Pão de Queijo / Brazilian Cheese Puffs / Crack Balls – Recipe and Methods

23 Feb

This recipe is good as a dinner roll or carb loading snack for those who have gluten sensitivity as it doesn’t use flour: it uses Tapioca starch. It also seems to sit fine with people who are lactose intolerant.  All of the people with a non-severe lactose intolrance or sensitivity I know have walked away fine after consuming more than just two or three of these puffs despite the inclusion of cheese and milk in the recipe. It doesn’t make too huge of a difference compared to 2%, but I use whole milk which has more fat and a fraction lower amount of lactose. Unfortunately, tapioca starch has a high glycemic index, so those who are diabetic should not consume too many.  Better yet, don’t let them have any at all. These cheese puffs  are like pringles, you can’t have just one…

Feel free to skip this intro section if you just want the “what” (ingredients) and “how to” (methods). I will be updating this periodically as I repeat and fall upon tweaks that bring me closer to my goal.

I normally wouldn’t post this because the product I create is not perfect every run yet (the inside is not as hollow as i would like sometimes). However, a couple friends (who have not had the real thing) had been requesting that I bring it for the holiday parties, as well as give a recipe so I obliged. I think that the product that I create now is already pretty sweet, enough to share, so prepare to dig in.

I first had Brazilian Cheese Puffs at Agora Churrascaria, a Brazilian steak house, and became so enamored with them, I had a chat with the general manager about the literal, little balls of joy. I went home still obsessed so i hopped online that night and began looking for recipes. I found a couple that call for more or less the same, ingredients-wise, but the proportions I’ve had the most success with came from following TheKitchn, with a few modifications.

I followed the recipe and methods to the T the first couple of times I tried it. However I ended up with a semi different version of my own because it always came out wrong/weird if I followed it exactly (see “Notes” section). I will also be explaining steps as I go along. The primary directions will be in the main bullets. Explanations and clarifications will be in lesser bullets.


  • 1 Cup Milk
    • I use whole, TheKitchn uses whole, some other recipes use 2%
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
    • Can be substituted wtih vegetable oil.
  • 1.5 Cups Parmesan Cheese
    • lightly packed
      • Can also use just 1 cup
    • I’ve been using Bel Gioioso’s Parmesan-Romano Shredded from Costco
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
    • you can use just 1/2 tsp or none at all if sodium is a concern because the cheese will be inherently salty
  • 2 Eggs ( I use Costco’s XL ones)
    • too lazy to measure the actual volume of them, sorry
  • 2 cups of Tapioca Flour
    • leveled off/not packed down
    •  I use Flying Horse or the Buddha brand found in Asian Supermarkets
    • That’s 10.5 oz for those of you, like me, that prefer weight measurements. 10.0 oz is perfectly acceptable if you use small eggs (and thus have a lower liquid volume mixed into the dough). 11 oz is pushing it and will make the dough extremely hard to mix (by hand). The result will still be fine though .
  • 2 oz or 1/4 cup of Tapioca Flour ON RESERVE
    • to fix any textural issues in the end (explained later)
  • Optional: 1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder


Some of the Ingredients: Flour, Eggs (beaten), Parmesan

Notes: I’ve found that using powdered  vs shredded pamesan makes no textural difference in the end result. Once the dough gets baked up the inside becomes completely homogenous and creamy even though the dough will be grainy pre-bake. The powdered cheese that i used beofre gettign the XL bag of shredded stuff from Costco was the powdered one from Kraft. The bel gioioso one is much stinkier as well as much better tasting in the end product. That being said, when I use the shredded Bell Gioioso from Costco, I do manually grind it up a bit with the butt of a soup ladle to break the huge/long strands down into smaller ones.

I’ve been doing the mixing by hand with an over sized pair of thick, wooden chopsticks. Let me tell you: it is infinitely easier to do with someone else holding the mixing bowl for you and WAY easier to use a stand mixer. HOWEVER! For some reason, every time I use a stand mixer, the results fall flat. Literally. They turn out more like cheese pancakes or squashed biscuits than puffs. I’ve still got no idea why. And the stand mixer is not crap either. It’s by kitchen aide. I also don’t get the nice crackles across the top surface, even if they do turn out round and puff-y.

Pro Tip: If mixing the dough by hand, use a medium to smaller- medium sized, steep/high walled mixing bowl (like this one, or this one) unless you want to chase lumps of dough around all over the bowl trying to homogenized the mixture.  Don’t use shallow, wide, gently sloping basins like the above pictured. That was a terrible, time consuming mistake.


  1. Combine milk, butter, and salt together in a small pan and bring the mixture to a boil.
    • Start the milk off on medium-low heat and melt the butter in stirring occasionally.
    • Add salt, stirring that in and making sure it’s dissolved
    • crank up to medium heat and wait for it to boil
    • At the first sign of roiling bubbles, remove from stove. If you see small bubbles, wait until you see big ones or turn up the heat slightly to get them to appear.
  2. Pour the hot liquid into your waiting mixing bowl with the Tapioca Flour and start mixing immediately.
    • keep mixing until the dough is completely homogeneous.
    • it will start out very lumpy. keep stirring
    • it will stay lumpy. keep stirring
    • just as you are about to give up and throw it out the window, it will all come together in a few blinks and turn completely smooth.
  3. Punch it out flat in the mixing bowl so that it cools faster. It should be about the same warmth as a fresh load of laundry before you move on)
    • At this step the dough it should be an off white color, smooth and  hold itself together, but slowly droop/drip if picked up.
    • It should not be overly sticky either. if you rub your hands together quickly, it should pill and ball up on itself and fall off.
  4. Things to do while waiting for dough to cool:
    1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F
    2. Beat the eggs until they are “fluffy” (white frothy bubbles appear, see the pic up there).
    3. Recruit someone to help you hold the mixing bowl for the next step.
  5. Beat in the egg in two additions
    1. add half of the liquid gold beaten eggs, mix until smooth, then add the other half
    2. During this step, the dough will get hella sticky and fight you.
  6. Add the baking soda now if you have decided to be a cheater, like me
  7. Mix in the Parmesan cheese until everything is equally lumpy ‘n bumpy (dumping it all in in one go is fine)
  8. Complain about how tired your arms are.

The dough: by now should be solid enough to hold itself up. It should not droop or sag if you scoop some of it up. At the same time it should exhibit properties similar to a non-newtonian fluid… in solid form… so a non-newtonian solid. What do I mean by that? It should stick like a nightmare if you handle it with slow pressure (like if you squeeze it)  but it should  not stick if you handle it with fast motions like if you slap it and recoil, or roll it briskly in the palm of your hand (which you will need to do to form individual balls).

To test for the right consistency: tap it quickly and very lightly with your fingers.  If you find the pad of your finger lifting up with blobs of dough, then it is too liquidy and too soft.  You will end up with cheese pancakes. If your finger comes away mostly clean (a few specks or little bits are acceptable), your dough is in a good state.

Another test: if it is a sticky nightmare trying to roll balls out, it’s too soft.

If your dough is too sticky, add more tapioca flour (from the reserve) in half  tablespoon increments, mixing in each portion until smooth and thoroughly incorporated before adding another portion if the dough is still not firm enough. Keep adding more tapioca flour as needed until it matches my description (Following the kitchen’s directions, I found my dough was way too soft, liquid and sticky hence the need for these giant paragraphs on an “extra step”) As tempting as it is to dump in as much as you think you need right away, go gradually. Tapioca batter is very finicky and has a fine balancing point between too liquid vs just solid enough. It’ll be hard to save if you add too much flour and it turns too hard.

Baking Instructions

  1. Grease the baking tray very lightly by wiping it with a paper napkin saturated in oil OR line it with parchment paper.
  2. Portion out the dough and roll them into spheres
    1. place them 0.75-1 inch away from each other. They don’t expand laterally very much unless they “melt” due to the dough being too soft.
    2. i tend to make my spheres between 1.25 – 1.5 inches in diameter
    3. TheKitchn says to use a table spoon to measure out portions, but those tend to be a good 2 inches in diameter. Too big. and take too long to bake for my patience level.
    4. PRO TIP: the balls will slightly flatten in the oven if your dough is on the softer / warmer side before they start to rise + expand. In  order to end up with a mostly perfect sphere instead of a puffy, fat pancake do the following: roll the dough into taller, almost cylindrical rounds rather than perfect spheres
  3. Stick the pan in the oven and set a timer for 3 minutes. (again, it should be preheated to a toasty 450 F)
  4. After 3 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 and bake for 12-15 more minutes (depending on the size of the balls you portioned out).
    1. If you used a table spoon measure, you might need to bake for as much as 20-25 minutes @ 350.
  5. Over baking (too long) will result in a too-hard, too-thick crust instead of a light, crispy one. The puffs might already be done and cooked through, but still too pale in color if your pan is too far away from the source of heat.  If you still want a beautiful golden finish, scorch it with a blow torch. I’m actually being serious.


Ideally, the puffs should turn out with crackles across the surface, like these. The pock marks are from molten globs of cheeeeeese.

Hahahahha, you see those scorch marks? I went a little too close with the blow torch.

The bottom.

A different batch, done with a stand mixer. No crackles. Also, see how they are not round? My dough was slightly too soft and sagged a bit before expanding. It also only exhibited small to medium bubbles. Something i did right: That toasted coloring comes from placing the baking tray closer to the heat source.

Final Notes: 

I wanna try making these next since they seem to be similar:

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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Exotics


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