Guest post and photos by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão
In any small town here in Minas Gerais, there is plenty of animated discussion around who makes the best goiabada, or guava paste.
Here in São Gonçalo, Dona Geralda wins my vote. Her alchemy turns humble guavas and sugar into red gold -– stirring, stirring, patiently stirring over the fire. My absolute favorite is goiabada cascão, guava paste with toothsome chunks of the slow-cooked candied peel suspended throughout. I always have a nice big hunk in my pantry.
Goiabada is eaten as is or used to fill any number of cookies, tarts, cakes. It is used in thumbprint-type cookies, sandwich cookies, and just about any other cookie you can imagine that might be made with jam. Goiabinha is a guava newton (like a fig newton). Rocambole de goiaba is a jellyroll made with thin sheets of sponge cake. Little tart shells (tarteletes) and turnovers (pasteis) are filled with cubes of guava paste and Serro cheese.
Native to Mexico, Central and northern South America, and parts of northern Africa, guava is cultivated today throughout the tropics, thanks once again to Spanish and Portuguese traders. The fragrant fruits are round or pear-shaped, 2 to 4 inches long; the green outer skin has a pebbly texture that turns yellow as the fruit ripens. The flesh can be yellow or red, but red is preferred, as it gives the finished guava paste its beautiful deep color.
A few generations back, São Gonçalo was famous for its sweets, and a group of local women is trying desperately to rebuild that regional reputation. With several small grants, the group has been able to set up shop in a restored period house and begin producing for sale many of the traditional spoon sweets which are the mainstay of the dessert table in Minas Gerais.
At the Casa dos Doces (the Sweet House) not only guavas, but citrus rinds and other tropical fruits are cut in pieces, or grated or pureed, and strained and simmered with caramel, or brown or white sugars, in gorgeous antique copper pans over wood-burning stoves.
The guava paste is poured into rectangular molds and left to firm up, portioned, wrapped in banana leaves (and plastic wrap). Time will tell if the group will be able to accept the task of making the best guava paste together.
Commercially produced guava paste is easy to find in any Latino market, or in the Goya section of almost any supermarket. And if I hadn’t ever experienced the real artisanal stuff here, I would have been perfectly content with the store-bought, which is often served in slices as a simple dessert with a semi-soft cheese.
Try mini-cocktail sandwiches -– small cornmeal scones or pão de queijo, stuffed with prosciutto or Serrano ham, guava paste, and a sliver of sharp cheddar or Manchego cheese. Or melt it with a bit of guava nectar as a topping for cheesecake. Chiquérrimo!
Guava souffle with custard sauce
Whip guava paste into an exotic, tropical soufflé for a smashing finale to a holiday meal. Make the custard ahead and allow time for it to chill. Serves 6-8; can be doubled.
1/2 pound guava paste
1/2 cup guava nectar
1 Tbsp cachaça or light rum (optional)
4 egg whites, at room temperature
Butter to grease the baking dish
Sugar to dust the baking dish
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small saucepan, melt guava paste with guava nectar (and optional rum) over low heat, stirring to eliminate big lumps. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth –- a few bits add character to the soufflé. Add a little water as necessary to obtain a thick puree. Cool.
Grease a 6 x 10 x 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with butter and dust lightly with sugar. Beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold in the cooled guava puree. Mound the mixture into the dish and bake until puffed and just beginning to color on the tips of the soufflé. Serve hot with cool custard sauce (recipe follows).
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup hot milk
1 tsp vanilla
Have ready a small metal bowl and a strainer. Put the vanilla in the bowl. Beat the yolks and sugar with a wire whisk in a small saucepan until smooth. Add the hot milk, stirring well and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to thicken and coats the spoon, being careful not to boil. Pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl, and stir. Cool and refrigerate.
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