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!
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?