Gislaine Murgia came to the U.S. 11 years ago. Her kitchen in Queens, New York is strongly connected to her homeland—and mine— from the cakes and snacks like empadinhas (empanadas) and coxinhas (chicken fritters), to brigadeiros and other confections from Brazil. But the sweet she craves the most is pão de mel, or honey cake. And so she decided to give life to the recipe, here in New York City.
Contrary to what the name indicates, there is nothing bready about pão de mel(pão means bread in Portuguese). Gislaine’s honey cake is based on her mother’s recipe, baked in a sheet pan, soaked in syrup, cut into small squares, and dipped in chocolate.
Gislaine was born and raised in São Paulo and immigrated to the U.S. following the footsteps of her mother, who had done the same 20 years ago. Determined to restart her life after becoming pregnant with a baby daughter, Gislaine left a drug addict and alcoholic husband behind, losing 75 pounds in the process.
In Brazil, Gislaine worked as a sales associate in different home décor stores, but when her family bought a pizzeria, she joined the party and acquired a liking for cooking.
Since Gislaine arrived in New York, she has been taking a step-by-step approach to life, not afraid of knocking on people’s door offering her delicious confections. “Everyone who tries my honey cake (pão de mel), wants to buy more”, she says happily.
Mercifully, this style of classic Brazilian pastries has proven remarkably resistant over the decades, and because tolerance is such a strong Brazilian trait—for good and bad—it also got carried over food. Brazilians became so immune to dried versions of pão de mel, that a good one has become an emblem of a particular culinary skill. If one can make a marvelous pão de mel, then one can truly cook.
Gislaine’s pão de mel, moist and perfumed with cinnamon and cloves, reveals the prefect balance between sugar and spicy, chocolate and honey. It caught me by surprise since I wasn’t expecting to find a version as good as this, in New York City, of all places.
This is just one of the reasons why I love to meet Brazilians who live here. We are immigrants, and we are here not by birth, but by choice. Behind every recipe, there are beautiful story, and the more recipes I discover, the more I realize how strong Brazilian people really are.
Back in Brazil, pão de melis frozen in the past; at best it is home-made classic, at worst, and most often, it is dried cake, overly coated with hydrogenated chocolate. Gislaine’s pão de melrepresents the past at its best. Even thousands of miles away from home, it brought me back to Brazil, and reminded me of my own past and childhood, sweet and unforgettable.
To know more about Gislaine’s work, visit her facebook page
To order Gislaine’s honey cake and other treats, please get in touch with her: [email protected]