To the pão de queijo novice, these unassuming little balls may just look like tiny bread rolls, perhaps for serving alongside a soup. But take a bite, and you’ll discover the addictive, cheesy treat that is Brazilian cheese bread.
Found all over the South American country, pão de queijo are made with polvilho (tapioca flour), and starchiness gives the bread balls their distinct chewiness on the inside, with a hard shell-like crust on the outside. When served hot from the oven, eating them is a full sensory experience. The dough has a stretchy quality as you pull the bread apart or sink your teeth into them.
The rest of the ingredient list is fairly standard, consisting of eggs, milk, water, oil, salt and plenty of cheese. Seeing as no wheat or yeast is used to make them, pão de queijo is naturally gluten-free, meaning coeliacs too are very much at-risk of forming the dangerous addiction that has beset many.
“Unlike standard bread recipes, [pão de queijo] doesn't require any [proofing] time, so it's fairly easy to make."
“Unlike standard bread recipes, [pão de queijo] doesn't require any [proofing] time, so it's fairly easy to make,” says Anajá Barzel. She’s been baking these little beauties for nine years at Café Brazil, a Brazilian café in the Sydney suburb of Bondi.
“I'd say the most critical point would be to boil the wet ingredients really well before adding them to the dry ingredients, then allowing sufficient cooling time before adding the eggs and cheese.”
Pão de queijo is very much a part of everyday life in Barzel’s home country, and any visitor can expect to be tempted by them absolutely everywhere they go. They are sold on street corners, in restaurants, in supermarkets and baked fresh in homes right around Brazil.
“Pão de queijo is typically eaten at breakfast, or for afternoon tea. Generally, any time there's coffee involved, pão de queijo usually accompanies."
It’s also an all-day affair, meaning your mouth (and perhaps your waistline) won’t be getting much of a break.
“Pão de queijo is typically eaten at breakfast, or for afternoon tea. Generally, any time there's coffee involved, pão de queijo usually accompanies,” says Barzel.
The balls came to being as African slaves in Brazil would grind cassava roots to make tapioca flour, with cheese and milk being added to the mix after slavery’s eradication in the former Portuguese colony.
The state of Minas Gerais takes the credit for producing what is today known as pão de queijo, but the breads popularity has now spread across the rest of the country.
Across Brazil pão de queijo is fairly consistent. “Everyone adds their own touch to the basic recipe, you can change the quantity and type of cheeses, add fillings, the possibilities are limited to your imagination really, but the base of every recipe is the same,” says Barzel.
You can find Jo Whitton’s recipe cooked in the recent episode of our SBS Food television series, Loving Gluten Free, here:
Want more gluten-free inspiration? Catch Helen Tzouganatos whipping up lush gluten-free recipes alongside guests in the brand new series of Loving Gluten Free on SBS and SBS On Demand. Catch the cheesy episode featuring pao de queijo here.
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