Earlier this week, The Girl sent me a Facebook message (from her bedroom) that read, in its entirety, “You should make these, I want them.” That heartfelt message was followed by a link to a recipe for Pao de Quiejo, also known as Brazilian Cheese Bread. I looked it over and wrote back (from the living room), “That doesn’t look too hard. I’ll try it later this week.” A few hours later, when she actually emerged from her fortress of solitude, she gave me a hug and said “I love having a cookin’ mama.” Then she added, “When are you going to make them?”
Pao de Quiejo is difficult to pronounce–I looked it up on several websites, and I’m still not sure how to say it–but not difficult to make. It does call for two ingredients that might be hard to find. Queso fresco (“fresh cheese”) is always in stock at my local grocery store, but it might be harder to find as you move farther north of Texas. If you can’t find it, mozzarella is probably the best substitute, in terms of approximating its taste. The second odd ingredient is tapioca flour. My usual grocery store didn’t carry it, though a larger store nearby carried the Bob’s Red Mill version. I’d never worked with tapioca flour before. It’s very light, almost like corn starch, and therefore a little tricky to measure. Just use a gentle hand, and don’t go plopping a cup of the stuff into a bowl. Unless you want a face full of tapioca dust, that is. Trust me on this one.
Like most recipes, there are dozens of versions of pao de quiejo online. Some call for a mashed potato in place of part of the tapioca flour. Others call for plain yogurt instead of milk, or Parmesan cheese in place of the queso fresco. The taste of Parmesan is so completely different than queso fresco that, while I can see it would make for very tasty cheese bread, it definitely wouldn’t taste the same. I might try using plain yogurt next time I make this recipe, just to see what the sour edge of the yogurt does for the bread. And I might try using garlic salt in place of the regular salt, just to add a different flavor.
While they’re baking, the pao de quiejo puff into these odd little shapes. One they’re done, they collapse just a little–chewy inside, crispy outside. They’re kind of like a popover, or a Yorkshire pudding (without the beef drippings, of course.) The Hubs went wild for them, and Mr. Picky even ate one without much prompting. The Girl said they weren’t quite what she’d expected, so we talked about how I might adapt the recipe to get closer to what she was hoping for.
Because you know a recipe for The Girl’s Cheese Puffs is somewhere in my future.
Pao de Quiejo
1 egg, brought to room temperature
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup grated queso fresco, packed
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups tapioca flour
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a mini-muffin pan with cooking spray and set it aside.
Combine the egg, olive oil and milk in a blender. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the queso fresco and salt; pulse again. Add the tapioca flour in small amounts, pulsing after each addition. You may need to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender canister as you keep blending. After you've added all the tapioca flour, let the batter blend for a minute or two, until it's smooth.
Pour the batter into the wells of the mini-muffin pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the bread is puffy and lightly browned around the edges. Cool on a rack for a few minutes before transferring to a plate. These are best eaten warm, since they get pretty chewy after cooling.