Brazilian cheese bread: Pão de Queijo

If you've dined at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, you've probably had pão de queijo. Here's a recipe for these gluten free Brazilian cheese bread bites.

Brazilian cheese bread, from recipe below using Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Starch.

Have you ever been to a Brazilian barbecue, or churrascaria? These restaurants bring around a selection of meats and serve you right at your table – a variety of steak, pork, chicken, sometimes even fish.   Additionally, these restaurants typically have a buffet with all your side dishes – salad, beans and rice, and if you’re lucky, little Brazilian cheese bread bites.  Crusty on the outside, and chewy and air-filled on the inside, these little guys are called pão de queijo (“bread of cheese” in Portuguese) and they are gluten free when made the traditional way! (If you’re at a restaurant, always double-check.)

Brazilian cheese bread is pretty easy to make.  Some Brazilian friends adapted their recipe for use in the United States (we don’t have the same kinds of cheese they use in Brazil) and I’ve modified it a little further. Here we go!

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups *tapioca starch

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup shredded mozzarella or mild cheddar

3/4 cup grated Parmesan

If you've dined at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, you've probably had pão de queijo. Here's a recipe for these gluten free Brazilian cheese bread bites.

From Isabel’s Dough Balls mix

Bring the liquids (milk and oil) to a boil. Meanwhile, put the tapioca starch in a medium bowl, and mix in the salt. Add the boiling liquids into the bowl with the tapioca starch and mix with a wooden spoon. Let it cool off a bit, for 15 minutes or so.

Once the mixture is cooler, add the eggs, and mix with your hands. This part is very sticky, and may be slightly hot. Preheat your oven to 350F/180C.

Once you have completely incorporated the eggs, add the cheese and keep mixing until you have dough. Wash your hands, if needed, and then lightly oil them, and make small balls out of the dough. Place on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm!

If you don’t want to make them from scratch, there are a couple of mixes that you may be able to find. In the US, try *Yoki’s Pão de Queijo mix, available from Amazon. In the UK, try Isabel’s Dough Balls mix, available online.

Frequently asked questions

Q: What is tapioca starch, and where do I find it?
A: Tapioca starch comes from cassava, and is a very commonly used flour in Brazil.  It’s also quite common in some Asian cuisines.  I have been able to find it in two places in one store (besides Amazon) – an ethnic grocery store I know carries the *Goya brand in their Latin foods aisle, and also carries some brands I can’t recall in the Asian section.

The best kind of tapioca starch to use, if you can find it, is the sour starch. If you can’t, you can use the plain ones like Bob’s Red Mill or the ones from the Asian aisle. Note that *Bob’s Red Mill stays pretty pale when baked, so they don’t go particularly golden – the easiest way to judge is by the little bits of cheese that are exposed. When those are golden, the rolls are done.

If you've dined at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, you've probably had pão de queijo. Here's a recipe for these gluten free Brazilian cheese bread bites.

These are a little pale thanks to the Bob’s Red Mill tapioca starch I used.

Q: Is tapioca flour the same as tapioca starch?
A: No (but it depends on labeling.)  Tapioca flour is typically courser and is used for different foods, NOT baking.  Tapioca starch is a fine, white powder, similar in appearance to corn starch.  Bob’s Red Mill sells tapioca starch labeled as tapioca flour, though, so just read the label carefully, or look at the product in the bag. (This can be tricky if you’ve had to resort to the Asian section, as the packaging is usually not clear, and the writing is usually not in English.  Good luck, and get help if you can.) Cassava flour, I recently learned, is also not the same thing. It’s made from the whole cassava root, not just the starch.

Q: Can I use different cheeses?
A: Sure, you can do whatever you want. I do recommend you keep the Parmesan, though, as it’s a dry, flavorful cheese. The mozzarella can easily be substituted for pizza blend, jack, or cheddar. I’ve always wanted to try it with pepper jack, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  If someone tries it, tell me about it in the comments!

Q: Can I store these gluten free rolls?
A: Like most things, these taste best fresh from the oven. However – you can freeze the dough before baking (just make the balls as normal, but freeze them instead of baking) and then when you get a craving, just pop a couple of the frozen rolls onto a baking sheet in throw them in the oven (350F/180C, for about 25 minutes.) It’s gluten free bread whenever you want it!

Have you ever tried these Brazilian cheese bread bites? Where can you find them? Tell me in the comments!

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