I come from Minas Gerais, a state in the centre of Brazil which has a great culinary tradition. To us, the kitchen is the heart of the house. When you arrive at a Mineiro’s home, you are invited to the kitchen for a cup of freshly brewed coffee and some quitanda (baked goods). One of the favourite treats to offer is pão de queijo. This is a tapioca cheese roll with a crispy outside and chewy centre.
The main recipe ingredients are tapioca flour and cheese. Tapioca flour is the starch extracted from the cassava root. Some people use regular tapioca flour, called polvilho doce, and some use the sour version, called polvilho azedo. The cheese rolls made of regular tapioca flour tend to be more dense and has a subtle flavour. The ones made only with sour tapioca flour become bigger, dryer and has a strong flavour coming from the starch. I like to use a mixture of them to get o good balance in flavours and textures. It is easy to find tapioca flour in Brazilian shops, organic and whole markets, and even in Amazon. The best ones I recommend to buy in UK are Amafil and Zaeli.
For the cheese, we use a cured local variety, known as queijo minas curado. The state of Minas Gerais produce the best cheeses in Brazil. Unfortunately, it is not possible to find them abroad. But I'm lucky that UK produces amazing cheeses. I did some research and ran tests at home. With the help of some friends I could find a good mixture of cheeses to get the best flavour and texture to pão de queijo.
There are many different methods to prepare pão de queijo. For a traditional recipe, there are some important steps if you want to achieve the right texture and flavour. I would like to share the same method I learned from my family, a recipe handed down for generations, adapted to UK ingredients.
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola or sunflower)
1 tsp salt
3 cups tapioca flour
2 cups grated cheese (mix mature cheddar and feta)
3 eggs, medium
Place the tapioca flour into a large bowl.
In a saucepan add the milk, water and oil, and place over medium heat. When start boiling. Turn off the stove and pour all the liquid over to the tapioca flour, in the bowl.
Stir with a spoon until obtaining a lumpy sticky dough. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. While you wait, grate the cheddar cheese finely and mash the feta cheese with a fork.
When the dough has cooled, add the cheese and three eggs, slightly beaten, to the mixture. Knead well with your hands until you get a very soft dough. If you find the dough too dry, you can add one more egg. Taste the dough and add salt if necessary.
With the dough ready, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Using a teaspoon, take a spoonful of dough and roll into a ball. Place it on a baking sheet giving some space among them for growing.
Bake them until golden brown, about 30 minutes, until the crust becomes golden. Then, serve them with a freshly brewed coffee and enjoy!