My gateway drug to any culture has always been food. I remember so clearly the first time I tried curry. The first time I tried sushi. The first time I had real Chinese food. Falling in love with the culture, for me, always starts with falling in love with that culture’s food.
My first introduction to Brazilian food (and culture) was through my friend Lili, who made me this amazing french toast called rabanada.
I have a lot of Brazilian culture in my life, thanks to my students. The school that I teach in is full of Brazilians here in Canada studying, and with them, of course, they bring a positive attitude, and really great food.
In addition to rabanada, they make this killer chocolate candy/dessert that’s a lot like truffles called Brigaderos. And they are known for using Cassava or Tapioca flour to make a kind of crepe or tortilla which can be served with either a sweet or savoury filling.
Tapioca is also the base of the Pao de Queijo, or Brazilian Cheese Bread.
You guys, to describe them as little fluffy pillows of heaven is to not give them really enough credit. They are light and fluffy and cheesy, with a nice, crisp exterior. Served warm out of the oven?? I challenge you not to eat them all (I regularly do).
The great thing about tapioca? It’s gluten-free.
If you know anything about French pastry, you’ll be familiar with a technique called pate a choux, or choux pastry. It’s made by melting together the milk and butter on the stove, then transferring to a mixer and whipping while adding eggs. This dough can be made either sweet (it’s the base of cream puffs and eclairs) or savoury (cheese gourges), but the either way, the end result is the same: a super light, super fluffy pastry.
This recipe is very similar to pate a choux, but it uses tapioca flour in the place of regular flour.
In Vancouver, tapioca starch is easy to find at your local Asian supermarket (bonus: it’s super cheap).
To try them for yourself, there are only a few places in Vancouver that serve them: Quejos on Main (obvs) and Boteco Brazil. I recently had them at a tiny little wine bar in Steveston called The Porthole, but I suspect they were made from frozen, and not in house. Still tasty though! The BRoots food truck also serves them up.
But if you want to make them yourself, they’re not hard! And you get the reward of eating them hot and fresh out of the oven, which, let’s face it, is how they should be eaten.
You’ll find in many places, they are served as little balls. I prefer to make them in mini muffin tins like this one. Be sure to grease the pan generously–these little guys will stick!
Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
(recipe adapted from The Kitchn–makes 1 dozen)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 oz tapioca starch
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup cheese–Parmesan is recommended, but I actually prefer cheddar
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, oil and salt just to the boil, whisking to avoid burning.
- Remove from the heat and add the tapioca starch, mix well with a spatula until all the flour is incorporated. It will be gloopy.
- Dump the contents of your pot into the bowl of your stand mixer, and attach the paddle. Mix on medium for a few minutes until the dough is cooled and smooth.
- With the mixer running, add the egg and allow it to incorporate until smooth.
- Turn off the mixer, scrape off the paddle and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cheese and fold in.
- Grease well a mini muffin tin, or line a baking sheet with silicone or parchment. Using a small scoop (like this) drop by spoonfuls into your muffin tin, or onto a cookie sheet.
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Put the cheese puffs in and then immediately drop the heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 10-15 minutes, turn and then bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
- Serve warm.