Brazil has some noteworthy exports. There are those who consider its soccer team one of the finest things to come out of Brazil. Others will argue for the tendency of comely Brazilian women to use something resembling a length of unwaxed dental floss as swimwear.
However, since this is the Last Call column, you can keep Pelé and the bikinis.
The most popular cocktail by far to come out of Brazil is the caipirinha, a simple mix of lime, sugar, and cachaça, rum's less-refined South American cousin. There's another cachaça-based cocktail that's possibly even more delicious than caipirinhas, the batida.
The word "batida" is the Portuguese word for "beat", and it is the Portuguese name for what Americans call a shake. If you order one at a bar in Brazil, you'll get something that will remind you of a fruit daiquiri, but with a little extra attitude from a healthy dose of cachaça.
There are only three basic ingredients to batidas: cachaça, fruit, and a little bit of sugar. Everything gets whizzed in a blender with ice, and poured right into a glass. They're also often served creamy, with luscious sweetened condensed milk added. How you make your batidas depends largely on the fruit you use. Just about any tropical fruit makes great batidas. Naturally, if you can get your hands on some fresh tropical fruit, it's a natural way to go. There are some great fruit purées available in ethnic grocers' freezer cases. Passionfruit is one of my favorites and one of the most popular varieties down in Brazil, to boot.
If you have a hard time finding frozen purées, many groceries carry frozen mango and pineapple chunks that work great. Or, in a pinch, you can use fruit nectar like Kern's, Goya, or Jumex. You can make coconut batidas (also wildly popular in Brazil) by substituting coconut milk for the fruit. I'll bet frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate would make excellent citrus batidas and would be super-easy to make a big batch for a crowd.
Making batidas is much like Brazilian culture itself: relaxed. Since different fruits have different levels of sweetness and tartness, start with my basic recipe and adjust it to your taste.
For example, if you're making passion fruit batidas with tart unsweetened frozen purée, you'll likely want to add sugar to the drink. Fresh tropical fruit like mangos or pineapples won't need much, if at all. And if you're using fruit nectar, you might want to add extra nectar to bolster the fruit flavor. Go with what you feel is right -- there aren't any hard and fast rules here.
Make the drink without any sweetening to start, then add simple syrup to taste after blending. If you're mildly OCD, you can write down how much syrup you used so you can add it straight to the blender next time.
If you're making these at home, there's a good chance you don't stock cachaça in your home bar. The solution is pretty easy: Use vodka. The drink will be missing part of its character, but it's still tasty.
If you're blender-phobic, you can use all liquid ingredients, shake everything, and serve it on the rocks. But what's the fun of that? Let's drag out the blender for a change.
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SHOW ME HOW
Batidas 2 ounces cachaça 2 ounces tropical fruit purée or nectar (or whole fruit pieces, fresh or frozen, if making frozen Batidas) 1 ounce sweetened condensed milk (optional, but recommended) Simple syrup to taste
Frozen Batidas: Blend everything with 1 heaping cup of crushed ice in a blender on high speed. Pour into a large goblet or small Hurricane glass.
Batidas com Gelo (On the Rocks): Shake well with ice cubes. Strain over fresh ice into a tall glass.