Nearly all Brazilian wedding receptions feature a table covered with hundreds, sometimes thousands of sweets, flowers and lights. The colorful and fragrant “mesa de doces’’ is the first thing that jumps out at guests when they arrive at a reception. For many, these temples of perdition are the reason why they go to weddings at all.  I can say that it’s the first thing I check out at a wedding reception, even before I look for the bar!

I’m not just talking about the traditional desert table where guests find the wedding cake and some after dinner treats like truffles and macarons. Ohhh no. The Brazilian sweets table is something way bigger, flashier and more decadent than even the biggest dessert bar at your regular wedding reception.  Imagine some of the sweets in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, add a bit of classic French patisserie delights, pour in lots and lots of universally-loved chocolate in every imaginable shape and form, sprinkle some Brazilian mélanges of tropical fruits and condensed milk, scrumptious fondant-covered fruits and nuts, decorate it beautifully with expensive-looking flowers and voilà, you have a Brazilian wedding sweets table.

The look is everything, of course, so these little hand-crafted pieces of heaven are not just floating around a big table on your everyday party platters. The sweets are wrapped in what we call “forminhas’’ – a super-deluxe variation of the average cupcake liner.  Matching a particular type of sweet to the best possible forminha is an art in itself. I have to admit I’ve spent hours online and at markets in downtown Rio pondering whether a cerise pink wrapping goes well with tiny dark chocolate champagne cups or if the off-white and pistachio green  taffeta wrapping would be a better choice… Wait! THAT is the PERFECT combination for the Belgian chocolate brigadeiro!

What better place than a table covered with sweets wrapped in beautiful fabrics and luxury paper to show off my decorating skills??? I’m having so much fun with this, I NEVER EVER thought I’d spend so much time thinking about colors and textures… And flavors, of course!

The table itself is often made of glass, which is quite popular as it allows all the colors of the wrappings and trays to stand out. But there are more rustic pieces made of wood, modern lacquered styles and multi-level display tables.  They are usually rectangular-shaped, to better accommodate the profusion of flowers, vases, trays, lanterns, candelabra, and, of course, the sweets, that are put on display. The pieces and elements chosen set the tone of the party, reveal the theme if there is one, and mirror the character of the couple, their tastes (ok, my wonderful groom Mike let me and my mom make all the decisions about the table, which is usually how it happens, in Brazil or anywhere in the world where sweets are concerned, I guess. Thanks baby!!)

The sweets, or docinhos, are strategically positioned and lighted according to the reception’s theme and the bride’s taste – or lack of. J They are placed in glittery and personalized cloth wrappings, arranged on silver, and/or porcelain, and/or glass trays, surrounded by a garden of fresh flowers and lush foliage and displayed right at the entrance of the wedding’s reception venue. There’s an air of Marie Antoinette’s Versailles about these displays… Yes! The only thing I can think of that vaguely compares to the Brazilian wedding sweets table is that scene from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette with all the cakes and sweets. And all those satin-covered shoes, gorgeous fabrics, champagne coupe tower, cute little dogs, enormous diamond necklaces… I LOVE that scene!

The sweets table is the pièce de résistance of any Brazilian wedding reception. It’s even more important than the cake and the open bar!! Okay, perhaps not more important than the drinks, but you know what I mean. Brazilians are absolutely crazy about sweets! I’m convinced that, subconsciously, some brides see the sweets table as an altar where they make offerings to God, thanking him for FINALLY finding them a husband. Please note that I DO NOT include myself in that group!

Some of my “forminhas”. They need to be set up so they will look like flowers….

NOBODY can resist the sweets table at a Brazilian wedding. There are tiny flowers made of coconut, fondant-covered grapes (one of my favorites, even if they are a little 1980s), macadamia nut and fig squares that look more like works of art, tiny dark chocolate cups filled with passion fruit mousse, little brigadeiros in the shapes of bride and groom, creamy champagne-filled truffles… They can be dyed with food coloring, tied with ribbons, covered with gold sprinkles, placed on fancy sticks, painted in animal print, monogramed, caramelized…  Oh, for those who don’t know, the brigadeiro is the Brazilian version of a truffle. Everybody loves them. You will see what I mean if you come to my wedding.

Martha Stewart, are you green with envy yet??? Move over, Martha!! Your shy chocolate-mousse cups and raspberry tartlets are no match for our mesa de doces!

But it’s a long way to producing the perfect sweets table… It starts with a list of suppliers, from the most sophisticated and professional caterers like Louzieh, to tiny family businesses like Dona Luzia. The bride and her mom – often months and months before the wedding – pick a few suppliers and make appointments for tastings. In my case, my mom – a huge chocolate lover, no doubt – went to most of the tastings, thank God! The bride isn’t supposed to eat sweets before the wedding, right? Still, I had a journalistic curiosity about this sweets business so I went to taste some with my mom.

At Louzieh, we received an e-mailed list with about 200 different sweets and picked the ones we wanted to try. When we got to the tasting, something like 30 types of treats were staring right at us in their fancy little wrappings. We wanted to pick some really beautiful sweets from this more expensive supplier and buy the bulk of our sweets from a lesser-known and cheaper – but just as good – caterer. Dried apricots filled with walnut cream or pistachio cream?? Peppered strawberries and chocolate ganache or red-fruit and chocolate petit verre? Passion fruit and chocolate or Sicilian lemon and chocolate? And how can you say no to Romeo and Juliet, the classic Brazilian dessert made with guava sweet and soft cheese?? And all the chocolaty options… SOOOO difficult to pick just a few varieties!! Really, in the end we were WAY OVER our budgeted number of sweets per guest… You know when you are done with a story and you absolutely love every single paragraph, you even think you may have a shot at the Pulitzer, but it’s 200 words over the length you were assigned so you must cut??? That’s how I felt when I had to cut off some of my selections…

I must take a moment to thank my mom for the arduous job of tasting and picking the sweets… Mom, all those extra calories were totally worth it!! Life is too short!!

At the party, once everything is ready and the sweets table is looking like a painting from Monet’s Giverny period (or a Carnival float, depending on the bride’s taste), the million-dollar question is: should the bride allow guests to sink their teeth in the delicious spread right from the start of the reception? Or should guests be made to wait until after the dinner is served and the cake has been cut? I’ve seen parties where guests were free to take sweets from the start and they simply RAVAGED the display, like hungry wolves. And I’ve seen really un-chic situations where the wedding planner put a security guard to ward off drooling guests from the gleaming sweets.

What would Martha do????

Stay tuned for the next post: finding the perfect bem-casado!