It is absolutely, positively, frankly astonishing that pao de queijo, the Gisele Bündchen of cheesy breads, hasn’t taken over your social media feed in recipe videos or inane YouTube challenges. (I’ve fit four in my mouth at once because my 9-year-old bet me I couldn’t do it. I showed him!)
I have so many words to say about pao de queijo’s excellence, and I assure you we will get to them because a love as deep as mine must be shouted from the highest mountain. I do understand that my passion alone may not be enough to sway the entirety of the Internet, but I will light the fuse to make the hype explosion happen: Pao de queijo is gluten-free bread that does not taste like a mealy styrofoam ceiling tile. You’ll take a bite and say, “What were all these gluten-free folks complaining about?” But do not lay this abomination of Internet justice entirely on them. The world as we know it is crazy, because we have had Pinterest for seven years and we’ve continually skipped over this in favor of things like rainbow foods and bacon roses.
Pao de queijo has got everything! It’s so simple to make, you practically need no kitchen skills whatsoever. Its insides are warm and airy, like an exquisite gougère, but with an eighth of the labor and none of the fussy French technique. They taste as if they would not be out of place at a four-star restaurant, yet each one will cost you less than a quarter to make. If you stick to the recipe (we’re obviously giving you the recipe), they’re less than 50 calories a pop, so you don’t have to restrain yourself from submitting to the ecstasy. This is bread with a structural composition that is more than 30 percent cheese, and no one is stopping you from also topping and filling it with cheese.
Pao de queijo originates in Brazil, where it is everywhere: bakeries, airports, McDonald’s—you can’t escape it, not that you would ever want to. The bread has made some slight moves into the U.S. market, where you can find frozen boxes in certain warehouse stores and specialty markets. These versions can’t compete with fresh pao on any level: Straight out of the oven, the dough is like a delicate vellum that releases an erotic puff of cheese-scented steam straight up your nostrils at first bite. After a day on the counter it sets into the texture of a more traditional bread, which makes for delicious (and adorable) mini sandwiches. But those moments where they’re hot and steamy and just chewy enough that they give your mouth a little bit of a fight—sweet baby Jebus, we need some reaction videos up on YouTube so you can fully understand what this recipe is capable of.
In Brazil, pao is made from cassava flour, which has a little bit of funk to it. You may be able to find a bag at an Asian or Latin American market, but if you don’t have that sort of hookup, tapioca flour (which is made from the cassava root) is the next best thing. A warning: The batter will be gummier and stickier than any you’ve likely worked with, but do not fear it—your unease is merely a gut reaction to being in unfamiliar territory. You are not in Kansas anymore, where the wheat is plentiful and white bread is more than just food. You are in Brazil, where things are acceptable to everyone and life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Trust that their bread meets those standards.
PAO DE QUEIJO
Makes 12 rolls
1¼cup whole milk
⅓ cup canola oil
2¼ cups tapioca flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
2. Combine milk and oil in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. While mixture comes to a boil, combine tapioca flour, salt, and garlic powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Once boiling, pour liquid over the flour mixture. Beat on high for five minutes, occasionally scraping down sides.
3. Alternately, you can do this in a large bowl and beat with a sturdy wooden spoon until it stops steaming, about 5 minutes.
4. Add eggs one at a time, then add cheese and continue to beat for one minute.
5. Using an ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, scoop dough into 12 evenly sized mounds, 6 on each sheet pan. The dough will be very sticky, so if you find it tough to handle, dip your fingertips in cold water and gently shape the bread.
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes until golden, rotating once at midway point. Serve immediately. Will keep for 2 days.