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If you've ever eaten at Agora or possibly another Brazilian steakhouse (which reminds me i need to put them on my recommended restaurants list) you should have had some of their cheesy bread balls called pão de queijo. These have all of my favorite bread textures: soft, chewy, doughy, salty (yes salty is not a texture but i like it nonetheless). They are small and warm (they need to be warm!) little gobs of joy. The first time I had them I was trying to figure out what the middle was made of, because the center and the very outside are different--the outside is kind of dry and seems a little tough while still malleable and the inside was like mozzarella cheese but not. I thought it was an oddly time consuming project for a restaurant to make a million and one dough-covered golf-ball sized bread balls to serve every day. Luckily this is not how they are made, and strangely they don't have that much cheese in them. And no mozzarella! And for those of you avoiding wheat, it's gluten-free.
They are gooey to make and gooey to eat so it all evens out, and if you make a bunch at once to freeze and bake later it is even more worth it. If you don't want to make them and you don't want to go to Agora just to try them out, i've heard you can buy them at brazilian markets and grocery stores but there don't seem to be any around me to confirm.
After scouring the web (or a few google results pages) i decided on the recipe i wanted to use, found here. It worked fantastically well for me, and i even tried one batch with two eggs and one with three (remember i use extra large eggs always, i will stop saying this though because i feel like rachel ray explaining evoo every damn time she mentions it) and unfortunately while my memory is a little foggy from the mega batches i created last year i am pretty sure i personally preferred the ones with three eggs but i know absolutely both the two and three egg batches came out great.
Now i went around to all the mexican grocery stores i could find around here (because i didn't know of any brazilian ones) searching for the manioc flour that someone somewhere on the internets said was far superior and very different than regular tapioca starch, and i wanted to get this thing right. That someone somewhere lied, because in desperation i just went to Marukai and picked up their (very inexpensive) tapioca starch/flour and used that. Okay, the texture of dry tapioca starch gives me shivers, and it might to you too if you're sensitive to that. It is kind of a weird chalky substance similar to cornstarch. I also could not find the "authentic cheese" that is traditionally used (says the internet once again) so i stayed with what the recipe called for: parmesan cheese. You can even add a little bit extra for some extra flavor and it won't damage anything. The end result of this recipe does smell like parmesan cheese, a little tangy and salty and aged, so expect that. There are other recipes with other ratios and ways of preparing like the seriouseats people use a food processor to pulse everything up. But i chose this recipe and did it this way, i like the extra elbow grease.
Here is the recipe:
Pão de Queijo - makes about 70 rounded Tblsp sized1 cup water (if i recall correctly i tried all milk in this recipe and it was great)1 cup milk1/2 cup oil (you can also use butter)1 teaspoon salt450 grams tapioca flour (here i have a note that chowhound says up to 500g, so if you're using 3 eggs it's not that big of a deal to not be totally exact and go a bit over. even if the package of product says "450g" i still weigh it out)2 to 3 eggs200g grated parmesan cheeseBrink the water, milk, salt, and oil to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add the tapioca starch. Mix well, transfer to a bowl, and let cool until you can work with the dough.Add the eggs and knead well. Add the cheese and knead until the dough is smooth.Roll into Tablespoon-sized balls. (to make it a little easier grease your hands before rolling so that it's not just all sticking to your hands. you may have to do this over and over.) Place the balls on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. (if you plan to freeze these, place them on a parchment-lined sheet that will be able to fit in your freezer until they are solid enough to transfer to a freezer container)Bake at 350 degrees for 20 mins or until golden brown. (if straight from the freezer baking may take a little longer but will be okay.) Serve warm.
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