The first time I encountered Pao de Queijo was at Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria, a restaurant in Houston, unfortunately now closed by the looks of it. Like most Churrscarias, the restaurants want to limit how much of the main meal, i.e. the meat you can eat, by putting bowls of these delicious cheese puffs on you table to fill you up while you wait for the main service. They are similar to French Gougères, but with a different texture and are more chewy.
Pao de Queijo (literally cheese bread) is a common breakfast or snack food in Brazil and can be found in bakeries and snack bars all over the country. Though people do make their own cheese bread puffs at home from scratch, it is also very easy to buy the frozen or packet mixes at the supermarket.
How to pronounce Pão de Queijo – pow-deh-kay-zho
There are a few uncommon ingredients that you will need to make your own Pão de Queijo. First is that they aren’t made from normal wheat flour, but tapioca flour (cassava startch) which if you can’t find it at your local supermarket or online, have a look in a Asian supermarket. The only time I had eaten tapioca before was as a child, being made to eat tapioca pudding, which had the consistency of ‘frogs spawn’. Don’t worry these taste nothing like that. Another thing to note is that tapioca flour is gluten free.
The 2nd uncommon ingredient is ‘queijo de Minas meia cura’, a semi-matured cheese from Minas, Brazil, where Pao de Queijo originates from. Unfortunately you will be very lucky to find this cheese outside of Brazil unless there is a Brazilian community where you live, but you can easily substitute Parmesan or Pecorino cheese instead.
Pão de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Puffs
Makes roughly 40 small cheese balls
- 18oz (500g) of tapioca flour
- 3/4 cup (180ml) of vegetable oil (e.g. canola or rapeseed oil)
- 6oz (180g) of grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- 1.5 cups (350ml) of whole milk
- 3 large beaten eggs
- 1.5 tsp of salt
- First heat your oven to 450F (230C) and arrange space for 2 baking sheets
- Bring the oil, milk and salt to a gentle boil and immediately remove from the heat.
- Add the tapioca flour and mix until you can no longer see any dry flour
- We now have to cool the dough. Either transfer the mixture to a stand mixer to beat it for a few minutes to cool it down or beat it by hand with a wooden spoon. It is possible to do it by hand, but it does require a lot of effort.
- Once the mixture is cool to the touch, beat in the egg mixture one third at a time with the mixer on medium or again by hand. At this point the mixture will start to resemble a batter and may look like it has split. Don’t worry it’s fine.
- Beat in the cheese on medium or again by hand.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and portion out the dough between them into roughly 20 small balls per sheet roughly 2″ (5cm) apart. To help prevent the balls sticking to your hands or spoon, dip your hands or spoon into water before handling the dough.
- Put the baking sheets into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 350F (180C).
- Bake for 15 to 20 mins until golden brown and fully puffed up.
If by any miracle you have any left over they can be kept in a air-tight storage container for a few days or put into the freezer and then re-crisped up in the oven later on.