I fondly remember a time when I served warm gougères (savory French cheese puffs), along with a glass of bubbly, to everyone who entered our house. This pre-dinner routine lasted a good long time, in part because the cheese puffs looked and tasted sophisticated, but were deceptively simple to make.
My love affair with gourgères ended abruptly when my gluten intolerance began. Fortunately not much time passed before I started reading about a popular Brazilian snack called Pão de Queijo, or cheese bread. The bread, which usually comes in the form of mini rolls, gets its structure from tapioca flour. Brazilian versions often use a combination of both sweet and sour manioc (another name for tapioca) starch. Hunting down both of those flours sounded like a chore, so I experimented using only the relatively easy-to-find tapioca flour and the results tasted great.
Whipping up the dough in a stand mixer is a cinch. You can mix it by hand as well, but remember the dough is rather thick and sticky; you’ll need your arm muscles. Some Pão de Queijo contain only one type of cheese, but I like the salty-and-gooey combo that comes from using both Parmesan and cheddar. You can certainly substitute other cheeses; Gruyere would make an excellent choice.
When you taste the cheese puffs for the first time, I hope you’re intrigued by their chewiness. The texture may not be what you anticipate, but it’s nothing if not addictive. I eat them as hors d’oeuvres, or as the perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of soup. Slice them in half and make little tea sandwiches with turkey and Dijon mustard, ham, or chicken salad. Or bake larger versions in a regular muffin tin and use them as buns for sliders or popover-like cups for scrambled eggs. I’m sure with a little experimentation you’ll come up with your own favorite new twist.