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The scoop on this recipe…
Brazilian Cheese bread… or as it’s called in Portuguese, Pão de Queijo. What deliciousness! What perfection! If you’ve been blessed enough to eat Pão de Queijo at a Brazilian Barbeque restaurant like Fogo de Chão, you know exactly what I’m talking about! Your mouth is watering right now just remembering that perfect combination of cheesy flavor and texture – crispy on the outside, airy and spongy on the inside. (I couldn’t bear having to write about Pão de Queijo and not eat some. So here I am with my bowl full of steaming rolls, nibbling as I write.)
Perhaps you’ve been tantalized by raving tales of this round little delight but searched for the recipe on Google or Pinterest, only to be met with a heap of results in Portuguese or instructions that left you with doubts. Maybe you even tried your hand at one of these recipes and then got stuck with fifty or more dense, gummy balls. Needless to say, they fell tragically short of your expections and you wondered to yourself, “Is this how it’s supposed to taste? Did I get it right? What is all the fuss about?”
No worries… I’ve been there too!
If you find yourself identifying with my description of the failed attempt, we have something in common. My first attempt at making Brazilian Cheese Bread was an epic fail. When I cooked up the idea to make it and share with my family for Christmas, I asked my Brazilian friend for the recipe, which she generously shared. I read all of the instructions carefully and still got something that seemed more like a giant, cheesy tapioca pearl. It was tasty, but the texture was way off the mark.
Based on my first experience (or dozen) with baking this brazilian cheese bread, I will give you the comprehensive guide to Pão de Queijo that I wish I’d had for my first attempt. This post will teach you everything you need to know about how to make Brazilian Cheese Bread, or Pão de Queijo.
First, what is Pão de Queijo made from?
Pão de Queijo, or Brazilian Cheese Bread as it’s called in English, is a baked bread roll made from tapioca starch. Tapioca starch is similar to corn starch when dry, and it’s one of the many food products derived from the yuka root. In Brazil, Mexico, Latin America, and many asian countries, various forms of the yuka root are used to make cakes, breads, biscuits and snacks, sandwiches that are similar to omeletes or crepes, and puddings. The famous texture of pão de queijo is accomplished by combining water, oil, milk, eggs and cheese with tapioca starch.
About the origin of Brazilian Cheese Bread…
Popular as a breakfast and snack food all over Brazil, Pão de Queijo originated in the southeastern, inland state of Minas Gerais (this is where I live.) Today, you can find this snack in every bakery (“padaria” – pah-dah-ree-yah,) snack shop (“lanchonete” – launch-o-netch,) and at every social gathering. In my city of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, you can find Pão de Queijo on just about every block.
But before this snack went “viral” it was a humble makeshift bread made by the slaves who produced yuca products. They took the starch left over after processing the yuca root and formed it into balls which they baked. Only later on did farmers take notice of the recipe and add milk, eggs, and cheese, developing Pão de Queijo into the iconic pastry that we know and love.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the history of this fabulous snack, check out this awesome article from the Guardian.
How to make Brazilian Cheese Bread/Pao de queijo…
Making Pão de Queijo can seem complicated at first, especially if you aren’t familiar with the process at all and trying to make sense of detailed instructions. The ingredients are few and fairly common. The most exotic ingredient is the tapioca startch, however if you can’t find this locally, you can easily buy it on Amazon here. What doesn’t seem so simple is working these humble ingredients into the “real deal” – that airy, melty, golden little bread.
There is some technique required to make these ingredients work together properly. So let’s start by understanding the basic steps of making pão de queijo. From there, I will fill in each step with more detailed instructions. There are four main steps to making pão de queijo:
1. Mixing the liquid ingredients with the tapioca starch.
2. Cooling the dough.
3. Mixing in the eggs and cheese.
4. Shaping and baking/freezing.
Okay, now that you have a clear outline in your mind, maybe you’re ready to roll! So let’s take a closer look at each step…
1. Mixing the liquid ingredients with the tapioca starch.
I am going to walk you through this step by step with every detail. Following a spacific sequence helps this go smoothly so read closely!
First, you’ll want all of your things laid out before you start so it’s easy to quickly grab and go. Gather the water, oil, milk, salt, and tapioca starch. Take a large mixing bowl and a large pot like what you’d use for boiling pasta or making a big batch of soup. Stainless steel mixing bowls like these are best since you’ll be handling boiling hot liquid.
In your mixing bowl, measure out your tapioca starch and salt and use a wisk to mix those two together gently. Use too much enthusiasm with this and you’ll be choking on your very own tapioca dust storm. (Been there, done that. Heh heh.) Set that aside on your workspace.
Preparing the liquid mixture…
Now pour your water, milk, and oil into that large pot and take it to your stovetop or induction burner. On high heat you will bring this mixture to a boil. STIR CONSTANTLY. This is extremely important. Above all, don’t turn your back. You are trying to homogenize ingredients that are “frenemies,” and if you aren’t careful, chemistry will take a messy turn. As soon as this mixture reaches boiling point, it rises up and boils over within two or three seconds. So make sure you are stirring and paying close attention. Also, don’t make the mistake of preparing your liquids in a small saucepan. Use a pot that is much larger than what you think you actually need, because this is much more forgiving. Should you blink and realize your mixture came to a boil, you’ll have a couple more seconds to react.
Forming your Pão de Queijo dough…
As soon as the mix reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and pour it over the tapioca starch. Take a heavy duty mixing spoon (I use an OXO stainless steel one like this), and begin to stir the flour and the liquid together, slowly and carefully lifting the starch from the bottom of the bowl. After thorough mixing with the spoon, your dough will look something like this:
Mixing with your hands…
As soon as the mixture has cooled enough, get in there with your hands and do the same thing. Positioning your hands at the sides of the bowl, reach down to the bottom and and center and bring up the loose, dry parts. Then squeeze it through your fingers and pinch apart the larger clumps. Repeat this over and over. Scoop, lift, squish. Scoop lift squish, until your dough looks like this:
Great! You’ve passed the most difficult part. So let’s move on to the next step. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to cool. Now you can give your hands a nice, cold rinse!
2. Cooling the dough.
This step can take as little as thirty minutes or as long as you need. This is a convenient aspect of the Pão de Queijo process. No need to fret about cooling an exact amount of time. The last time I made this recipe, I was battling against the clock and a very impatient Menasheh (my toddler son) who was tired of staying in his play pin. The minute I put that bowl in the fridge was a huge sigh of relief. I was able to take him, change his diaper, nurse, and play. Then once he was content, I came back an hour or so later to continue.
If, on the other hand, you want to expedite the process, you can use this cooling time to prepare your eggs and cheese for the final round of mixing. This is what I did in 2015-2018 B.C. (Before Child).
The easiest way to prepare the eggs is to crack them into the pitcher of your blender and give them a buzz on low speed for five to ten seconds.
When it comes to cheese, obviously the fastest way is to buy it shredded. If the variety that you want comes in a block, sometimes it’s possible to get it shredded at the deli department of the store.
3. Mixing in the eggs and cheese.
This is best done in two separate phases. Take your bowl of dough out of the fridge and uncover it. First pour over the eggs and then get in there with your hands. Forget using a spoon because it will never be able to full incorporate the eggs. You must dig in with your hands and squeeze the dough through your fingers. Just do it! Squeeze the dough on the sides, the bottom. Just squeeze and squish until the dough has no more clumps. The texture of the dough changes drastically durring this step. When you are finished mixing in the eggs, it will look fluffier. It will be quite moist and very sticky. Like this:
Mixing in the cheese…
Now time to mix in the cheese. I do the same thing. Dump all of your shredded cheese over the dough, and again, get in there with your hands and squeeze the dough through your fingers. It’s not necessary to be obsessive about this step, so just mix long enough to the get the cheese evenly distributed throughout the dough. Afterall, it would be a grave dissapointment to bite into a steaming hot roll of pao de queijo but find not even one melty bit of cheese!!
4. Shaping and baking/freezing.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or 205 degrees Celcius. Generally, Pão de queijo turns out best when baked for a long time in lower heat. However my naughty little secret is to raise the temperature to 450 right at the end to achieve a more crispy crust and create more airy pockets on the inside. The higher temperature can help the dough reach a “boiling point” of sorts. As a result, the rolls will expand more, a crispy crust will form, and the cheese will melt completely and create these little pockets inside.
Shaping the rolls…
To shape your rolls of Brazilian cheese bread, you will need a small bowl with a little oil, clean hands, and your baking sheet of choice. My hands-down best results came from using a well-seasoned cast iron pizza pan. The rolls never stick to the bottom. In addition, they develop the most perfect little crust where they come in contact with the pan. You can get a cast iron pizza pan here.
Dip your fingertips into the oil and rub it over both your palms. Then scoop out a bit of dough equavalent to 1/8 of a cup. Roll this in your palms until it forms a compact little ball and lay that on your baking sheet. Place the rolls at least an inch apart to give space for the dough to expand and brown.
Dip your fingertips in the oil every time you roll another ball. This will keep your hands from being covered in the sticky dough, making the process go much faster, but it will also give each little roll a light coating of oil. This layer of oil gives the crust a more crispy, crackly, pastry-like texture and beautiful golden color. This is one of my personal discoveries that bumped my pao de queijo game to next-level deliciousness.
Baking after freezing…
If you plan to freeze the rolls, then shape them the same way and place them on a plate or cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Freeze them for 4 hours, or until they are solid, and then you can put them together in a ziplock bag or freezer-safe container.
To bake pão de queijo that is frozen, simply preheat your oven, stick the frozen rolls on your baking sheet and put it in the oven. It will take longer to bake frozen rolls – an average of 35-45 minutes, but it’s just that simple! No need to thaw out the rolls. I should note that, if you use a stainless steel baking sheet or other non-cast iron material, the frozen pao de queijo will warp your pan. This is another reason I highly reccomend cast iron for the job! This is what the frozen rolls look like befor even and after baking:
Now, about exactly how long to bake pão de queijo…
One of my biggest challenges to making pão de queijo was to master the baking step. It took me a while to understand how long I should bake it and what it would look like when it was properly done. The first time I made it, I opened the oven door and peered in every five minutes, trying to see what it looked like and wondering if it was finished yet. I’m sure this only hindered the process!
In this section, I am going to show you photos of pão de queijo from the same batch at different stages of the baking process. Pão de queijo is much like a beef steak in the sense that each person likes theirs done a different way. So just like you have rare, medium rare, done, and well done, with steak, I’d say there is the equivalent for pão de queijo. And depending on how long you bake it, you will get a different crust and texture inside. My personal preference is a more well-done, golden, crispy pão de queijo. But by some brazilians’ standards, they would say I like my rolls “queimado” – burnt. My husband is more of a medium-rare kind of guy. He likes a more gummy texture and barely golden crust.
Finally, I’ve included the following photos to help you learn how to make brazilian cheese bread, baked to your definition of perfection!
These photos illustrate full size rolls of Pão de Queijo, baked from room temperature.
Taken out at 25 minutes:
The 25 minute pão de queijo is what I would consider the “medium rare.” Baked just long enough to become a very “blonde” gold, the crust is delicate yet still crispy. It has risen to 95% of its potential size, which is what creates the crackled glass appearance on the crust.
Let’s take a peak at the inside. You’ll notice some air bubbles. This is great! It means your dough has risen nicely and will not have that awful dense texture. At this stage of baking, the dough remains quite elastic, very gooey and melty. As you can see, the 25 minute roll doesn’t have a strong enough crust to maintain its exact shape when cut open. This roll is best if you want to eat it plain without accompaniments. Perhaps with some coffee or tea. A slightly less baked roll like this one is also good if you won’t be able to serve the bread right away. It will cool without drying out because it’s more moist than rolls that have been baked longer.
Now, 30 minute Pão de Queijo…
By the crust of this roll, you can see some exciting cheesy action taking place by the 30 minute mark! Those darker circles on the crust – yep! Melted cheese!!! Mmmmm divine. The roll is about the same size as the 25 minute roll, however you’ll notice that the crust is slightly harder, thicker, and truly gold.
The inside of our 30 minute roll shows larger air pockets. A fully-set crust helps to maintain the shape through cutting. There is still a little moisture in this roll, yet enough has evaporated to give the inside a less dough-ish texture. Personally, this is what I prefer when I want to eat my pão de queijo with jams, cheese, and other spreads.
35-40 Minute Pão de Queijo:
Like I said earlier, some Brazilians would look at this crust and say the pão de queijo is burnt. I look at this and see mouth-watering beauty! I might have even exclaimed, “Heyyyy gorgeous!” when I pulled this one out of the oven. But that’s just me. This crust is extra crispy, thick, and has a richer flavor profile since it has browned more. From that pulled-looking texture on the outside, we know that the roll got nice and hot inside, causing the dough to bubble and expand even more.
Here’s the inside look at our 35-40 minute roll. Again, a thing of beauty! But I caution you, if you’re looking for a tender and crunch breakfast bread, this roll is only good to eat within the hour. By the time it cools, the crust is very hard and crunchy. If the perfect sandwich is what you desire, on the other hand, the 35 minute roll is your match! Just look at that inside… perfectly even air pockets, melty dough, a artisan-reminiscent crust that holds shape. You can stuff this guy with sandwich fillings and press him closed, and the inside will compress while the crust acts like an oyster shell, holding everything inside.
Check out this sandwich I made. This is the only time my cherry tomatoes didn’t pop out the back of my sandwich when I took a bite. Like I said, it’s the perfect no-ooze sandwich bread.
If you’d like to use up some leftovers, whip up a batch of Friday’s Glory, and then stick it inside some Pão de Queijo. Super yum!!
To wrap up this epistle on how to make Brazilian Cheese Bread, here are a few notes on selecting the best cheese for Pão de Queijo…
In general, harder cheese is actually better for this bread since it bakes for a long period of time in the oven. In addition, softer cheese will simply dissolve into the dough and you won’t get the same little melty strings of cheese. This being said, it is common to combine two or more varieties of cheese, selecting from a range of soft to hard cheeses. Not only does this diversify the texture of the dough, but you can also experiment with different flavor profiles.
The batch I made for these pictures used perhaps the most traditional cheese for pão de queijo: aged Queijo Canastra. I visited the store in my neighborhood that sells locally made farm goods, and they recommended aged Queijo Canastra. Also, if you live in Brazil, make sure to ask if they can shred the cheese. At this particular store, they had a huge shredder, and it took a fraction of the time that it would have cost me at home, not to mention sore hands! Plus, they volunteered to do it at no extra cost. So make sure they know you are making pão de queijo, and they might just offer to shred your cheese for free!
Anyway, back to combinations. I have tried out various combinations. Some favorite cheeses to play around with include mozarella, provalone, aged cheddar and parmesan. If you make this, let me know what cheese you used and how it turned out!
Now! For the recipe!!!
Brazilian Cheese Bread/Pão de Queijo
A naturally gluten-free bread made from tapioca flour! Delicious for breakfast, snack snack or to accompany dinner.
- 1/2 Cup Water
- 1/2 Cup Oil
- 1/2 Cup Milk
- 2 1/4 Teaspoons Salt
- 500 Grams Tapioca flour
- 1 1/2 Cups shredded cheese
- 4 Eggs
- Step 1 Mix the salt into the flour with a whisk.
- Step 2 Bring the water, milk, and oil to a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Pour over the flour mixture and stir with a spoon.
- Step 3 Once the dough is cooled just enough to touch without burning, continue mixing with your hands. Once you achieve an even crumble, cover and cool for at least 30 minutes. Thoroughly beat, whisk, or blend your eggs. Shred your cheese if not already shredded. Larger shreds are great if you want a little stringy effect for your baked rolls.
- Step 4 Remove the dough from the fridge and uncover. Pour over the eggs and use your hands to squeeze the dough through your fingers until the mixture becomes totally smooth, fluffy and very sticky. Add the cheese and use your hands to incorporate.
- Step 5 Using oil to coat your hands, shape ping-pong ball-sized bits of dough into rolls and place on a lightly oiled baking pan. Give one inch of space in between rolls. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius for 25-40 minutes, depending on how you prefer your texture/color.
- Step 6 Serve warm or cooled. For best texture, consume these the same day they are made. I’m sure you won’t have a problem with that!!