Over a year ago, C and I took a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil for our friends’ wedding. Before heading out, another friend who had grown up in Brazil gave us the low down on what to expect. Along with the usual traveler admonishments that inevitably come with foreign travel, she told us to be sure to try Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Breads. She told us they were wonderful and addictive, but to be honest, they sounded a bit odd. All the same, we promised to try them. Once we made it to Sao Paolo, they were everywhere – on street carts, at the dinner table, at the airport – and they were, as promised, delicious. We fast became addicted and in the end literally spent our last bit of Brazilian money at the airport, while waiting for our plane, buying up all the ‘cheese breads’ we could find.
Back in the U.S. we just couldn’t forget about those Brazilian cheese breads. I looked for an easy recipe, but every one I found called for tapioca flour. That should have been my cue to look for tapioca flour, but instead I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until I forgot about it. In fact, if I hadn’t picked up Ingrid Hoffmann’s Simply Delicioso from the library, those cheese breads might have been lost to my memory. Instead as I was flipping through the cookbook, I saw her recipe for Yucca Buns and realized that this was the recipe I was looking for.
Apparently these sort of cheese breads are found all over Latin America. They’re called Chipas in Argentina, Arepas in Colombia, and Pan de Yuca is Ecuador. These breads are sort of tough to describe. They are crisp on the outside and doughy/cheesy/chewy on the inside. Made with tapioca flour – which makes them gluten free – the dough has a texture unlike anything I’ve seen, almost like play-do. In the end tapioca flour wasn’t that hard to find; it was just in the natural food section of the grocery store rather than the normal baking section – hidden in plain sight.
All in all they are fairly easy to make – tapioca flour, baking powder, egg yolks, a bit of heavy cream and, of course, cheese. The recipe I used suggested Oaxaca cheese, which I did not have and which I did not feel like driving to find. Instead I used a mixture of 1 1/3 cups of mozzarella and 2/3 cup cheddar. The buns turned out great – cheesy and chewy. I had added a bit of garlic powder, so there was a garlicky flavor that went well with all that cheesiness. They weren’t as spectacular as what we had in Brazil – foods you eat on great vacations are never as good when you try them at home – but they were a pretty good substitute. I’m sure we’ll make them again and again all the while dreaming of Brazil. As they say in Portuguese, Bom Apetite!
Adapted from Simply Delicioso by Ingrid Hoffmann
1 cup tapioca flour, plus extra for kneading
1 teaspoon baking powder
(I added a few shakes of garlic powder as well)
2 cups Oaxaca cheese or other fresh white cheese, such as mozzarella, finely grated
2 large egg yolks
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, if necessary
reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.Combine the tapioca flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Stir in the cheese and egg yolks. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth, even-textured, and not sticky. If the dough doesn’t come together or seems too stiff, then add cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it comes together and feels supple.
Divide the dough into 10 even pieces and with your hands, roll each into a ball. Shape the balls into ovals and place them 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the rolls are pale gold (not browned), about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes and serve while still warm.