Brazilian Cheese Buns (Pão de Queijo)

30 Oct

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Pão de Queijo is a traditional cheese bun popular in South America, most especially in Brazil. The dish has been around since the 17th century, and was made with just tapioca starch and water before the widespread domestication of cattle in Brazil in the 1800s. Today, it’s a popular breakfast food and can be found in most bakeries in Brazil.

Cheese buns are some of our favorite non-bread breads to make. They’re dead simple – mostly tapioca starch and hard cheese – and are a great complement to many meals (not just breakfast). We first discovered them in our pre-Paleo days at a Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse. Later we started making them using pre-packaged Chebe brand dry mixes, until we found out that the Jaminets over at Perfect Health Diet had posted a recipe of their own. My recipe is very close to theirs, the only main difference being that I use a combination of cream and water instead of milk (there’s nothing wrong with making it with milk, but I have an easier time digesting cream than milk). I’ve also adjusted the portion sizes so that our recipe only makes 15-20 cheese balls – otherwise, that’s all we would be eating at every meal!

You’ll Need:
1 1/2 cups tapioca starch
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated hard cheese: parmesan, sharp cheddar, etc.

A quick note about tapioca starch: it is often labeled as cassava or yuca starch, or tapioca flour, and they’re all the same thing.

Also, if you don’t have any issues with milk, 1/2 cup milk works just as well as the cream/water combo above.

In a saucepan, combine the cream, water, butter, and salt and bring to a simmer on med/low heat. You want to get it to the point that it’s starting to bubble, but not boiling.

In a large bowl, add the tapioca starch. When the cream/water mixture is heated, add it to the starch and stir it all together.

It will start to clump together, which is fine. Also, it may inexplicably make all of your pictures blurry for a second, like in the picture above. Let the mixture cool for five minutes. As it cools, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Add the beaten egg to the mixture, and knead together with your hands. It’ll get pretty sticky, don’t worry about it – the cheese will fix everything in the next step.

Just as I promised, add the cheese and knead, and you should have a pretty sweet dough going at this point. It’s okay if it’s a little sticky at this point, but if it’s way too sticky, add a little more cheese or tapioca starch until it starts to dry up a bit.

^^ Pretty sweet dough.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls. You should be able to make 15-20 magic cheese balls. Put them on a baking sheet, then throw them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

That’s it! Let them cool a bit and go to town. They can keep for a few days in a container, and you can nuke them for a few seconds and they’ll be nice and soft all over again. You can also freeze the balls prior to baking, to have a pre-made snack that can be ready after 20-25 mins of baking.

Feel free to experiment with the types of cheese, just be sure to use hard cheeses. Also, consider adding a pinch of some dried spices to pair it with whatever meal your making – maybe a little basil or oregano to go with spaghetti (squash) and meatballs?

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64 Responses to “Brazilian Cheese Buns (Pão de Queijo)”

  1. leylaley76 October 30, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Looks scrummy :)

  2. teabone413 October 30, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    yikes! this could derail my life! looks amazing *drool*

    how many can you eat before you are offically back on a SAD diet :P

  3. Strictly Paleo...ish October 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Woohoo!! Such a well timed post Russ!
    Two weeks ago I was in Vegas, and actually went to Fogo de Chao!
    While being there, of course I had to try a cheese bun…it was _delicious_ and I’m so happy you posted this gluten free recipe for making them!!!
    (Nopes…a cheese bun was not the worst diet slip of the week…ehrrm. But I’m recovering again now… ;)

    Man, wish I had a meat-card to flip to green right now…drool.

    Take care Russ, thanks for yet another awesome post!

    Best Regards // Peter

    Ps. …I have not forgotten about that thing you asked me about a few weeks ago.

    • Russ Crandall ( October 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      Hope you had a great time in Vegas, Peter! Janey and I got married there, I love that little city (in small doses). Did you have a deep fried twinkie? :)

      • Strictly Paleo...ish November 2, 2012 at 8:49 am #

        Oh yes, I had a great time in Vegas! The trip was work related (conference) but I did get some time to look around too. …a very surrealistic, yet AWESOME, experience! :)
        I suggested a vacation there for my girlfriend…her response was: “I’ll only go to Vegas for ONE reason!…”, so who knows…maybe that’ll be the scene of my wedding photos aswell…just gotta grow up first haha!

        Nopes, luckily I didn’t sink to deep fried Twinkie level…a few more days there and I probably would have though! ;)

        Have a great weekend Russ!

  4. Alex October 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    These look really good! I could go for one or two of these and a pile of meat any time. Yum.

  5. Lois October 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    They look delicious! I must see if I can find tapioca starch!

  6. vanbraman October 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I am sure that I have eaten these in Brazil, but didn’t know that they were made with tapioca. I am not a big fan of tapioca pudding, but it is because of the texture not the taste. I do know that the cheese buns that I at in Brazil were very good. Thanks for posting the recipe.

  7. Jules October 31, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    If only you weren’t already married! Domesticated and gluten free…sigh. Seriously though, you have a great blog filled with wonderful recipes for food I can actually eat. Thanks for being here. :)

    • Russ Crandall ( November 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Jules! My wife would argue that I’m not very domesticated at all (I’m terrible with chores around the house).

  8. healthstartsinthekitchen November 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    These look amazing!!!

  9. Lola November 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    So I made these tonight and have a couple questions. For starters I’ve never really made homemade dough or buns and I’ve never tried these Brazilian buns before today. Mine turned out pretty crunchy on the outside, but soft and chewy in the middle. Is that the intended consistency? Adding the cheese didn’t really help dry out the dough. I think I ultimately ended up using about 2 cups of tapioca flour to get it to an actual dough ball.

    • Russ Crandall ( November 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      Lola, the consistency (crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside) is right – you bring up a good point and I’ll amend the recipe to mention that. It definitely isn’t flaky or fluffy like you would expect from something like a nice loaf of french bread! :)

      • Lola November 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

        Good to know! Thanks for sharing the recipe also. I probably should have mentioned that I thought they were pretty tasty. I can definitely see how it’d be easy to scarf up a whole load of them in one meal.

  10. Carol November 20, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    What fun to find you! I was looking for a gluten free gnocchi recipe…and here you are! I was diagnosed with Celiac four years ago. Have been browsing through all your recipes. Love your photography! My husband has Crandall blood in him and he’s amazing in the kitchen, like you! :) He has embraced the challenges that gluten free cooking brings with ease. So cool to have supportive families!

    For some reason, I have an issue with tapioca. :( These Brazilian Cheese Buns look amazing, but for me, there is a bitter aftertaste that lasts for more than a day. I do my best to steer clear of tapioca. Can you suggest another starch that might work well in this recipe?

    • Russ Crandall ( November 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Hi Carol, thanks for the great comment! I am not sure that any other starch would work well with this recipe, since it’s probably tapioca’s ability to bind and stretch that makes these things stay together. I would maybe give it a try with potato starch, although it will probably have a more crumbly consistency. We often use water, egg, and potato starch to make a batter for onion rings, and they come out pretty awesome. So in that sense maybe potato starch would be okay :)

  11. Mary December 7, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    These are so incredibly yummy. I used Parmesan. Next time, I’m going to use extra sharp cheddar as I think that will make them even better. Thank you so much for this recipe! Very easy to make and they’ll be perfect breakfast fuel for my bike rides…if they can make it to the following morning.

  12. Ann Baker December 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    Chebe is great-my kids and I make pizza, tortillas, cinnamon rolls and a dairy free bun as well.

  13. Patty January 21, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    I just tried these, and they are very very good… I can’t seem to get um like your picture.. But I will keep trying :) Thanks for the delicious side dish!

  14. Katie January 22, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    Hi so I made these for the first time tonight and I really enjoyed them. My husband wasnt a fan he said they were to chewy in the center and not in a good hot roll way. And I was wondering if I could have made them a little to large or over cooked them? Was looking for any advice u might have thanks. Oh and my husband isn’t paleo or gluten free but I’m working on him slowly.

    • Russ Crandall ( January 23, 2013 at 6:19 am #

      Katie, it will be chewy on the inside – that’s the nature of tapioca starch. It takes a while to get used to the consistency…

      • Katie January 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

        I thought they were delicious. Do u have any suggestions to help ease one into a no Grain diet? My husband loves meat it’s just taking away the grains that has been difficult he is very much attached to them. And likes having bready kind of treats

  15. Krista January 23, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Oh my gosh… these are my favorite at Fogo… this recipe makes it seem so easy to make. I will definitely try this one out, thanks!

  16. Lisa K. Stahley January 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I bought tapioca starch to make the garbage free chik-fil-a nuggets (which are AMAZING) and now I realize I have all the ingredients for these, so I believe they must happen soon!!

  17. Lauren February 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks for this recipe. I lived in Brasil and actually most breads in the south is made with tapioca starch. It’s a very common ingredient, any true brasilian cheese bread will always be gluten free. You can also buy Yoki mix at any good south american grocery store, and they will also have many other flours to try is large quantities (no way am I paying out the butt from places like whole foods and trader joes). Wheat flour is very expensive in Brasil since wheat isn’t grown there, so most everything when I lived there was tapioca or rice flour. :)

    One thing I love about tapioca flour is the texture, it’s kinda plasticy and squeaky!

    • Russ Crandall ( February 6, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

      Sounds like I need to visit Brazil! :)

      • Carolina January 6, 2014 at 10:41 am #

        Indeed! My mom’s recipe is a little different (her family used a combination of water and oil instead of milk/cream and butter), and while I will ALWAYS eat her pao de queijo, because it is delicious, I recognize I should probably try a more paleo-friendly alternative. :) I love that it’s fairly flexible as to the types of cheeses you can use in the recipe (in Minas Gerais, where my mom’s from, it’s traditionally made using fresh farmer’s cheese). Getting the right consistency in the dough is the only determining factor when deciding on the cheese, but adjusting the moisture level is usually pretty simple (thankfully it’s pretty forgiving as far as experimentation goes).

        Yoki also makes sour tapioca starch, which I really love (I miss sourdough, lol, so this is really as close as I can get). Usually can find it at ethnic food stores, at least here in the Austin area, reasonably priced.

        • Russ Crandall January 6, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

          Carolina, thanks for the feedback! Now I want to try and make these with water and coconut oil, to see how they come out. I’ll keep an eye out for Yoki, thanks for the tip!

  18. Amy March 2, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I just tried these and they are super easy and delicious! My kids gave it a thumbs up! I did have to add about a tsp of milk when I was kneading bcz it was a little dry. I did also use the cheapo ground parmesan, so that may have contributed to it. I will post to FB and Pinterest.

  19. Charlie Whitestone March 18, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    He bro, just made these with Kerrygold Dubliner as the cheese and paired them with tomato soup… Out of the park

  20. Renae April 30, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    Oh. My. Goodness. These are so good!! We will definitely be making these weekly! Thank you for this recipe :)

  21. Angie July 22, 2013 at 10:00 pm # These are so delicious! I just made them to accompany ‘My Favourite Chili’ from Well Fed and it was a poetic combination!!! My three year old is currently on his fourth and he calls them gummy bears due to the chewy texture! Thanks so much for sharing this winner and for your info on white rice! It was what I needed to hear at this point in my paleo journey as I have been needing a little variety! Your site has been a breath of fresh air for me since I discovered it earlier this week! Cheers!

  22. Angelique November 4, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    I just wanted to say that for those who can’t have milk I use coconut milk and I think it turns out great.

  23. Rob November 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    :). Baking them in oven as I type! So easy! U da bomb!

  24. camila December 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Hi there! A Brazilian living in Australia and with a massive craving for pao de queijon until… I saw your recipe.
    Yes, I could buy the yoki pao de quijo mixture but hey I wanted a home made full of wellness pao de queijo. plus if you read the ingredients… that really can’t be good for you! So…. I made your recipe yesterday. it was beautiful, thanks. However my mixture got a bit runny. I used milk instead of cream but still i can’t understand. Maybe something with the settling time of the dough? I really wanted to freeze some but because it was too runny It did not allow me to make little balls so…. I stuffed myself the whole day with pao de queijo! :) They were awesome! I will give it a try again.

    • Russ Crandall December 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Camila, thanks for sharing, and glad you liked the recipe! Every once in a while my dough gets runny as well, and I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. It has to do with heat, I’ve had people tell me they think it’s the ambient temperature of their kitchen (and maybe the tapioca starch), or how hot the milk gets before adding it to the starch. I’ve literally tried it twice back to back in the same way but with different results!

  25. jmcevoy44 February 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    I am new to the paleo/PHD world, on week 3 now. I made these the first week and LOVE them! Can’t wait to make more with our roast tonight. I am wondering though if when you say cream if it’s different than whipping/heavy whipping cream? I can’t seem to find anything at the grocery store that just says cream, it’s always half and half or whipping cream. Does it matter what I use?

    • Russ Crandall February 4, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Sorry, yes I mean heavy whipping cream. I guess I’m a little too casual with my cream references :)

  26. adriana February 15, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    Have you ever tried a “pao de queijo de liquidificador” recipe? It simply means the whole thing is done in the blender. It’s so quick, I can make it for breakfast and in 5 minutes they are in the oven. If you’d like I can send you a translated version via email.
    Baltimore, MD

  27. Regina April 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    I’m brazilian and pale. I was trying to find a good pão de queijo recipe, that would make sense to me. Originally is made out of manioc starch flour – but man, I have to say, those are super awesome! I’m so happy to ended up on your page! I used parmesan cause that’s what we use for the original recipe. Great recipe!

  28. DC April 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Is the size of the bun a function of the consistency (bakes best when small) or can I make larger buns? I am dreaming of an egg and sausage breakfast sandwich, and the bun would have to be a bit bigger to accommodate the filling.


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