I don’t know what it is, but whenever I think of pao de queijo, I think of my mother. In that she is the first generation on her mother’s side born outside of Brazil, she made a big deal about passing on the culture and heritage of our ancestors down to my sister and I. For the two of us, culture always related to the kitchen in some way, shape or form, and the true “mother” of heritage came in the Brazilian feast, feijoada completa. A celebration through and through, feijoada completa meant cherished guests and many, many plates and platters on the table, all marks of a few days of cooking in order to stage all of the dishes. It was some kind of special, and the meal kicked off with a special treat – pao de queijo. Translated into English, it literally means “cheese bread,” but make no mistake – these babies are so much more. Made of tapioca flour and crumbly, salty cheese, they more closely resemble cheese puffs than actual bread. Eaten fresh from the oven, we noshed happily while waiting for the rest of the feast to come together (usually waiting for the white rice to finish cooking or for dad to put the final touches on the greens).
Interestingly enough, my mom’s a french professor, and over the years my sister and I have become mini-francophiles by association. My sister even downplays the influences from over the years, cracking jokes in a perfect French accent. Petite Beurre cookies and homemade madeleines were just as much a part of our kitchen as Brazilian specialties. In a complete and total cultural blend, our beloved pao de queijo held many of the same characteristics as the classic French cheese puffs, gougère. The little treats, made of gruyere or comte cheese, were savory, chewy and airy just like their Brazilian cousins. An apropos association, if I do say so myself.
Because pao de queijo are traditionally made with a cooked dough called a pâté choux, the old school recipe can be a bit daunting. In fact, we often purchased the frozen variety from specialty markets for quick snacking. But when my mom turned me on to a blender version, I tried it out with great success and haven’t looked back since. In fact, the hardest part of the recipe is tracking down the tapioca flour, which is barely a challenge in that not only Whole Foods, but most regular grocery stores carry the stuff under the Bob’s Red Mill brand. I’ve had the most success with making the batter and baking these guys pretty much right when I have the craving to snack away. I’ve also had excellent success with a 24 mini-cup muffin tin – it allows a mess of pao de queijo to be baked all at once for aggressive snacking. And, as you know, aggressive snacking is what we were all born to do.
Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Puffs)
1 1/3 c. of tapioca flour
2/3 c. of whole milk
1/3 c. of olive oil
6 oz. of queso fresco, crumbled
1 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a blender, add the egg, milk, olive oil, salt, queso fresco and white pepper. Put the tapioca flour on top and blend on low until mostly mixed. Scrape down the flour on the sides of the blender and blitz again on low. Pour batter into greased muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes or until puffy and golden. Serve immediately.