Like so many Latinos living in America, Brazilian-born chef Leticia Schwartz every year tries to infuse Thanksgiving with a little sabor using dishes and ingredients that blend traditions and cultures. “I always try to Brazilian-ize our Thanksgiving table,” she jokes. “My husband’s family is American so, of course, we have the turkey, the cranberry, the stuffing, but I will always sneak in a little flan, or put some farofa in the stuffing.”
But the most delicious infusion of Brazilian flavor at Schwartz’s table is her pao de quejio (cheese bread), which she makes every year as a tasty alternative to plain dinner rolls or biscuits. Simple and fast to make—and perfect if you’re looking for a fabulous last-minute recipe— cheese bread is a national obsession in Brazil. Walk into a Brazilian home and, shortly after you arrive, it’s almost guaranteed a basket of the puffy little treats will make an appearance. “We eat them all day long. For breakfast, as a snack, as an appetizer,” Schwartz says. “When you arrive at a restaurant, it’s the first thing that comes out.”
The key to making cheese bread, says the French Culinary Institute-trained chef, is using the right kind of flour. Classic pao de queijo calls for sour manioc starch, which comes from the yucca root. (Which also means it’s gluten-free!) You can buy it at specialty groceries or Latin markets, as well as on amazon.com. If you can’t find it, substitute with tapioca flour (which the popular brand Bob’s Red Mill makes), though it will cause the bread will be slightly sweeter than the classic version.
Below, Schwartz shares the recipe she’ll be making this year for her family.
Pao de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)
3 ½ cups (630g) povilho azedo (sour manioc starch, I use the brand Yoki available at Amazon; if you’re using tapioca flour use 2 1/2 cups instead)
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
¾ cup oil
2 teaspoon salt
3 whole eggs
1 ½ cups (185g) Parmesan, finely grated
Freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Few twists of freshly ground pepper
1. Place the manioc starch in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Set aside.
2. Place the water, milk, oil, and salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Immediately pour the hot liquid mixture in one stroke into the starch and turn the machine on at low-speed. Mix until the dough is smooth and starch is all incorporated, about 2 minutes. Pause the machine and add the eggs. Continue to paddle at low-speed until the dough develops structure and turns pale yellow about 5 minutes. The dough will feel sticky.
3. Add the cheese and mix until well incorporated.
4. Season to taste with nutmeg, cayenne, and freshly ground pepper.
5. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.
6. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
7. Wet your hands with olive oil (alternatively, you can flour your hands with manioc starch) and use an ice cream scooper to make 1-inch balls, rolling them with your hands. Place them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1½ to 2 inches between each (you can freeze them at this point by storing them in a zip-lock bag for up to 3 months).
8. Bake the cheese rolls in the oven until they puff up and look lightly golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate the pan once during baking time.
9. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the rolls in a basket lined with a nice cloth. Serve immediately while they are still at their warmest and chewiest. Makes 35.