I have been enjoying our exploration of Brazilian food for the past few weeks. My Mom happened to have a few pounds of oxtail in her freezer but didn’t have a recipe for making any of the dishes we used to eat in Brazil, so Alice’s recipe is very timely. Thanks, Alice!
I decided to try my hand at one of my favorite snacks, pão de queijo, which translates to “cheese bread”. It’s made with tapioca flour or in Portuguese, povilho which has the consistency of cornstarch, sort of squeaky and super fine. It’s more like a powder than flour.
In Brazil, you can get sweet or sour povilho and it’s the sour povilho that is used for this delicious snack. Here in the United States you can buy tapioca flour (also known as tapioca starch) in the gluten-free areas of most grocery stores. This is the equivalent of povilho doce or the sweet flour and it will work in a pinch. You may have to look in specialty stores. In my local store, I was able to find the tapioca flour as well as a ready made mix.
I’ve attempted pão de queijo from scratch about three times in my life and have never been able to make them as well as I’d like. Of course, my Mom once made this cheese bread and forgot to add the cheese, so maybe it’s a genetic thing.
On this attempt, I adapted a recipe that I saw on the foodie photography blog What Katie Ate. It called for the addition of a boiled, mashed potato, which I’d never heard of before in this cheese bread. It had a good flavor, but my first batch was over baked and quite crunchy, rather than being a bit soft and gooey in the middle. When I baked my second batch, I followed the directions on the recipe (duh) and added a bowl of water to the oven to help keep the little treasures from drying out so much. And what do you know? It helped! That’ll teach me to skim over a recipe.
This is a fairly simple method. Boil the potato and mash it up so it’s smooth.
Measure all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer if you have one, as it goes much faster that way. Combine everything until it becomes a smooth dough. It shouldn’t be too sticky or too dry. Add a teaspoon or two of milk if it seems too dry to hold together nicely.
Next, roll the dough into balls. I usually make them bite sized, but you can also make them into large bun sized balls and use them for sandwiches.
Bake them for 15-25 minutes, depending on the size you make them. Don’t forget to add an oven proof bowl filled with water to the oven before you start baking them.
Once they are lightly browned on the bottom, they are done.
I love to eat these cheese breads topped with vinaigrette (vee-nah-grechy) which is a sort of Brazilian fresh salsa made with vinegar, olive oil, chopped onions, tomatoes and green peppers. I know Alice can’t eat green peppers, so she’s allowed to leave them out. Something else green would be good in it instead, maybe celery or chopped cilantro leaves.
Chop the onions, green pepper and tomatoes to a fine chop, you don’t want large chunks of anything in this vinaigrette.
Mix together in a bowl with the olive oil and red wine vinegar, adding salt and pepper to taste. This, like most things I cook, is very adaptable to your preference. You can add other ingredients as variations if you want to be creative. Sometimes I add corn and black beans and use lime juice instead of the vinegar and eat it as a salad or a tortilla chip dip. Go crazy with this.
I use Arisco as my all purpose seasoning. It’s just salt, pepper, onion and garlic, but the combination is not something that is easily replicated. I use it for everything. It is wonderful in meat marinates, added to my black beans or to my balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing – the sky’s the limit. You can usually get it at Brazilian stores or latin markets. If you are fortunate enough to be able to find it, BUY SOME! You will thank me later.
When the little pão de queijo is done, cut one open, spoon the sauce in it and enjoy. You’ll be back for more.
I have found a couple of good pão de queijo mixes at the Brazilian store and the mix shown at the top of the page was at my local grocery store. The mixes are usually quite good, especially if you add fresh grated cheese to them. So in this case, I am going against everything I normally would do and am recommending using a mix. So if you can find one, use it with my blessing.
Pão de Queijo
4 cups (500 gr) tapioca flour (starch)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250 gr) grated mozzarella cheese
½ cup (50 gr) grated parmesan
4 tablespoons oil
1 cup boiled mashed potato
4 tablespoons butter
1-3 teaspoons of milk, only if necessary
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place an oven safe bowl full of water on the top rack of the oven. This will help keep the rolls from drying out. Chop the potato and boil it in a medium saucepan of water. When it is soft, drain it and mash it with a fork until it is smooth.
Measure all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, preferably in the bowl of an electric mixer if you have one. Combine the ingredients well until a soft dough has formed. If the dough seems too dry, add one teaspoon of milk and mix again. You can add up to three teaspoons of milk if necessary. The longer you mix it, the smoother the dough will be, so don’t skimp on the mixing.
Roll the dough into balls and place on a baking sheet. I rolled mine into the size of a golf ball, but you can go as large as the size of your fist. They won’t puff too much, so you can bake them fairly close together.
For the golf ball sized rolls, bake for 15 minutes, then check to see if the bottoms are light brown. For larger rolls, increase the baking time by 10-20 minutes. If you aren’t sure that they are done, pull one out and cut it open. Watch out for the hot steam – don’t burn yourself! If the outside is a little crispy and the inside is slightly gooey, then they are done.
Cut open, top with the vinaigrette and enjoy.
½ medium onion, chopped finely
2 tomatoes, chopped finely
½ green pepper, chopped finely
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper or Arisco to taste
Combine all the ingredients and taste. Adjust the vinegar or salt and pepper quantities to taste.
Serve on pão de queijo. This is also good atop grilled fish, as an accompaniment to beans and rice, a dip for tortilla chips or… just use your imagination. And please let me know how you’ve adapted it.