a vanilla pod and toasted coconut, roast pineapples and banana and passion fruit syrup. Very tropical, because I always find pavê the perfect dessert for Christmas: light and refreshing for our climate".
Ironies of fate aside, this carnivalised combination of sweetness, with its undeniably Brazilian touch, got its name from France: "pavé" (or pavê) means pavement, and refers to how it is put together. "My godmother used to make a pavê from whipped cream in the blender, with rich tea biscuits and chopped peaches in syrup, but I didn’t pay much attention because I had a bread pudding with fruit from my grandmother and presents waiting under the tree," Janaina Rueda reveals. This is the chef who, with her husband Jefferson, is behind four of the city's busiest restaurants - the Casa do Porco, Bar da Dona Onça, Hot Pork and the Sorvetaria.
A fan of the recipe, Ana Luiza Trajano, the chef and researcher behind the Brasil a Gosto Institute, included a chocolate-based one in her book Basic - Encyclopedia of Recipes from Brazil: "A few decades ago, the pavé was fashionable at any celebration. It didn’t have to be Christmas or New Year. The only certainty was the weak pun: 'é pavê ou pra comê?’ [Is it to eat or just to look at?]
Her colleague, chef Luiz Pinheiro, from L'Hotel PortoBay São Paulo, sees the classic as a pièce de résistance of Brazilian cuisine, while recognising that there are memories behind his sophisticated presentation: "In my family, as in most families, it's a party dessert. It works for any celebration, because it’s easy to make and caters for all tastes and purses. It’s simple, but is always an excellent and versatile dessert". In fact, for Christmas its versatility comes to the fore: Luiz’s creation replaces the biscuits with slices of panettone. He soaks them in a slightly chocolatey paste, sprinkled with grated coconut.
Charlô Whately, one of São Paulo's most elegant banquet cooks, does not forget the sophisticated strawberry pavê, with a champagne-soaked biscuit "maison" and a "wonderful” secret filling. Juliana Motter, the founder of Maria Brigadeiro, reflects the Christmas spirit with the sweet memory of her mother in the kitchen, "surrounded by apple-patterned tiles, mixing fresh butter, egg yolks, sugar and sour cream for the most awaited dessert filling of the year: the sweet milk pavé".
Prepared the day before to make it softer, it was little Juliana, her daughter, who had the noble task of arranging each cornbread biscuit on top of the other in the pyrex dish: "It was just as fun as building with Lego, except that if I forgot to make one of the piles properly, the cake would go collapse when you came to cut it!"
Finished off with a generous layer of dulce de leche and walnuts, "The best part of dinner was waiting for the pavê, which rounded off the party with the sweet promise that next year everything would be deliciously the same. But life changes people’s destiny and, 16 years ago, since my mother passed away, I have inherited her recipe book and it’s my job to prepare the Christmas dessert".
Perhaps in some homes the recipe is less sentimental, but the truth is that, compared to chocotone with ice cream, a coconut pudding or a good crème caramel, the pavé goes with any style of dinner. When done well, it surprises; when done with love, it stays in the memory forever.