brazilian bites: pão de queijo

Okay. If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you will understand how important this bread is to me, and how all of the stars in the universe aligned to bring this recipe into my life.

Some context: once upon a time, two years ago, I was working in New York City for the summer (see: The Californian Takes New York series). I ate so much great food that summer, but one in particular stood out: this bread from a Latin-fusion restaurant called Calle Ocho on the Upper West Side. I didn't know what it was called, and because Calle Ocho classified itself as "Latin-fusion," I didn't know what kind of cuisine to Google. This bread was hot and soft and puffy and chewy and a tiny bit sweet, and it literally haunted my dreams. I don't think I've ever been so passionate about bread since the start of my Challah obsession back in 2004.

Flash forward to two years later (earlier this year), when I visited New York and Chicago and Tia mentioned that she knew exactly what I was talking about, and set me a recipe that she'd tried. A week later, Britt mentioned that her roommate was Brazilian and bought these bread-things, called "pão de queijo," Brazilian cheese bread, frozen from Costco (also, they've been on Shark Tank). The ones from Costco are super-easy; you just pop them in the oven for 20 minutes, and you get the goodness of Brazilian patisserie in your own kitchen (in Britt's and my case, on her living room couch in our pajamas watching Netflix).

In short: this bread and I were destined for each other. Enjoy.

PÃO DE QUEIJO

Yields: 48 puffs
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • ½ cup vegetable oil

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 cups tapioca flour or sour cassava flour (you can usually hunt this down at Sprouts, Jimbo's, or Whole Foods)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1½ cups Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Like French macarons, pão de queijo aren't difficult to make, but they're difficult to make well. So you want to be watching your dough carefully and not, I don't know, watching Bob's Burgers while mixing, because you will likely mess up the texture.

Combine 1 cup milk, ½ cup oil, and 1 tsp salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat as soon as you see big bubbles coming through the milk.

milk.gif

Add the 2 cups tapioca flour and stir with a wooden spoon until no dry tapioca flour is visible. If you've ever made cream puffs before, the texture of the dough should look like that; a little bit airy and stretchy. It won't be super-smooth, because the tapioca flour will immediately gel up in the oil/milk mixture.

Transfer the dough to a standing mixture with a paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). Beat the dough for a few minutes until it smooths out. It should look like a science experiment at this point. The first time I made these, I didn't add enough flour the first time around and tried to add it later, but the pão didn't puff up and stayed flat like little pancakes. The second time, the dough was the right texture, but I didn't know it was the right texture because it was so strange. It was a very weird, almost putty-like texture. It looked like the slime you make with cornstarch and water in elementary school.

With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the 2 eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the 1½ cups cheese until fully incorporated. The dough will be sticky, stretchy, and soft.

Have a small bowl of water ready. Use a tablespoon (I used a mini ice cream scooper) to drop little balls of dough onto the cookie sheet, dipping it in water between scoops to prevent sticking.

Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 350°F. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets in between racks and from front to back, so everything is even. Bake until the bread has puffed up and the outsides turn golden-brown, for 15 more minutes.

Eat immediately. They're best when hot. BUT they're just as good reheated in the toaster oven the next day (I actually really like them this way, because they get nice and brown and crispy on the outside but stay stretchy on the inside, and you can really taste the Parmesan!). I like to toss a couple in the toaster for breakfast.

You can make variations of these, too, by adding different seasonings (the website has pizza-flavored ones, which I am unsure about). The third time I made them, I ran out of normal salt, so I used truffle salt instead (sure, we run out of kosher salt but somehow have garlic, truffle, and sriracha salt in our pantry). And oh my god. The subtle truffle flavor + Parmesan cheese. Ridiculous.

These things are so easy to make, honestly, and they're so worth it (or I mean, you could buy them from Costco, but this bread is too good not to have in your life). They are highly addictive, and I guarantee these will be your newest obsession.

Edit: I later received this email from a reader—thank you Thiago for your insights!

I'm not a native english speaker. I Will try my best being a brazilian telling you something about pão de queijo aka cheese bites. 

Pão de queijo is to Brazilian something like ragu bolognese is to Italian, a registered recipe with local ingredients that is cooked over the world with similar recipes. 

Brazil has a territorial extension of a continental size. Said so, pão de queijo is from a region or better called as state, Minas Gerais. 

There is no known about where this recipe has originated but there are similar recipes in some Spanish countries, looks like in that mess and wars between Portugal and Spain trying to colonizing Brazil somehow the recipe reaches Minas Gerais and region near around. 

About your recipe in the blog:

- Lacks water in your (oil + milk) mixture. 

- Unfortunately it is made purely by hands. No machines are used to mix the dough and it made the final result better. Stop being lazy and get your hands dirty =)

- You need to add some butter on your the recipe or pork fat

- The big problem: the cheese. Minas Gerais produces a old aged not cooked milk in his old cities that isnt a similar in the world. Is it called Canastra cheese, it gets some prizes in French contests. Maybe you can try replace Canastra with Parmesan with low aged process or as I used to do in when I lived at Ireland, mix of grated white and red cheddar.

TY for sharing some Brazilian culture over the world. 

Best regards, 

Thiago Araújo

 

HAPPENING MEOW