Pão-de-queijo (literally cheese roll) is an irresistible, addicting Brazilian comfort food: a treat to be savored at any time of the day. It is a very popular item in lanchonetes (more later) and padarias (Brazilian-style bakeries) all over the country, especially in the Southeast region - painted red in the map below. People have pães-de-queijo (plural) for breakfast, with coffee, as an afternoon snack, sometimes filled with different kinds of cheese (or other fillings), or at any time of the day they feel hungry and cannot or are not in the mood for a whole meal.
Pão-de-queijo can even be served as an accompaniment to main meals. When I was a child growing up in the country-side of Minas Gerais state (YES!!! I am “mineira”), people used to serve them at wedding parties with thinly sliced pernil (roasted ham) and maionese de legumes (Brazilian-style potato salad) - very “caipira”, and so so yummy!!!
“Caipira” (the same root found in the Brazilian national drink name, “caipirinha”) means “country person”, and/or “pertaining to the country-side”. People from Minas Gerais, or the mineiros (men) and mineiras (women), are known in Brazil as “the” prototypical country people, and there are many jokes and sayings about their proverbial cunning and shrewdness, as well as their cooking abilities.
Legend has it that the best and only authentic pão-de-queijo (the “mineiro” one) comes from the Minas Gerais state - the land of milk and cheese. The original recipe calls for polvilho azedo (“sour” manioc starch, sold in Latin markets as almidón agrio - see picture) and queijo da canastra, a tangy, flavorful, aged farmer’s cheese made with creamy milk from cows eating mainly grass and strolling freely in the pastures of this mountainous state (the picture below is from a farm in my home town, Guaranésia). Thus, to taste the authentic “pão-de-queijo mineiro”, you will have to visit Minas Gerais... (you won’t regret it, I promise!) But, for now, if you want a recipe to prepare a very similar one, here you are.
Actually, I decided to post two recipes here: one is an attempt to get as close as possible to the traditional pão-de-queijo mineiro (or, let’s call it “pão-de-queijo the hard way”). The second one, as I see it, is a recipe for the lazy (or not too versed) cook that does not care much for the tradition and/or does not have enough time to prepare the traditional, handmade one. It uses a blender and a different type of starch, the “sweet” one - polvilho doce (sold as almidón dulce in Latin markets).
One very important note: never ever attempt to bake pão-de-queijo in the microwave oven (I did, with terrible results!). On the other hand, they reheat very well in sandwich / panini makers, specially if you fill them with cheese!
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tsp salt (more or less, depending on the cheese mixture you're going to use)
1 lb (500 g) polvilho azedo (Brazilian sour manioc starch)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded queijo da canastra (or you can try a mix of 2 parts sharp cheddar cheese and 1 part mozzarella, or 1 part mozzarella and 2 parts parmesan cheese, or any other mix of melting, strong-flavored cheeses you like)
1. Combine oil, milk and salt in a sauce pan. Heat to just below boiling point (watch closely - when the mixture starts to rise, remove immediately from heat and use mixture in step 3).
2. Place the polvilho azedo in a large bowl.
3. Pour boiling mixture all over the polvilho azedo and, using a wooden spoon, start stirring the dough.
4. When the dough is cold enough to be kneaded by hand (but still hot), add eggs and cheese and knead until it is very sticky and elastic, about 15 minutes (you will need a spoon or scraper to get it off your hands).
5. Let the dough rest while you preheat the oven to 450oF (it is very important that the oven is at high temperature when you bake the pães-de-queijo; if they start to get too brown on the bottom before getting golden brown on top, reduce the temperature a little bit).
6. Oil two large baking pans. Oil your hands with vegetable oil and form golf-sized balls with the dough (40-45). Place them 2-3 in apart in the pan, as they grow considerably when baked. (You can, at this point, freeze the balls and then store them in zip lock bags to bake them straight from the freezer at your convenience - they will take a little longer to get ready, though.)
7. Bake until puffed and golden brown (about 15 minutes). Serve hot.
Lazy cook pão-de-queijo
1 tsp baking powder
1. Oil two 6-muffin pans (medium size). Preheat oven to 435oF.
2. Beat eggs, oil, milk, salt and mozzarella together in a blender.
3. Add half cup of polvilho doce at a time and beat well after each addition. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides, if necessary. Add baking powder and pulse 2 or 3 times to mix well.
4. Divide mixture among muffin cups filling them about half way through (the dough expands a lot when baking).
5. Bake until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot.
Eita trem bão, sô!!!