In Portuguese, the name is pão de queijo. I heard a lot about this authentic Brazilian cheese bread my gluten-free friend. She's a celiac, and therefore no wheat. I've always been intrigued for a long time.
I recently met a lady from Brazil at a conference. Her name is Claudia, and she runs a hip and successful lifestyle blog called Trendy Latina. She covers topics from movies to recipes to travel and beauty. I encourage you to check it out. Needless to say, we got to talking about food, and I asked her if I could share her recipe for authentic Brazilian cheese bread - pāo de queijo on this blog. She readily agreed. I am now very excited to share it with you.
One of the pluses is that it's gluten-free.
It's made with tapioca flour, which according to Claudia is a popular baking ingredient throughout Brazil. I wondered out loud if it was because at one point in time, there was no wheat flour available. She said "No, this is just the way it's always been."She also told me about a cake she makes with tapioca flour. Yes, the recipe will appear on this blog at a later date.
The use of tapioca doesn't come as a surprise. Since yuca root makes tapioca flour, and Brazil has them in abundance. Of course it shows up in a lot of their cooking. Basically, yuca is a tuber. Don't confuse it with yucca, the dessert plant. They are not botanically related. Anyhow, this tasty tuber can be prepared in many different ways. The outer covering is not edible, so it needs to be removed before eating. The inside has a center that is fibrous, and also needs to be removed once cooked.
You can purchase all of the ingredients at your local supermarket. Tapioca flour is usually found near GOYA products or the “World Food” aisle at your supermarket. You may also find tapioca flour at a bodega if you live in an area with a large Latin American or South American population.
Yuca, also known as cassava, is a woody shrub native to South America. Yuca looks somewhat like sweet potatoes or yams, however the skin is not edible and you must peel it before eating. Its texture is starchy like a potato, but with a little bit of a tough bite to it. The “meat” of it tastes somewhat sweet and nutty, albeit mild.
Some recipes recommend using mozzarella, but I’m opting for parmesan since it has a sharper flavor. Mozzarella is good for those who don’t like funky cheeses. I’ve seen some other recipes that propose using both cheeses. You really can’t go wrong!
Authentic Brazilian cheese bread - pão de queijo is so easy to make, especially because you don't even have to worry about it rising, or flopping. Claudia even told me that you can freeze the bread once it is formed into balls. Do not freeze after baking! To me anything that you can make ahead of time is a plus. You can form the balls using a cookie scoop.
Although these are normally eaten as a snack, feel free to eat them any time you like.
So, where in Brazil do these little cheesy gems come from?
Well, from the Minas Gerais, a state in the west of Brazil. During colonial times this area was known for its large deposits of diamonds, gems, and gold. The traditional cheese used to make this cheese bread is Minas cheese, a local cheese that has been produced in the region since the 18th century. Claudia told me that the closest thing in the US is Parmesan.
The company Chebe makes and sells pão de queijo in bulk, and offers some historical context for the delicious cheesy bread.
According to Chebe, pão de queijo dates back to colonial times in Brazil and was originally made by enslaved Africans. As I mentioned, the yuca is very popular in Brazilian culture, as it appeared during the Portuguese colonization period. The root of the vegetable, which was deemed inedible by colonizers, was given to slaves to eat since they were deprived of many vegetables and the best cuts of meats.
They peeled the roots, grated, soaked, and dried the yuca to make what we now know as the basis of many traditional Brazilian foods. Using the residue leftover from this process, slaves made pão de queijo, but without the cheese since it wasn’t around at the time. They essentially ate baked starch.
Here are the visual steps to make pão de queijo:
- In a saucepan stir and mix the milk, oil and salt on medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Remove from the stove.
- Slowly add the flour to the milk mixture in about ¼ increments and mix.
- Keep mixing until it forms a ball and it will be a bit shiny.
- Transfer the dough to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer and allow to cool. Using the paddle or beater blade, beat in the egg until well combined.
- Add the cheese until well combined.
- Using a small cookie scoop form the dough balls.
- Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 20 minutes in a 400°F oven or until golden brown. Enjoy!
Pão de queijo is often eaten freshly baked in the morning for breakfast. To balance out the saltiness of the cheese, many Brazilians like to mix it with other flavor profiles. For a healthy, sweet start to your day, eat it with a side of papaya and orange juice. Why not top it with some Nutella for even more sweetness? Or you can sip a cup of hot coffee and eat your pão de queijo to level out the coffee’s bitterness. You can really eat them any time of the day as a snack too.
If you’re really pressed for time or are feeling a little lazy in the kitchen, consider using a food processor, blender, or standing mixer to put your pao de queijo together. Simply mix all your ingredients together in one of the aforementioned mixers, and voila! Your batter will come together much easier. The inside’s texture might be a little dense, but still delicious and easier to do.
I hope you get to try this recipe soon, and also check out the Trendy Latina blog.
If you want to check out some other Latin baked items that are easy to make, here are a few to try or bookmark for later. Pastelitos de guava are a simple puff pastry filled with guava and cream cheese and are so good with a nice cup of coffee! Mini beef empanadas are a meat filled dough that I have adapted the recipe to be baked instead of fried; and you can use store bought pie crust if you are short on time. Pastelitos de pollo are a puff pastry with a savory shredded chicken filling that have a great Latin flavor. Enjoy!
Authentic Brazilian Cheese Bread
A tasty treat made with tapioca flour, and Parmesan cheese. Authentic Brazilian cheese bread is just what you and your family needs for a weekday snack.
Preheat oven to 400'F.
In a saucepan mix milk, oil, and salt on medium heat until the mixture starts to gently bubble. Remove from stove.
Slowly mix in the flour in ¼ increments until the mixture comes together like a ball. The mixture will be somewhat shiny.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand up mixer, and using a paddle attachment beat on medium until the dough becomes smooths and cools down a bit.
Add the beaten egg slowly, and continue to beat until well combined.
Next, add the cheese and beat until the mixture is fully combined.
The dough will be a bit sticky, an similar to the consistency of batter.
Using a cookie scoop, make balls and place them about 1 " apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. *
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden.
Remove from oven. Enjoy while they are still warm.
You can freeze the raw dough balls, but don't freeze once baked!