Whenever my nationality is brought up in a conversation with a new acquaintance, I often catch a glimpse at how mysterious Brazilian culture can be to those who have never researched beyond World Cup appearances and Carmen Miranda.
They’ll ask me if I play soccer, if I’m from Rio, and more often than not, they’ll tell me I don’t look Brazilian. What they don’t know is, just like in the United States, the population of Brazil is comprised of countless cultures and backgrounds.
This is why I am choosing to share some of my favorite family recipes, in the hopes that I might make Brazilian culture less of an enigma to my fellow Iowans.
I couldn’t think of a better recipe to share in my first column than pao de queijo, literally translated as “bread of cheese.”
These gooey little puffs are a source of great pride for Brazilian people, as it is a recipe that highlights the importance of cultural collaboration in Brazilian cooking.
Every true pao de queijo recipe uses tapioca flour, which is derived from the cassava root, a quintessential ingredient in every Brazilian kitchen.
This flour has its origins in pre-colonial Brazil, as it was made by the indigenous population and introduced to European settlers in the early 16th century.
The combination of indigenous tapioca flour and European cheeses is what formed what we call pao de queijo today.
Usually, pao de queijo dough is firm and can be shaped into rounds before being baked.
However, my mother and grandmother have been baking the version I am sharing since before I was born, and the art of blender mixing is a technique many Brazilian bakers swear by.
It also is accompanied by the filling, or “recheio,” that was conceived by my mother and that, in my mind, should not be overlooked when serving pao de queijo.
I have many memories of eating this childhood favorite of mine, always with recheio or a drizzle of honey.
It can be served as an afternoon snack or as a full meal for breakfast or dinner. However you choose to savor it, I hope you enjoy this Bite of Brazil.
Pao de queijo
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups tapioca flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula.
In a mini muffin tin, brush each cup with oil before pouring in batter. Pour until cup is half-filled.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pao de queijo is fluffy and twice its size.
Serve warm with honey and other preferred fillings.
1/2 cup ham
1/2 cup dill pickles
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup canned corn (drained)
Cube ham and pickles into small pieces.
Mix together all ingredients in a bowl, adding mayonnaise and mustard to taste.
Follow Alexandra Olsen on Instagram, @FeedMeIowa, for more recipes and restaurant recommendations.
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