Brazilian Cuisine: Pao de Queijo

Pao de Queijo made from mix
Pao de Queijo made from mix
the kids making pao de queijo balls
the kids making pao de queijo balls

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Pao de Queijo from scratch
Pao de Queijo from scratch

Pao de Queijo from scratch: mixing the dough. Working with this dough was such fun — because it’s made from starch, the feel that’s most similar is working homemade playdough — have you ever made some? It’s made with flour and cornstarch and salt and oil (the salt is so that kids don’t eat it). Because of the oil in playdough, and in this pao de queijo dough, it is not necessary to flour the board and kneading the dough reminded me once again of why I love to bake, and bake bread specifically.

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Pao de Queijo made from scratch — yummier according to my kids — I didn’t realize their palates were that refined, as I hardly noticed the difference myself; but the pao de queijo made from the mix did have a different aftertaste, though very slight. There was also a vaguely discernible powdery feel to the outside of the mix-bread, though I don’t know if this quality is desirable or not. I’d definitely choose to make this from scratch anyday of the week, even if it’s just to avoid any bad fats or preservatives.

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The inside of a Pao de Queijo, where you can see the stretch — similar in appearance to gluten strands, but of course this bread is gluten-free. I would describe it as gelatinous, except that the word makes me think of icky goo, from which this bread is miles apart. Biting into it is akin to biting into a gougere, except that the exterior offers more resistance and does not have the typical almost-crumbling of a good gougere. The cheese smell is pleasing and not overpowering at all, making these adorable little balls an excellent accompaniment to some tomato or tomato-based soup.

Paco, 10, with his Pao de Queijo Man
Paco, 10, with his Pao de Queijo Man

The recipe I used — but modified just a wee bit — can be found here. I did half-and-half sour and sweet tapioca starch, used only 2 eggs, and 125 grams of grated Romano — I was out of Parmesan. I would have used a fresh Mexican cheese which I’ve heard is best for this if you can’t find Brazilian cheese, but I wanted to use up my Romano. Perhaps next time.

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another recipe, from recipezaar

The dough is very sticky to work with at first, but once you add the eggs in and work the dough it turns into this pliable, smooth, fragrant cheesy mass — the kind of dough I like to call baker-friendly:). Because it’s warm dough (like I said, it’s like working with playdough) it’s a particularly fun bread to make during winter. And there’s enough oil to keep it from sticking to your work surface.

Tapioca starch comes from the manioc root, a.k.a. cassava a.k.a. yucca or yuca, a tuber — botanical name manihot esculenta found all over South America and also in Aisa. There are two kinds: the bitter, poisonous kind — which is also eaten but processed differently — and the sweet kind, which we can buy here in the US fresh, or frozen, or processed. It is made into flour and starch, and it’s also where tapioca balls comes from. Interestingly, manioc flour or harina de mandioca is very coarse, the texture similar to cornmeal rather than flour. Here in the US look for it in Mexican or other Latin American stores (Yoki or Goya brand), or health food stores — Bob’s Red Mill I think makes it too.

Look for

  • Tapioca Starch
  • Manioc Starch
  • Yuca Harina
  • Almidón de Yuca
  • Polvilho Doce
  • Amido de Mandioca

For the sour starch, if using, look for:

  • Sour Starch
  • Almidón Agrio
  • Polvilho Azedo

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4 comments

  1. stel says:

    naku stef ty 4 this! just read abt it fr boston globe’s recent feature on brazilian food in our area, want tomake this asap i.e. when hand is able!
    hello to family ha….

  2. fawn says:

    wow, looks delicious, i went to the link at recipezaar,what’s sweet manioc starch or sour manioc starch? Did you use parmesan? Was the dough hard to work with? I’m afraid of sticky dough

  3. Christine says:

    Stef, thank you for this! I first tried pao de queijo during a graduation party hosted by a couple of my Brazilian friends in London and fell in love at first bite (with the feijoada too!). I have the yuca mix which I ordered from Brazil and have yet to make it. You just inspired me to do so. 🙂

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