Pão de Queijo - Brazilian Cheese Puffs/ Buns (GF) : A Cheat’s Version, Daring Bakers Challenge May 2014
Pão de Queijo ( Pão is Portuguese for puff and Queijo is cheese) is a Brazilian savoury non-yeasted bread like puff made of tapioca (also called cassava, yuca or manioc) starch, not regular flour, and a slightly sour, tangy fresh cheese. This puff apparently dates back to the eighteenth century but became popular in Minas Gerais region of Brazil in the 1950's.
The original versions were supposedly made only with tapioca starch and water but invaders, colonists and missionaries brought introduced cheeses which were incorporated into the recipes along with other ingredients. Pão de Queijo can be found all over Brazil and it is believed that you haven’t experienced Brazil completely if you visit and have not tried it!
Variations of the Pão de Queijo are common in the northern part of Argentina (Chipa) and Bolivia (called Cuñapé), Ecuador (Pan de Yuca), Colombia (Pan de Bolo). While the original Pão de Queijo is plain, you can find both savoury and sweet version of it with fillings.
The tapioca starch apparently highlights the flavour of cheese and also gives the Pão de Queijo the typical pleasantly stretchy and gooey texture when baked and unlike other starches, does not become doughy or gummy. These little gluten-free puffs/ buns tend to get stale pretty fast, so the best way to eat them is hot, fresh out of the oven, when the outer shell is still kind of crisp and chewy inside. They’re very easy to make and can be made whenever the craving sets in.
If you want to make authentic Pão de Queijo, then you must make them with tapioca/ cassava starch and there’s no substitute for that. In Brazil there are two types of tapioca starch – regular or sweet tapioca starch (poviho doce) and sour tapioca starch (poviho azedo) . The sour kind is made from fermented tapioca. Most Brazilian recipes seem to use a mix of both flours.
Apparently you could make a pretty decent variation of Pão de Queijo using potato starch. The other important ingredient in this puff is cheese. In Brazil, the cheese used is called “Queijo Minas Curado” from Minas Gerais. However any cheese or mix of cheeses that are a little strong in flavour should also work. Most people seem to one or a mix of use Cheddar, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, etc. Some people also add Mozarella to their mix of cheese while Renata suggests using Monterey Jack.
However, living where I am right now, even the tapioca roots are a rare sight, forget about tapioca flour or starch. I don’t think the suggested substitute of potato starch is available anywhere in India except in some gourmet ingredient shop which would be selling imported flours for the price of gold! And the same would go for many of the unusual variety of cheese which are probably common in the US and Europe.
I used a mixture of oil and soft butter, and a mixture of Parmesan, mildly sharp Cheddar and crumbled Paneer (Indian fresh milk cheese). I also added a good dose of freshly crushed black pepper because I thought the whole thing seemed a little too bland for my liking.
The Pão de Queijo turned out quite alright and were moist and chewy with the “holey” texture inside, but I didn’t get the “stretch” from the cheese/ tapioca which is characteristic of these puffs/ buns when they’re warm and torn apart. Maybe I would have got that “stretch” if I’d used Mozarella as one of my cheeses. I’ve never eaten the original Pão de Queijo or even an approximation so while I have nothing to compare mine with, I’m convinced that it’s the tapioca starch that makes all the difference to the Pão de Queijo.
Two things to remember while making Pão de Queijo is that the dough shouldn’t be over worked and just be kneaded lightly till everything comes together. The other thing is the they should be baked only till they’re just getting touch of golden brown on top but still pale while the bottom will turn a lovely golden brown. Over-bake them and the middle of the puffs. The puffs/ buns will dry out and taste not very nice. They should ideally have a thin dry crust with a soft, slightly chewy, cheesy interior full of air pockets.
- Put the mashed potato, cornstarch, oil, butter, egg, and salt in the bowl of the food processor (you can knead this by hand as well), and run it on slow or medium until all the ingredients are blended well. Now add the cheeses and the pepper and process till they’re well incorporated.
- Do not over process. You should have shaggy textured dough that is just short of being sticky. Lightly dust your work surface and your palms with a little cornstarch. Scrape out the dough on to the surface and lightly knead until the dough comes together into a ball.
- Divide the dough into 15 or 16 equal portions and shape each one into a smooth ball about the size of golf balls. Place them on lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheets. At this point, you can freeze them on the sheet and then put them in Ziploc bags. Take out as many as you want to bake and bake them straight from the freezer at 180C for about 25 to 30 minutes.
- If you’re baking them right away, then bake at 180C (350F) for about 25 minutes or so until the Pão de Queijo is a light golden brown on top and a ddeep golden brown on the bottom. If you over cook them they will dry out inside.
- Cool on a rack and serve warm like the Brazilians do with a hot cup of coffee! Pão de Queijo are best eaten as soon as they’re baked. They can be warmed and served later too.