Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Puffs)

Last Friday, I got to thinking about the differences between instant and delayed gratification.

It all started when I decided to watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When I first selected it, I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a charming coming-of-age film that delved into some pretty heavy topics. I especially loved the characters and their vulnerability. Even though I've never been through any of the ordeals they went through, I could still relate to them on many levels.

Anyway, I bring this movie up because one of its smaller subplots was what got me to thinking about the difference between instant versus delayed gratification. You see, the two main characters, Charlie and Sam, have a bit of a transcendent moment while listening to a song on the radio. Unfortunately, they don't know the name of the song. Throughout the film, you realize that Charlie spends good deal of time and effort trying to figure it out, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of the film, Sam learns the song's name; when she shares the news with Charlie by playing it for him on a mixed tape, Charlie is exuberant, and in a way, the film comes full circle.

From The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Maybe it doesn't sound like that big of a deal without the context of the greater story, but trust me, it is a big deal. I can also completely relate to Charlie's feelings. I remember my own frustrations trying to figure out the name of an elusive song, and the excitement that came weeks or even months later when someone could finally help me pinpoint its name.

While thinking about this, I also realized that this film couldn't possibly be set in the present because this kind of mystery involving a song's name is improbable in today's world. If set in 2013, Charlie would have whipped out a smart phone while the song was first playing, clicked on the shazam app, and discovered the name of the song in a matter of seconds, virtually eliminating all suspense, anticipation, and therefore excitement over discovering its name. I guess that's the downside of the technological world we live in -- we can be instantly gratified in almost everything we do, and many people have come to expect instant gratification all the time. So where's the joy of discovery? Call me old-fashioned, but I'm glad that I know how wonderful delayed gratification can be.

Now, let me finally reveal how this all instant versus delayed gratification relates to Pão de Queijo. For me, it's the most recent example of how rewarding delayed gratification can be. I first had Pão de Queijo at a party in Berkeley quite a few years ago, and the only information I could learn about them at the time was that they were "cheese puffs." I really wanted to have these cheese puffs again, but the closest thing I could find on the Internet to what I had was gougeres. Never having been exposed to gougeres before, I gleefully made them, thinking these were my party puffs. As delicious as the gougeres I made were, they woefully were not my mysterious cheese puffs. The gougeres were very, very close, but just not it.

Finally, a few months ago, while skimming through Pinterest, I saw a picture that perfectly mirrored the image I kept in my head of those party puffs from years before: Pao de Queijo, Brazilian cheese bread. Light and crisp on the outside, with a cavernous and chewy interior, these puffs have cheese embedded right in the dough. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was when I saw that picture and finally solved the mystery of the party puffs. I also know I definitely appreciate this recipe so much more because I had to wait so long to get it.

Even though several years went by before I could figure out what they were, Pão de Queijo are incredibly easy to prepare, and once you have all the ingredients on hand you won't have to wait long to enjoy them. Dare I say, you will be almost instantly gratified with this recipe!?
Pão de Queijo
Adapted from The Kitchn
Note: This version of Pão de Queijo is remarkably similar to French gougeres. The two share many of the same ingredients, and both require you to cook the dough on the stove top first. The biggest difference between the two is the use of tapioca flour (or cassava flour) in Pão de Queijo. The gelatinous quality of the tapioca flour is what gives Pão de Queijo its chewy texture. It also means that these delicious puffs are gluten-free, for those of you who are concerned about that dietary restriction. If you can find sour tapioca flour or sour cassava flour (generally available at Latin American markets) try that! It's supposed to be more authentic and tastier. I used plain tapioca flour from Bob's Red Mill, which is a great substitution, and it's commonly sold at many supermarkets or natural food stores. These puffs are a great appetizer, but are also nice beside a bowl of soup. I've even heard they're eaten for breakfast in Brazil and other South American countries!
Yield: about 35 puffs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 ounces (2 cups) tapioca flour or sour cassava flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking pans with parchment (or a silpat) and set aside.

Combine the milk, oil, and salt in a large saucepan, and over medium heat, bring it to a gentle boil, whisking occasionally. As soon as you see large bubbles coming through the milk, remove from heat. Add all of the tapioca flour to the saucepan; stir until you can't see any dry tapioca flour. The dough will be gelatinous and grainy.

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In order to cool the dough down, beat it on medium speed for a few minutes until it smooths out. The dough is ready for the remaining ingredients when it is cool enough to hold against your finger for several seconds.

Once properly cooled, add one egg to the dough; beat on medium speed until it has been fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the second egg until it is fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on medium, beat in the cheese until fully incorporated. The dough will now be very sticky, stretchy, and soft with a consistency between cake batter and cookie dough.

Using a small spring handled ice cream scoop [mine was 1/2 an ounce] or a tablespoon measure, first dip your scoop in a glass of water, and then scoop rounded portions of the dough into mounds on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave an inch or two between each mound. Dip the scoop into water between each addition to prevent sticking.

Transfer the sheet(s) with the dough mounds to the oven; immediately turn down the heat to 350°F. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the mounds have puffed, the outsides are dry, and they are just starting to color. Cool briefly and enjoy.

Leftover puffs can be kept in an airtight container for up to a week and re-crisped in a warm oven or toaster oven.

Cheddar Cheese Variation: Add 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to milk, oil, and salt. Swap out sharp cheddar cheese for the Romano and increase to 1 cup. Reduce Parmesan cheese to 1/2 cup. Follow all other directions.

1 comment:

  1. Yum! Carmen made some this morning and they are like a slightly savory cream puff. :)