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A Taste of Brazil from Caiman Ecological Refuge

Pão de Queijo

Utilising a staple root vegetable native to Brazil, the Pão de Queijo has an important role in both modern day and historic Brazil. These small, starchy pastries first originated by the Afro-Brazilian communities in Minas Gerais. They would soak and peel the cassava root to make a sort of bread roll. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that an influx of new ingredients to these communities, including milk, eggs and cheese, that the modern-day Pão de Queijo was born. Today’s iteration uses tapioca or sour cassava flour, leaving out the soaking and peeling step, and providing a soft, almost elastic texture.

Reminiscing on a trip to Caiman Ecological Refuge in the Pantanal, Master Journeysmith, Ross recalls the cheesy delight of these common snacks.

‘They can really be found all over the country. In shops, roadside food vans and even lodges and hotels. I remember them most prominently though, freshly baked and ready to devour after a morning out searching for jaguar at Caiman, which only made them that much more enjoyable.’

Makes 48 (1 1/4-inch) puffs or 24 (2-inch) puffs

340ml whole milk
121ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
285g tapioca flour or a mixture of sweet and sour cassava flour
2 large eggs
100-150g meia-cure cheese or grated Parmesan

Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon
Standing mixer with paddle attachment (or mixing bowl and elbow grease)
Baking tray
Parchment paper or silicone baking mats

1. Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas 8 with the rack in the middle. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. Place the milk, oil, and salt in the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.

3. Add the tapioca flour to the bowl of the mixer or your mixing bowl. Pour the liquid over and mix it well.

4. Beat the dough for a few minutes at medium speed until it smooths out and has cooled enough that you can hold your finger against the dough for several seconds.

5. With the mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs into the dough one at a time, waiting until the first egg is fully incorporated before adding the second.

6. Add the cheese little at a time and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. The resulting dough will be very sticky, stretchy, and soft with a consistency between cake batter and cookie dough.

7. To shape the balls, wet your hands with cold water. For small puffs, scoop the dough by level tablespoons then make small balls. Place them on the baking trays, spacing them about 1 1/2-inches apart. For larger puffs use 2 tablespoon of the dough and space them about 2-inches apart. Dip your spoon in water between scoops to prevent sticking.

8. Place the baking sheets in the oven and reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they are golden and puffed. Serve them warm.