After two weeks of traveling in Minas Gerais, the region of Brazil best known for cachaça and cheese, my family and I came home addicted to pão de queijo, the little bread with the crackly, crusty exterior and the soft, cheesy center.
In every home, in every kitchen we visited, we were greeted with a plate of pão de queijo, slices of Serro cheese (yes, cheese bread and cheese), a cup of strong coffee or sometimes a glass of jabuticaba wine.
When I returned to Rhode Island, it was easy enough to find manioc starch, the main (and gluten-free) ingredient, apart from cheese, in these delicious rolls. Thanks to a large Brazilian and Azorean population in this part of New England, there are at least six supermarket-size stores within an hour of my house.
Now I always have manioc starch in my pantry, and I'm ready to try some new recipes.
By the way, I usually have some pão de queijo in my freezer, and local queso blanco in the fridge. In case you stop by.
What is manioc starch?
A by-product of the process of pressing water out of cassava (also called yucca or mandioca) to make cassava meal. The juice has a fine starch, similar to rice or potato starch. 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). You need both to make pão de queijo.
How/where to store:
In the cupboard, or in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to one year.
More facts, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Mandioca starch (Recipe: Brazilian cheese bread)
Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)
Traditionally served with cheese from Minas Gerais, but queso blanco makes a good substitute. This is the second recipe I've published for pão de queijo; this one has no butter or milk, which makes for a lighter flavor that lets the cheese shine through. Using the two starches ensures a crispy crust. Recipe yields approximately 60 small breads, which sounds like a lot; however, manioc starch comes in 500-gram bags, so it's easiest to use the entire amount, and keep extra breads in the freezer.
2 cups water
1 cup canola or vegetable oil, plus extra for hands
2 Tbsp salt
500 grams (1 bag) polvilho doce (sweet manioc starch)
500 grams (1 bag) polvilho azedo (sour manioc starch)
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or asiago cheese
2-1/2 cups white sharp Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare two baking sheets with Silpat (silicone liners) or line with parchment paper.
In a glass measuring cup, boil the water, oil and salt together in a microwave (approximately 4 minutes on HIGH), and add to a large mixing bowl. Stir in the two manioc starches; the mixture will be very dry. Let cool for a few minutes until you can mix it with your hands.
Add the eggs, and mix well with your hands until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Add all of the cheese, and mix well, with your hands, to form a very soft dough.
Form into balls about the size of a large walnut, using oil on your hands so that the dough won't stick, and place on sheet pans approx 1-1/2" apart. Bake for 25 minutes until puffed and golden. Test; if still very moist inside, turn oven down to 325°F and bake 10 more minutes.
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