Pan de Queijo – Passover Cheese Bread

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I have always tried to bring new food traditions to my community, while ensuring that my holiday tables have enough nostalgic dishes so that my children and guests connect with the rich food culture of our grandparents. I will always serve chicken soup, brisket and gefilte fish, albeit with new twists, at my Passover Seders. Yet, I am always on the lookout for new food ideas during the remainder of the Passover week.

I met my Brazilian friend Karina Schumer when I was living in Geneva, Switzerland in the 1990’s. Over 22 years she has shared with me the Carioca lifestyle while I have tried to explain aspects of American life such as baseball, college campus culture and American politics. We often spend Jewish holidays together.

When it comes to Jewish traditions, I have discovered that Ashkenazi Jews have a lot in common no matter where they are from. I recall a Shabbat dinner in Geneva that Karina attended along with other Jews from France, Belgium and Mexico. At the end of dinner, when we all sang birkat hamazon, all of us sang the same tunes.

Growing up in Brazil, albeit with German, Polish and Dutch Jewish ancestry, Karina recalls that her upbringing was really more European than Brazilian. Her Passover food memories are identical to mine, filled with matzoh balls, chopped liver and gefilte fish. She said that the only “modern” aspect of the Seder was that she and her cousins tried to introduce Israeli-style tunes for the songs, only to be rebuffed by the parents and grandparents. Today, as a new American, the holiday’s message of freedom truly resonates with her.

When I recently learned that Brazilian cheese bread, pao de queijo, is gluten-free, and made with tapioca flour, which is permitted on Passover, I cheered at the thought of “bread” and “Passover” married together. Karina herself was intrigued, because she never ate the cheese bread during the holiday. She said, “I’m sure the older generation could never imagine eating anything bread-like during Passover.”

Pao de queijo originated from African slaves and milk and cheese were only added to the recipe in the 19th century. It is a popular breakfast and street food in Brazil and Argentina and is a staple on most restaurant tables, along with olives and pickles. Many Brazilians, like Karina, keep raw dough balls in the freezer and then bake as needed. She has found the Brazilian dough mixin American supermarkets. Her son may be American-born, but she has made sure he has grown up on cheese bread.

The method of making the dough is similar to the French choux dough, used for profiteroles and eclairs, in that the dough is made stovetop, cooled and then eggs are beaten in. They are, unfortunately, highly addictive, and taste better that second day. I prefer them room temperature to warmed. Feel free to eat them with jam, or use them for little sandwiches. The texture is quite bread-like, so make sure you explain them to visitors who might think you have chametz in your kitchen. Make this popular Brazilian bread a new Passover staple. Boas Festas!!

Pao de Queijo

Makes 15 rolls

The texture of the dough is rather gelatinous-looking and unlike any dough I have ever worked with.  Just trust that it will all turn out ok after it is baked. Do not eat them right out of the oven; they really need to be cooled and I find the texture better the second day.

½ cup whole milk

½ cup water

½ cup oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups tapioca flour

2 large eggs, beaten

1 ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (use a Microplane zester)

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Place the milk, water, oil and salt into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the tapioca flour. Use a wooden spoon to mix well and keep mixing until you do not see any white powder and the mixture starts to form into a ball.

Scoop the dough into a large mixing bowl and beat with the whisk attachment on low speed to cool the dough for 7 minutes. Add half of the beaten eggs and mix well on medium speed, for about 4-5 minutes, or until all of the egg has been mixed in. Add the remaining egg and mix well for another 4-5 minutes. Add the cheese and mix until the mixture comes together and is uniformly light yellow with no white globs. It should look like lumpy vanilla pudding.

Fill your measuring cup with cold water and use a spoon or an ice cream scoop dipped into the water to scoop up balls of dough. Use your thumb to press the mixture into the scoop or use your hands to squeeze the ball tightly. Place on the prepared cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. You should have about 15 balls.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden. Let cool – they taste too gooey if eaten right away.

Store in aluminum foil or an aluminum pan, covered.