The Culinary Traveler: Pão de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Bread

Sunday April 26, 2015

fabulous photograph of chewy pao de quiejo that looks like a golden cheese popover

I have no idea how I luckily fell upon this recipe roaming on the internet. Most recipes are written as variations of each other, so there is not too much unique material, but every so often something new pops up. This recipe, although it uses a familiar technique like making a popover or crepe batter, is a new one for me. Unless you are born in Brazil, you probably have not heard of it. This is Pão de Queijo, or Brazilian cheese bread, sort of like a chewy cheese puff made with non-glutinous tapioca flour. It is a Minas Gerais State tradition and famous in Brazil as a snack. Visitors to Brazil say the paos have an addictive taste and strive to bake them at home rather than leave them to just a memory.

raw cassava root

Tapioca is beads of cassava starch, the staple starch ground from dried manioc root used for baking breads in southern hemisphere tropical and subtropical areas since wheat flour would become moist and bug ridden quickly in the humidity. Tapioca flour, also known as cassava flour, is more mainstream now in the US due to it being a key non-wheat flour needed for making gluten-free breads for celiacs and the growing numbers of wheat-intolerant people. Native to South America, cassava, also known as yuca, is an annual plant and is the third-largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world. It is usually grown and eaten with companion starchy vegetables, the sweet potato and corn. The raw root is toxic so it must be soaked, dried, and fermented before grinding into flour to be edible. Povilho is the cassava starch/tapicoa powder. There are two types of tapioca flour in Brazil: 1) doce, the sweet or fresh starch, and 2) azedo, the sour starch, which is more acid in smell and flavor, due to the further fermentation during cassava juice processing stage.

I emailed to my Brazilian friend Jean Louis to ask if he knew of this recipe. I got an exuberant reply, saying he had been looking for a recipe like this using the blender for mixing and thrilled I sent it. This is a bread that is much beloved and considered Brazil comfort food.

There are several ways to make Pão de Queijo. One method includes cooked potatoes in a pâte a choux method in which you cook the dough first on the stove top. It ends up like a dense ball since no leaveners are used, only eggs. But the quickest, easiest, short-cut make-it-at-home method is to put the ingredients in a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. Pour the batter out into a muffin tin, and bake individual sized. “My ex used to make the greatest pao de queijo,” says Jean Louis. “Her secret was to use a pack of “sour” povilho azedo, thought to help give a better crust, and one of the regular “sweet” povilho doce, mixed with some Parmesan cheese (recipe follows below in Beth Bytes). She heated the milk and oil (not olive oil, as you want a neutral flavored oil like soy or canola), pouring it over the povilho mixing by hand to kinda pre-cook and obtain the ideal batter mixture. The mixing gets a light fermentation process going. The result was great.”

The blender-style batter is the most practical home recipe with the resulting pão is lighter than the original, but however still good with the chewy center dotted with smaller hollows. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make a big batch of batter and just store it in the refrigerator (for up to a week), pouring out just as many mini-paos as you want to eat. The batter sours slightly while it sits, which is a very appreciated flavor.

The crucial element besides the tapioca flour is the cheese. Queijo Minas is a raw cow milk cheese produced in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and it can be a semi-firm ripened cheese or not. Variations of Minas cheese, including frescal, which is soft and moist, is available in most Brazilian supermarkets. Many cooks substitute Parmesan, but Mexican  queso fresco is said to give the closet flavor and texture to the minas outside Brazil.

Handcrafted Minas cheese has a history. During the exploration of gold and diamond mines (minas) in the eighteenth century, Minas cheese was an important food which kept well during long trips and could be taken down into the mines without spoiling for lunch.

In May 2008, the original firm, ripened Minas cheese was declared a Brazilian Immaterial Cultural Heritage by IPHAN, the Brazilian Institute for National Historic and Artistic Heritage, as the cheesemaking techniques techniques have been passed down several generations and the cheese is a staple of the local diet. The origins of Minas cheese date back to the Serra da Estrela, a mountain range in Portugal with similar characteristics to the mountains of Minas Gerais. Queijo Serra da Estrela comes from one of the colder and highest pastoral regions of Portugal. Its streams are used to generate hydroelectricity. Tungsten and tin are mined there. Made in the mountains of Serra da Estrela (also a national park), in the Beiras region, this traditional, intensely flavored farmhouse cheese is described as the “king of Portuguese cheeses”. The Bordaleira ewes thrive on a diet of wild herbs and brambles, producing thick, luscious, aromatic milk. The small batch, handmade, artisan raw sheep’s milk cheese is coagulated with wild cardoon thistle. The curds are broken by hand instead of cut. Minas cheese is the Brazilian equivalent of this cheese using the same process.

According to IPHAN, a specific legislation with strict regulations for every step of Minas cheese production, starting from additional hygienic conditions of the herd, had to be implemented to allow for the fact that, unlike other dairy products in Brazil, Minas cheese uses non-pasteurized milk. In this handcrafted tradition, the corrals where cows are milked and the cheese making area must be tranquil places with just the essential number of workers or producers say the process won’t turn out right (happy cows make happy milk makes happy cheese).  Serro, Serra da Canastra, and Serra do Salitre are the regions in Minas Gerais where the most authentic handcrafted Minas cheese is produced. See a lovely video on the production of this regional artisan cheese: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESEDGoh9Q48

There are three types–queijo Minas frescal, queijo Minas, and queijo Minas curado: the freshest, called frescal, comes like a ball in water. Then you get the regular queijo Minas, which is halfway between frescal and the cured Minas, which has matured further to create a semi-firm texture. The cured Minas is a thick disc and has a yellowish rind, which you’d cut off before use. The other two are too fresh to have a skin. “All three kinds crumble” says Jean Louis, ”frescal sorta breaks but retain the slice shape. The regular and cured ones retain the slice whole, but crumble easily if forced with your fingers. The cheese used in pao de queijo is the “minas”, the middle cheese, and most similar in texture to Mexican queso fresco, which is the cheese to use in place of the minas.” The right texture cheese is very important both for the flavor and texture.

Making great Pão de Queijo is not completely easy, so it is a skill to develop. They might not “plump up” properly or be just too chewy. But the results are worth it. This recipe can be multiplied as needed–doubled or tripled for family dinners or appetizers. Pão de queijo mix is also available from brands such as Yoki (mail order from http://www.amigofoods.com/paodequeijo.html). Frozen rolls and the mix are sold at Brazilian supermarkets, and also at Brazilian food shops abroad.

Serve hot out of the oven, or reheat, as these snacks are always eaten warm, with coffee, pineapple or orange juice, or a smoothie. As an appetizer, a glass of crisp white wine or a mellow red will accompany nicely.

Pão de Queijo (little cheese bread)

Makes enough batter for 12 to 16 muffin-sized cheese breads.

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil or organic canola oil
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • Scant 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, available from Whole Foods)
  • 1/2 cup packed, crumbled queijo Minas cheese or queso fresco Mexican farmer’s cheese ( I use queso fresco)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-cup standard-muffin tin with cooking spray.

2. Place all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor, or use a hand held immersion blender, and pulse until smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender/processor so that everything gets evenly mixed. Consistency will be a bit thinner than regular pancake batter.  (At this point you can store the batter in the refrigerator for up to a week, covered.)

3. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups almost level with the top of the cup (if you have extra batter, make a few more paos after the batch is out of the oven to reuse the muffin tin). Carefully place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffy domes and just lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes, then turn the pan on its side and gently pull out the paos. Eat while warm or save to reheat later.

just about ready to take out of the oven

Beth Bytes

Pao de Queijo recipe like in Brazil with the mix…

  • 500 grams of polvilho doce (you can find it in any Brazilian store), or half and half with povilho azedo
  • 1 tablespoon of salt (Minas is naturally kinda salty)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 grams of Parmesan cheese (if you can’t find the Minas cheese used in Brazil in the US)

Preheat the oven to 400º. Put the polvilho flour and salt in a bowl. Boil the milk with with the oil and fold into the flour. Mix until all the dough gets moist,then set aside and cool. Mix in the eggs and the cheese, then mix the dough with your hands. With a tablespoon, scoop the dough and form into little balls. Put the little balls, at least one inch apart, on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


Your Comments

2 comments Comments Feed
  1. Mrs. S 19/02/2012 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the great article and the recipe, hoping to make this soon!

    It would be great if you could post a recipe for Brazilian tapioca crepes with filling!

  2. Rick Rodgers 26/04/2015 at 8:44 pm

    Beth, I have a recipe for these in BIG BOOK OF SIDES. They are in no way odd and in every way delicious, chewy, and addictive. I encourage your readers to make the amazingly simple recipe you provided!

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