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Posted: 2019-02-11 14:00:00

Chewy, salty, and impossible to stop eating, they're the next best thing to an actual trip to Brazil (especially when paired with a caipirinha).

The first time I ever tasted Brazilian cheese breads, or pão de queijo, as they're called, I couldn't figure out what they were. They had the strangest texture, a firm shell on the outside with a soft, stretchy, chewy middle, and a delightfully salty, cheesy flavor. I encountered them at every turn – at people's homes, at meetings, at restaurants and coffee shops. Clearly they were a Big Thing, and the more I ate, the more I agreed.

I asked a friend to teach me how to make them. She laughed and pointed to a bag of powdered mix. "That's what everyone uses. Just add water and egg and beat it hard for several minutes." Nobody made the breads from scratch, apparently, but it didn't seem to matter. They were still delicious.

The few times I traveled between Brazil and Canada, I loaded up my suitcase with mix. Friends would bring it when they came to visit. Sometimes I'd track it down in Brazilian grocery stores in Toronto. It wasn't until I moved out of the city that I realized there had to be a way to make pão de queijo from scratch. Surely the Brazilians hadn't always had mix on hand!

Thus began my quest to recreate these little snacks. It didn't take long. They're astonishingly simple to make, as long as you can get your hands on some tapioca flour, which is now common in most large supermarkets. Tapioca comes from ground cassava root, a staple ingredient in many tropical countries that's used in a wide range of ways, and that's what gives these breads their uniquely chewy texture. It also makes them gluten-free.

The best recipe I've found so far is from The Kitchn. It uses vegetable oil, which is more authentic than the olive oil I've seen in other versions. It uses only Parmesan, whereas other recipes call for shredded cheddar and/or Monterey Jack, which leads to browned cheesy bits that you'd never normally see in Brazil.

The hardest

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