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Pão de Queijo: Brazil's Best, Cheesiest Snack

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From Brazil, gooey cheese balls with cavernous interiors and a crunchy skin. 


Some foods deserve to be eaten daily and pão de queijo is one of those foods. These round, cavernous orbs are Brazil’s answer to just about everything: snacks, school lunches, coffee breaks, breakfast, even a dinnertime side–honestly, you may never need a Parker House roll again. 

Originally from the south eastern state of Minas Gerais, “bread of cheese” (direct translation) are a nationally embraced pastry you can find in corner bakeries (padarias) all over the country. But that isn’t where I ran into these cheesy breads—it was on the ever trusty internet. Much less glamorous, I know.

But ever since that fateful night when my friend and I baked about five batches using all the cheese in her parents’ fridge, the recipe has been following me around. Not only because they are impressive, but because they are really easy to make. 


Make empanadas to go along with your South American street food spread.

I make these cheesy breads at least once a month, often more, always tossing in whatever cheese butts I have in the back of my fridge. This is a great way to use up that mysterious hard cheese lurking in the corner, but a nice sharp cheddar has become my cheese of choice.

Sure, that isn’t necessarily how they are made in Brazil—the traditional option is queijo de minas, a hard farmer's cheese made with cow's milk—but these are still irresistible. I’ve grown to adore my cheddar cheese version and sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll even sprinkle a little blue cheese on top just before baking. 

You probably can’t just pop out and pick up a fresh, hot pão de queijo from your local padaria to nibble on as you wander the streets of Saõ Paulo, but whipping up a batch is the next best thing. Or maybe it's even better because you’ll now have twelve instead of just one.

Now the cheese ball is in your court. Bake a batch for a dinner party, carry a dozen to a potluck, eat a couple for breakfast, or toss one in your little one’s lunch. But be warned: These breads are best day-of and even better fresh out of the oven after cooling just a touch. If you can’t go through all 12 in a day, store them in an airtight container and warm them up how you see fit. 

On the off chance you are heading to Brazil, live out my fantasy and plan a pão de queijo crawl. Rumor has it these are some of the best the city has to offer.  

Brazilian Cheesy Bread (Pão de Queijo)

Makes 12 large cheesy breads

1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups tapioca flour
3/4 cup (about 4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Second photo by Armando Rafael; all others by James Ransom

Tags: pao de queijo, brazil, street food