Cassava, also known as the yucca or manioc, is a tuber originally from South America and is a staple throughout most tropical places in the world. This root is so versatile that it has been dubbed 'the bread of the tropics' and is particularly important in many African countries where it is used in a meal much like bread is. The root is boiled and then pounded resulting in a sticky paste that is the base for various stews and soups. Prepared in different ways, the cassava yields different textures. Cut into pieces and fried, as it's done throughout Central America (yucca frita), the cassava is like a starchy potato. When the cassava is treated, dried and rolled into tiny balls the result is tapioca, the gummy “bubbles” in boba tea.
In Brazilian food culture, the tradition of using the cassava root stems back to the foods of the indigenous people, who used this plant extensively. When the Europeans arrived, they used the cassava as a replacement for other starches such as potatoes or wheat. Pão de queijo is a popular cheese bread and recipes typically call for the use of cassava flour. There are also recipes that use potatoes or corn flour, but cassava flour is the most common. The dough is formed into balls and baked giving the bread a crunchy exterior and very chewy interior.
You can make these ahead of time by rolling the dough into small balls, but instead of baking them off just place the tray into the freezer. Once they're hard, put them in a ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer until you're ready to bake. Pão de queijo served straight out of the oven is highly addictive with its wonderful texture, melted cheese aroma and convenient “pop-able” size. Guaranteed, you will eat more than you can handle!
Makes about 20-25 little breads
– 2 1/4 cups of tapioca flour, aka tapioca starch or manioc starch (You can find this in Asian markets or health food stores that carry gluten-free products, eg. Whole Foods)
– 1/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil
– 1/2 cup of whole milk
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
– 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano*
– 3/4 cup of freshly and coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese*
– 1 tsp of kosher or sea salt
*I liked this combination but feel free to use whatever cheese you like.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees with the rack placed in the middle.
In a bowl combine the tapioca flour and salt. In a small pot, heat the milk and oil until scalding and turn off the heat. Slowly incorporate the tapioca flour into the pot while stirring with a wooden spoon. At this point your dough will be very dry and lumpy.
Wait a few minutes for your dough to cool down and add the eggs, one at a time, breaking up the eggs with a wooden spoon and kneading them into the dough. Mix until just incorporated, then turn the dough out onto a clean surface and with wet or oiled hands lightly knead the grated cheese into the dough. The dough should be very tacky and lumpy, so don't overmix.
Using wet or oiled hands, start pinching off little ping-pong ball-sized pieces and roll them between your hands so they are smooth. Place them on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. The breads won't really expand so you just need a little space between them.
Bake them at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the outside is starting to become firm. Lower the temperature to 325 and bake for another 15-20 minutes so the inside is cooked through. Enjoy!