Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Broinhas de fubá - a cross between cream puffs and corn bread?

After all this time (last post was May 2010!), here I come with yet another Minas Gerais specialty - the broa de fubá, or broinha. I prepared some at my mom’s house during my recent 40-day trip to Brazil, and they were delicious!

Fubá, from Kimbundu fuba, is the word in Portuguese for cornmeal, or corn flour (not to be confused with the white powder British English speakers call “conflour”, Americans “corn starch”, and Brazilians amido de milho). There are two main types of fubá in Brazil - the fubá mimoso, very finely ground (like corn flour), which imparts a finer texture to foods such as porridges and cakes, and the fubá grosso, coarser and sometimes simply referred to as fubá (in terms of texture similarity, somewhere between medium to fine ground cornmeal). There are several other kinds of corn flours and meals available, and most of them have a precooked version. Together with manioc (or cassava, or yuca) flours and starches, these are the second choice of starch in Brazil (after rice), and they are also widely used in baking goods both savory and sweet.

The word broa (broinha is the diminutive) is also used in European Portuguese and in some regions of Brazil to name a type of corn bread, large and round, that used to be more popular in the past. I remember being a child and going with my mom or dad buy broa de milho at the tiny armazém near our house in Guaxupé - I was so small I could not see the wood counter top, but I could see and smell the broas de milho, fresh and beautiful, laying behind the counter glass.

It’s hard to make an outstanding broinha like those you buy in some padarias in Brazil (on the left) in a noncommercial oven, as they require high and constant heat to rapidly puff before the steam cracks open the shell and escapes. But it’s worth a try, especially if you don’t know the other version of the treat.

Some decades ago, broinhas were often made with pork lard (some people still use lard), which imparts a nice flavor, aroma and texture to the product. The smell and taste of the aniseeds, though, is what characterizes both broas and broinhas. There are also the ones made with toasted, ground peanuts - DELICIOUS! But I’m still working on that recipe. For now, try this one and let me know how they come up!

Broinhas de fubá 
(Brazilian Cornmeal Puffs)

1 cup filtered water
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter (or unflavored pork lard, if you have access to a good one)
1 cup finely ground cornmeal (corn flour)
1 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra to roll the broinhas)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp aniseed
pinch of salt
5 large eggs

1) Combine corn and all-purpose flour, sugar, aniseed and salt in a bowl.
2) Combine water, milk and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3) Add corn and flour mix at once and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it forms a uniform ball and pulls off the sides of the pan (see picture). Let cool until warm.
4) Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate air in the batter.
5) Preheat the oven to 400oF.
6) Oil the inside of a small bowl or rounded cup with oil. Add 1/2 tsp flour and shake to coat the sides well (do not shake off excess - this flour prevents the dough from sticking to the bowl). Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the dough inside the floured bowl and, working fast and continuously, twirl the bowl so the dough is coated in flour and forms a ball. Immediately turn the bowl upside down onto an oiled baking sheet, placing the broinha at least 2 inches apart from the sides of the pan and the other broinhas (see video - I'm working on a better one, though). Add another 1/2 tsp flour  into the bowl for each unit you make.
7) Bake immediately until deep golden brown. The inside will seem raw, but it’s not - it should be humid and hollow, like puff pastry. Serve warm or cold, plain or with butter, sided by a good cup of piping hot, strong coffee.

TIP: if the dough is too loose to apply this method, or if it starts sticking to the sides of the bowl, use the cookie scoop to place the portions of dough onto baking sheet and, using a small strainer, dust their tops liberally with flour.