Pão de Queijo
My first introduction to Pão de Queijo – or Brazilian cheese bread – was in rural North Carolina of all places. I was working on a farm and living in a small town about an hour west of Chapell Hill. Most of what I ate was harvested from the farm or bartered at the weekly farmers market, but occasionally I had to supplement with trips to the grocery store. In this case, the local grocery store was a Piggly Wiggly, which at first I found delightfully, typically Southern and therefore charming. Then I went inside. Without going into details, let’s just say that my illusions were shattered very quickly. But while browsing the shelves one day, eyes wide like a deer in headlights, I stumbled across a boxed mix for Brazilian cheese bread. Intrigued by the picture and feeling adventurous, I took home a box and made the bread that evening. Long story short, I was hooked. I would make several boxes of the mix at a time and freeze the little rolls so as to always have Pão de Queijo on hand for when a craving hit. And let’s just say the cravings came often.
But then I moved back North and, like a clod, didn’t bring any boxes of the mix with me. Surely, if I can find this at a Piggly Wiggly in the most random town ever I’ll be able to find it in a big city, I reasoned. That, and my hatchback was stuffed to the gills with my entire life. So I drove North, found an apartment, settled in and then got down to business. I searched the city for the precious boxes of cheese bread mix, but to no avail. Everywhere I went, I was met with blank stares. Horrified, I even attempted to find the mix online to order in bulk, but alas it was as if I had been experiencing a great mirage of cheesy bread product that no one else could see! The mix was nowhere to be found. As for attempting to make them on my own this was at the point in my life when the idea of baking anything, let alone something seemingly difficult was laughable to me. Tapioca starch? That was not in my pantry. So the days of pulling hot pão de queijo out of my oven appeared to be over…until now!
I’ve finally returned to this seemingly insurmountable baking job, with a few years of cooking and baking under my belt to bolster my confidence. and a partner to help me eat them all! And good thing too, since these are best made with two sets of hands. This was our first attempt at them and the taste and texture were spot on despite the fact that they were more disk-like than they are “supposed” to be. We think this can be fixed by making smaller balls – like the size of ping pong balls, versus the one’s we tried which were more like small softballs! Also, we made them on a very hot, humid day which we think partially explains why they started as balls and by the time I formed them all and was ready to put them in the oven most had lost a lot of their shape already. Regardless, they were delicious and we encourage you to start your own brazilian cheese bread obsession with these…
Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
(makes about two dozen golf ball sized breads)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp salt
2 cups tapioca flour
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, 2/3 grated finely, 1/3 grated coarsely
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position.
In a medium pot bring milk, water, oil, butter and salt to a low boil. Once you achieve a boil remove from the heat and stir in your tapioca flour as fast as possible (it helps to have once person stirring while the other adds the flour). Your dough will thicken up considerably at this point and become rather sticky.
Let the dough cool for 10-15 minutes, then knead in your eggs, followed by your cheese. When the all the ingredients are fully incorporated, form your dough into balls the size of golf or ping pong balls and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. You may want to oil your hands to make it easier to form the dough into balls.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown all over and dark brown in places. Avoid under baking as this will yield a gooey underbaked interior.