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October 12, 2008

Mandioca starch (Recipe: Pao de queijo, Brazilian cheese bread) {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Mandioca

Guest post and photo by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão

One of the pillars of the Brazilian pantry, polvilho -- also known as mandioca starch -- is the key ingredient in pão de queijo, the cheese bread that hooked me on my very first taste of it, during my very first trip to Brazil five years ago.

When I came home to Rhode Island, I started cruising ethnic markets to find polvilho. With more than 200,000 Brazilians in the southern New England area -- 80 percent from Minas Gerais, where I live now -- it was a cinch, and pão de queijo rapidly became a fixture on the menu of my personal chef business.

Mandioca, a large, white-fleshed, and very nutritious tuber also called cassava or yucca, is native to the Amazon region and has been cultivated there for more than a thousand years. Its use as a staple spread as far north as Florida and to Africa, via Portuguese slave traders in the 16th Century.

Resembling a slightly gummy, subtly-sweet potato, mandioca can be boiled, fried, grated and transformed into fritters and hearty soups, or processed into meals and flours used in both sweet and savory baked goods. Tapioca, which I always had in my New England pantry, comes from the same tuber.

Polvilho is a by-product of the painstaking process of making cassava meal. The juice has a fine starch, similar to the starch that leaches from rice or potatoes soaked in water. The fresh juice left to dry in the sun yields polvilho doce (sweet  manioc starch); from the fermented juice comes polvilho azedo (sour manioc starch). 

An ancient Tupi myth about the origin of mandioca goes like this: The daughter of the chief conceived a child without a father, and the chief, refusing to believe her story, condemned her to death as a liar. In a dream, an ancient white man appeared to the chief begging a stay of execution. The princess was pardoned and later gave birth to a very beautiful and very white daughter, and named her Mani.

Mani died suddenly on her first birthday. No sickness, no pain, no suffering, no explanation. From her grave sprang a plant with big leaves, which in no time filled the surrounding earth with big, fleshy, white tubers. And so this miraculous gift was dubbed Mani-óca, or “the house of Mani”.

Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

Delightfully crispy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, kind of like a cheesy cross between a popover and a dinner roll, pão de queijo can be found daily in almost any bakery, bar, café, or luncheonette in Brazil. It is easy to make, gluten-free, freezes like a charm before baking, goes right from freezer to oven, and offers a bit of a playground for experimentation with different kinds of cheeses. Great for breakfast, delicious for mini-sandwiches (I’m especially fond of a combination of quince or guava paste, prosciutto, and a semi-soft cheese), and fantastic for munching with drinks. Makes 100 small or 60 medium biscuit-like breads. [Note: 1/2 kilo = a tiny bit more than 1 pound.]

Ingredients

1/2 kilo sweet manioc starch (polvilho doce)
1/2 kilo sour manioc starch (polvilho azedo)
1/2 liter (just over 2 cups) milk, plus a bit more if needed
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
5 eggs
1/2 kilo coarsely grated cheese (I like a mix –- include cheddar, parmesan, but experiment)

Directions

If you’re going to bake right away, preheat your oven to 375°F.

Put both types of polvilho in a very large mixing bowl. In a small sauce pan, bring 1/2 liter of milk, butter and salt to a boil.

Pour the hot milk mixture over the polvilho, and let it cool just enough so you can work the milk into the starch with your fingers. Add the eggs and knead well, adding milk bit by bit until you have a dough that is not too stiff but will hold its shape. Add the cheese and mix in well without kneading.

Either oil your hands or dip them in cool water, then roll the dough into balls -- about the size of a hard-boiled egg yolk for the small breads, and the size of a whole walnut for the medium.

Arrange the balls a few inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat (silicone liner) or parchment paper, or on a baking stone, and place in a 375°F oven. Once the breads rise, reduce the heat to 325°F, so they can dry out a bit and brown up -– about 20 minutes total.

Note: To freeze, place the uncooked breads on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer; when the breads are firm, remove from the sheet and store them in ziploc bags. To bake the frozen breads (do not defrost), follow the process above, but expect them to take longer, 30-40 minutes total.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Cheese-y Brazilian cornmeal cakes
Boston brown bread
Apple-tea liqueur
Irish soda bread
Polenta dome

Comments

OMG I love cassava so much! :) Here it is easy to obtain it prepackaged in many forms.. from powder, to dried flakes, to frozen whole. I am sooo going to try this recipe! Looks YUM!!
I made a cassava pone last week, hopefully I will get to post it soon :)

Again my dear, you teach me something new.

I love this cheese bread. Now I can actually try to make it. Thanks!

Paz

Lovely post! The bread looks delicious and I loved the myth about mandioca.

Oh how I would love to have some of this!

Oooh pao de quiejo. This is addictive stuff and I've been looking for a recipe. Thanks!

I used Manioc Flour once in a recipe with bacon and eggs and it was really awful!! However, I think I may have burnt the flour and that contributed to the unpleasant flavour. I still have the flour though so I will give this recipe a go instead!!

TriniGourmet - please send your pone recipe ASAP. I love introducing recipes from other countries to our guests using local ingredients!! I am going to make your sorrel recipe. Thanks

peabody - isn't it amazing how much stuff we can learn from each other when we put our heads together.

Paz - I love it too and there are countless variations. You are entirely welcome. Let me know how it turns out.

Ari - Thanks. I am just beginning to explore Brazil's mythology, so rich with its Indian, African, and European roots.

MyKitchenInHalfCups - I hope you'll try it. If you can't buy polvilho locally try the internet. Look under manioc starch and Yoki, a brand that I know that is available internationally.

Jude - I am hooked too. Glad to help you with your quest.

Freya - sounds like you may be using manioc flour (farinha) versus manioc starch (polvilho). Farinha is coarse and crunchy and used to make farofa (a delicious accompaniment to meats). Polvilho is fine and white and almost squeaky - kind of like coarse corn starch. I'm curious about your bacon and egg recipe. Dona Lurdes makes the most incredible farinha by hand and I am always looking for breakfast options.

Peter, what a bad Brazilian blogger I am!! I have never posted pão de queijo on my blog, can you believe it? :)

Wow! Thanks for teaching me about a new product, Lydia. I'm intrigued.

I have a friend from Brazil who once brought this bread over to my house for a dinner party. I would have been satisfied eating only that all night long! I loved this post, so informative (as always) and I recently realized that I have easy access to yucca at the local store, although I was never really sure what it was!

Patricia Scarpin - maybe it's just too close to home. But never too late and there are so many different recipes for pão de queijo out there

Susan - you are welcome. Hope you buy some and experiment.

Andrea - kind of like that old ad - "Bet you can't eat one" - aren't they?

I´m Brazilian, and love eat the breads i produce for myself.

Here in Brazil, Cheese Bread is really yummy apreciated just beside a cup of hot milk with coffee every morning.

At Minas Gerais State, this bread substituted all of the traditional French small bread on ´mineiro´s`breakfasts. All the people who live in the State of Minas Gerais prefer manioc Cheese bread in place of that traditional French small breads.

We love here all that are made with manioc. Flour called Farofa when we stir with salt, butter and fry on a pan, adding amounts of sliced bananas. Another apreciated appetizer is a fried manioc roots.
Something like French fries (potatoes), really amazing....
So, manioc is a ´must´ that deserves an accurate study by those who love to cook new flavors!!
I love manioc, at all!

Olá Ricardo
Muito obrigado. Eu sou um americano morando aqui em Minas Gerais e tentando divulgar coisas brasileiras no blog de Lydia. Eu amo mandioca frita, farofa, bolinhos, biscoitos,
bobó, e tudo feito de mandioca. Bem vindo.
Thanks Ricardo - I share your love of everything mandioca.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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