I haven’t been very regular for a while now with the Daring Baker challenges so I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought I was no longer a part of the group. The last time I baked with them was the Soft Pretzel Buns/ Rolls in Lis’s memory. While being a Daring Baker has improved my baking skills quite a bit, I’ve not been as excited by many of the challenges because they tend to be fat and sugar heavy which is not the way I want to go month in month out anymore.
Then I also have this feeling that the Daring Bakers are not the same without Lis. That’s however not fair to to the members of a really excellent group of people and bakers who are keeping the spirit of the group very much alive. I have also been otherwise occupied with other things and have actually forgotten to check the month’s challenge a couple of times. In fact, the Daring Bakers weren’t anywhere on my horizon at all until a fellow blogger, baker and friend asked me if I had done this month’s challenge!
So I decided it was time I started baking with the Daring Bakers again provided the recipes seemed doable without mountains of butter and sugar. I was pleasantly surprised when I checked in, and it turned out that this month’s host was taking us on a trip to beautiful Brazil! Renata of “Testado, Provado Aprovado!” wanted us to make Pão de Queijo, tasty cheese buns that make the perfect snack or treat, and that will make your taste buds samba!
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.
My home state of Kerala is one of the South Indian states where tapioca/ cassava is grown extensively and eaten. Its known as “Kappa/ Maracheeni/ Poola Kizhangu” in Malayalam and “Maravaḷḷikizhangu” in Tamil. We cook tapioca and tapioca pearls in different ways, and tapioca crisps are very popular back home. We also make pappads with tapioca flour, back home, which is a personal favourite of mine.
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.
Renata** had suggested this fake/ faux version of Pão de Queijo to another DBaker who had the same problem of unavailability of ingredients for this challenge. This version which uses mashed potato and cornstarch seemed doable to me, so I thought I would give it a swing with some minor tweaks.
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.
You really must eat them while they’re warm, or they start become stale and dry. This is where frozen made ahead shaped dough comes in handy. So make a big batch, shape the dough into little balls, and then freeze and store them in the freezer, baking only what you need. However, if you do have left-overs, you can keep them in an air-tight container for a maximum of 24 hours make Paninis with them which are quite good.
This recipe is adapted from One Vanilla Bean.