June 26, 2004

In my travels, one of the more interesting foods I’ve come across is the Brazilian pão de queijo, which translates as cheesebread. (This should not be confused with the Mexican pan de queso, which translates the same way but actually refers to cheesecake.) Pães de queijo (plural form) are tasty cheese biscuits available in all fine Brazilian bakeries, especially those in the state of Minas Gerais, where the food was first developed.

What makes pão de queijo unique is its use of tapioca flour as a main ingredient. This is derived from manioc and is the same substance from which the little balls in tapioca pudding are made. When mixed with heated milk and allowed to sit, it becomes an amorphous gelatinous mass. Imagine combining this substance with grated cheese (along with a few other ingredients) and baking it. The gelatinousness of the tapioca flour combines with the gooiness of the cheese to form a consistency within the biscuits unlike anything in the northern hemisphere. This, combined with the fact that no wheat flour is used, makes for a very unique biscuit-eating experience indeed.

Pão de queijo has a very long history, so a multitude of different versions have emerged. You don’t really know what it is until you’ve eaten it in at least five different places. Of course, here in the US, that’s not really possible. If you’d like to make a batch for yourself, this is the recipe I recommend.

Tapioca flour can be found at most Asian foods markets. As for cheese, you’ll want something hard and with a strong flavor. Parmesan cheese works best, but, for the love of God, don’t used the pre-grated Kraft crap! Buy the real deal and grate it yourself. I know it’s super-expensive, but cost should be no object. You want a lot of cheese in the batter, so it’s far better to overdo it than not put enough in. Feel free to really squoosh it into the measuring cups. And ignore the part of the recipe that says you should make small balls. Big balls are always better. The outer part becomes a hard shell, and you want a nice big interior so there’s room for the gooey gelatinous goodness to form inside. Bigger balls mean more cooking time, so you may need a half hour or more to cook them. Also, as with chocolate chip cookies, they taste ten times better when eaten hot. (Just don’t burn yourself.)

Posted by Bakerina at 12:48 AM in • (1) Comments
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