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December 6, 2009

Brazil food: Bars, bolinhos, and biscoitos (Recipe: Marlene's biscuits)

The fifth in an occasional series of posts about Brazilian food and ingredients we discovered during our recent visit.

Bolinhos

Our first taste of the food of Minas Gerais, the agricultural and culinary heart of Brazil where we spent most of our visit, came not at the pousada in rural São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, but in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

Every neighborhood needs a place like the Bar do Mineiro, a combination café-gallery-hangout (where, if you lived nearby, everyone would know your name) that spills out onto the streetcar tracks in Rio's artsy Santa Teresa neighborhood.

Bar do Mineiro

At the bar, the menu features Minas food. Bolinhos, fried balls of fish or meat or cheese -- each a different shape, so you can tell one filling from another -- make the perfect accompaniment to the Bar do Mineiro's large selection of cachaça and beer.

We loved the bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish balls, above), which are made with salt cod. The square ones below were filled with meat.

Square bolinhos.

From uber-cosmopolitan Rio, we traveled many hours inland to São Gonçalo, a small village on the old, often unpaved, diamond mining route from the coast to Diamantina.

Every village needs a place like Padaria São Gonçalo (where, if you lived nearby, everyone would know your name). From its two red metal tables, outside on the central square, you can watch life as it passes by.

Padaria

The padaria (bakery) offers cold beer and freshly-made bolinhos de bacalhau, and the typically Mineiran biscoitos do povilho, which are crunchy, puffy, ethereal cassava biscuits.

Puffy cassava biscuits.

At the Pousada do Capão, owned by our friends Peter and Marcinha, these biscuits were a constant feature on the breakfast buffet, along with the famous Serro cheese. Marlene, one of two local women who cook at the pousada, taught us how to make them. She's a bit camera-shy, so roll over the photos to follow her recipe.

Measure the corn flour.

Biscoitos3

Biscoitos4

Biscoitos5

Biscoitos6

Biscoitos7

Biscoitos8 

Biscoitos1

Biscoitos de povilho (cassava biscuits)

Every morning at breakfast at the Pousada do Capão, we had Serro cheese, which is a cross between the saltiness of feta and the softness of mozzarella, and an assortment of breads and biscuits. Now that we're back home, I miss breakfasts like that. The Brazilian ingredients are available in our local Portuguese markets here in Rhode Island, or online. This recipe makes 60-100 small biscuits, depending on how you form them; Marlene's were smaller, and the ones we had at the local café in Sao Gonçalo were huge.

Ingredients

1 cup farinha de milho biju (a type of cornmeal or cornflour)
1 cup cold milk
2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup soybean, vegetable, canola or corn oil, plus additional to oil your hands
3 cups povilho azedo (cassava starch)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the farinha and milk. Add salt, eggs and oil, and stir to combine. Slowly add the povilho azedo, stirring with your hand until well incorporated.

Set out several rimmed cookie sheets. Oil your hands lightly, and break off a small ball of dough, about the size of a walnut. Roll the dough in your hand to form a small snake approximately 1/2 inch thick. Place it on the baking sheet and bend one end into a curve, like a small candy cane. Repeat for remaining dough, positioning the biscuits 1/2 inch apart.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the biscuits are dry and crisp. Let them cool completely, then serve for breakfast or with afternoon tea, or store in a covered container for 2-3 days.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Bolo de fuba (cheese-y cornmeal cake)
Brazilian cheese bread (pao de queijo)
Farofa with liver and onions
Caipirinha

Thanks to Sandra, Ben, Martin and Peter for the use of their photos.

Comments

All these treats look and sound fantastic, you don't happen to have the recipe of the fish balls, Italy is full of baccalá.

Lydia - this post brings back all kinds of perfect pantry memories of your visit and Marlene loved seeing her hands in action!! Some day she'll let us photograph her face. One quick note re the link to the online Brazilian foods site - they call the "farinha de milho biju" listed in the recipe "farinha flocos de milho amarela" - it is the same ingredient just with a different name. One can find it in the Flour section of the site.

These are the kind of foodie adventures that holidays are made of Lydia.

Thanks so much Lydia for the recipe BISCOITOS DE POVILHO. When looking for cassava starch I could only find the boxed version for these biscuts and I of course like to make stuff from scratch first.

What GREAT timing! Washington just had the first snow of the year and there we are at the Padaria São Gonçalo sipping a beer and munching on bolinhos de bacalhau in the shade on a warm lazy afternoon. I want to go back!

Hi Lydia! Great post! I'm sure Brazil was a great culinary journey. I love the concept of cafe culture. I wish it would catch on more in North America!
I wanted to mention I'm also from Glocester, though no longer living there :(. I never thought I would encounter anyone from Glocester in the blogging world! So exciting, love your blog!

Brazil..... *sigh*..... thanks so much for these Brazil posts! I love them.

Ilva, I do have a recipe that I'll be posting in the near future.

Peter, thanks so much for the clarification. And of course thanks to Marlene for giving us a cooking lesson.

Val, all holidays should have a serious food component!

Kim, every culture has its convenience foods, and sometimes they are better than the real thing (falafel mix is one that I prefer to making my own). But these biscuits really were easy to make from scratch, as you can see. I hope you can find the ingredients online.

Cousin, I want to go back, too. (And I haven't even told my readers about that incredible beef and peppers dish we had at the padaria...)

Nadia, I agree, there are so few places in the US that understand cafe culture, even in cities where the climate would allow for sitting outside. It's one of the things I really loved about Brazil -- everything outdoors.

EB, thank you. I've had fun writing them for you.

About "cafe culture" -- has air conditioning killed it? I flash back to the picture of Rip Van Winkle at the tavern -- outdoors, if memory serves me. And another killer -- letting ourselves get "too busy" when sitting, eating, drinking are just what we need to refresh and let stress go. Here in Keene NH sidewalk tables for restaurants have become popular in the last 10 years, on Main Street with good people watching. Hope?

Hello..

Can I make these with White cornmeal? I have at home some, so I wondered if I could use it instead of buying.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • 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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