Pão de queijo (pãos de queijo?) are a lot like gougères, but with a little less fat and zero gluten. Why’s that? Because they’re made from tapioca starch, a derivative of the cassava root, not wheat flour. This gives them a somewhat different texture, like a soft wheat bun when cool, like a hot air ballon made of molten cheese when warm. They’re really quite a delicious experience either way, no wonder they’re one of the national foods of Brazil.
Be advised that there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about pão de queijo. Believe me. I’ve suffered from it all week long. Just get yourself some tapioca starch (a powdery white flour available at most health food stores or your local Whole Foods), follow the below instructions and you’ll do just fine. These things really are incredibly easy when you know how.
Traditionally they’re made using a semi-firm cheese from Brazil called Minas. That cheese is nigh impossible to get here in the States. Parmesan is commonly used as a substitute, but Mexican Cojita is far closer in flavor and can be found at most Mexican markets. But really any semi-firm cheese will work. Below I used Manchego and the results were fantastic. Anyway, begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the water, milk and oil in a small saucepan.
Don’t forget the salt!
Bring the mixture to the boil…
…and pour it over the tapioca flour.
Stir or whisk that mess together until the starch is gluey and gelatinized. It will be quite thick. A wooden spoon would have been a better choice here. Allow this mixture to cool completely.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and cheese.
Until it’s about like this.
When the tapioca mixture is cool, combine that and the cheese mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (you can do the mixing by hand if you want, but a mixer will do it faster and more consistently…it will also incorporate more air).
Beat for about 90 seconds or so until the batter is uniform and fluffy.
Spoon the mixture onto an un-greased sheet pan, about two tablespoons per dollop.
Bake them for about 30 – 40 minutes until golden.
Quite light and fluffy on the inside, see? Warm, they’re meltingly delicious.
This recipe makes about 20. Leftover baked puffs can be frozen, through there won’t be any. The best of all possibly freezing strategies is to freeze the batter/dough dollops themselves and put them in bags. They can go straight from the freezer to the oven.
Special thanks to reader Bronwyn for her help and insights! Also many thanks to reader Monika, a professional Brazilian pão de queijo maker, who weighed in with some truly excellent ideas.