Knack South American Cooking: Cheese Bread Bites

by Liz Caskey on June 14, 2011

These gluten-free cheese bread puffs are delicious and fast to make!

Hailing from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, these cheese breads, known as pão de queijo, are extremely popular throughout Brazil and are gaining popularity abroad.  Brazilians use polvilho, a type of yucca starch, or yucca flour to achieve a crunchy outer crust and a chewy, cheesy interior.  These breads are perfect for those with celiac disease, since they are completely gluten-free.

Pão de queijo is normally served piping hot, straight from the oven, with espresso for breakfast or as a snack. They are a perfect complement to wine. Leftovers may be frozen for up to three months.   Once they cool, place them in a toaster to reheat and maintain texture.


(Yield: 2 1⁄2 dozen)

2⁄3 cup whole milk

1⁄2 cup vegetable oil

2-2 1⁄2 cups polvilho doce or yucca starch

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup grated Parmesan

 Cheese Bread Bites:

• In a saucepan, bring milk and oil to a boil. Sift yucca starch with salt in a mixing bowl.

• Whisk hot mixture into dry ingredients in a steady stream. Incorporate eggs and grated Parmesan.

• Let cool slightly, then knead with your hands till smooth. Break off walnut-size pieces and roll into balls.

• Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes until golden. Serve immediately from oven.

Mix the Ingredients:

• When heating the milk, use the low setting to avoid scalding.

• To mix, use a plastic bowl rather than stainless steel, ceramic, or glass, which can cause the dough to stick.

• As you whisk, the dough will become slightly sticky and unwieldy for a moment. Keep mixing until uniform dough is achieved.

Add Cheese and Bake:

• After mixing, use the heel of your hand to knead the dough to achieve a smooth, elastic texture and fully incorporate the cheese.

• Let the dough rest for 30 minutes before baking.

• To keep the dough from sticking to your hands, periodically wet them in a bowl of water placed next to the work area, or grease them with oil.

• Place the balls on a greased baking sheet. Leave extra room between them since they puff during baking.


Polvilho is a cassava starch that replaces wheat flour and gives the cheese bread an intense tanginess. There are two kinds of cassava starch: sweet cassava starch and sour cassava starch. They are both made from the same raw material, the cassava root, but the sour version is left to ferment for 2 days before processing. The sour version is commonly used in Brazil.


Smoked Sausage and Feta: Bring milk, salt, and oil to a boil. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil; add

1 sliced smoked sausage or chorizo. Sear 7 minutes until fat has rendered. Remove sausage, cool,

and coarsely chop. Add hot milk to polvillho and mix. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup Feta cheese, and sausage and knead until smooth. Roll into balls; bake at 350F for 20 minutes until golden.

This is an original recipe and photography from Liz Caskey & Francisco Ramírez’s cookbook, Knack South American Cooking. To get your copy, click here.

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