Yuca is a leitmotif that hums throughout Brazil’s cuisine; you’ll find it chopped into batons and deep fried as a bar snack, ground into a course sandy texture and toasted as farofa, and milled to a powder-fine flour as the base for baked goods like the ubiquitous, salty, gooey pão de queijo, or cheese bread.
With a crusty shell that yields to a cheesy, elastic center—similar to the texture of Japanese mochi—pão de quejo is beloved across Brazil. It’s most commonly eaten for breakfast, sold alongside fresh fruit juices and cafezinho at kiosks and even at chain restaurants dedicated to the cheesy rolls themselves.
Perhaps nowhere are they more revered, however, than in Brazil’s heartland, Minas Gerais. It’s fair to say that what bagels are to New York, pão de queijo is to this part of the country.
The key to the bread’s unique, squishy texture is finely ground tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) that’s made through a process of extraction from the yuca root. Regular all-purpose flour will not work here. Asian groceries generally carry tapioca starch; Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour also does the trick.
(Makes 25 – 30 pieces)
1 cup of milk
1 cup of water
½ cup of neutral cooking oil like grapeseed or vegetable
3 ¾ cups (15.5 ounces) tapioca starch or flour
3 medium eggs
1 teaspoon of salt
1 ¾ cups (8.75 ounces) grated sharp cheese like parmesan or asiago
Combine the milk, water, oil, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the mixture starts to simmer (after 4 to 5 minutes), turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
Add the tapioca starch directly into the saucepan with your warm milk mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until large clumps dissolve. Let mixture cool.
When the mixture reaches room temperature, transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs one at a time and knead well. Add grated cheese and knead until the dough becomes smooth and shiny. Cover bowl with plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Once the dough is chilled, grease your hands with a neutral oil and roll the dough into golf-ball-sized spheres. Space balls 1-½ inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and transfer to the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes. (You can also freeze the dough to bake at a later time).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the bread’s exterior develops a golden exterior. Best served warm.