Yesterday, it rained. So at last I pulled out a recipe for pão de queijo, a cheesy Brazilian bread made with tapioca starch and Parmesan.
I requested the recipe after a long chat with my sister in Seattle. When she told me about this cheese bread that her friend Adriana makes, she continually elaborated on its gooey deliciousness. Right them, I knew I needed to make this bread.
“Half a kilogram of tapioca starch (I usually get it from a Latin foods store where it usually comes from either Brazil called polvilho or Paraguay called almidón de mandioca). 2 cups of milk. Half a cup of oil (I prefer sunflower oil)…”
Adriana’s instructions were terrifically clear, which was important since the main ingredient, tapioca starch (sometimes called tapioca flour), wasn’t something I’ve work with before.
(That’s not entirely true. I bought tapioca starch last year at a fruit market in Chicago’s western ‘burbs. The package looked like it was written in Thai. I bought it thinking it would work like tapioca maltodextrin, a white powder that can turn a liquid fat, like olive oil, into a powder. At home, I mixed the starch with oil and succeeded in making a sludgy mess—but not a powder.)
Apparently, tapioca starch/flour has gained traction among gluten-free adherents and others looking for wheat flour alternatives. (It’s included among Gluten Free Girl’s list of alternate flours.) I easily found a bag of Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour at an independent grocery store in Lafayette, California.
I followed Adriana’s instructions, which yielded a sticky, wet dough. To portion it, I had to dip two spoons in vegetable oil to be able to drop spoonfuls on buttered glass Pyrex baking pans. According to Adriana, this might have meant that my dough was too wet and that the flour or the freshly grated Parmesan I was using had too much liquid.
“The different brands of starch and different types of cheese make a difference,” she said. “At times it turns out too sticky and loose (especially if the cheese is too fresh, so use dry Parmesan), but sometimes it turns out more firm and just right.”
Even though the dough was wet and hard to handle, the end result was as addictive as popovers. After baking two Pyrex pans of rolls, I put the remaining dough in the refrigerator. (Adriana advised against trying to bake too many at once because they won’t brown evenly in the oven, even if you rotate the pans.)
The next day, I baked the dough in buttered muffin tins. The dough held its round shape much better than the day before and looked more like rolls. Maybe the time in the refrigerator allowed the tapioca starch to absorb more of the liquid? I’m not sure.
For this recipe, I stayed true to Adriana’s, although I did add cup measurements to her gram measurements. (For more on why measuring ingredients with a scale is better than relying on cups and teaspoons, read this post.)
Voilà, cheesy goodness.
Cheesy Bread, Brazilian-Style (pão de queijo)
Adapted from Adriana Meharry’s recipe. She also makes this recipe with goat cheese instead of Parmesan. To do so, add less milk.
Makes 40 to 50 rolls
500 grams/4 1/4 cups tapioca starch (tapioca flour)
4 grams/1 teaspoon kosher salt
480 grams/ 2 cups whole milk
105 grams/ 1/2 cup vegetable oil
200 grams/2 1/3 cups Parmesan cheese
1. Arrange the oven so one rack is in the center. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter two Pyrex pans or 12 muffin tins.
2. Place the tapioca starch and salt in a large, heat-proof mixing bowl.
3. Combine the milk and oil in a pot and bring to a boil briefly. Pour over the tapioca and let the milk and oil rest until cool enough to touch.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, briefly whisk the eggs, then mix in the cheese.
5. When the milk and oil have cooled, using your hands, start to knead the tapioca flour to form a dough. (It will be sticky.) Add half of the egg and cheese and knead until incorporated. Add the remaining egg and cheese and continue to knead until the dough is homogenous, with the exception of some small lumps of tapioca flour. (This takes about 10 minutes.)
6. Using oiled spoons, drop 2- to 3-tablespoon portions of dough onto the prepared pans or into muffin tins. (Alternately, refrigerate the dough to bake later.) Bake in the center of the oven, rotating the pans once, for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. If the tops don’t brown, turn the oven to broil and broil for 1 minute.
7. Pop the rolls out of the pans or tins. Re-butter the baking pans or tins and portion the remaining dough. (You may have to bake two more rounds to use all the dough, or you can refrigerate extra dough to bake the next day.) Serve warm.