What is Brazilian cheese bread made of?

Brazilian cheese bread, known as “pão de queijo” in Portuguese, is a popular baked good originating from Brazil. Despite its name, it does not actually contain any cheese. Instead, the main ingredients are tapioca flour, eggs, milk, oil, and salt. The cheese-like flavor and texture comes from the reaction between the tapioca flour and milk during the baking process.

The Origin of Brazilian Cheese Bread

Brazilian cheese bread has its origins in the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil. During the 18th century, many enslaved Africans were brought to work in the mines of the region. They brought with them the knowledge of making cassava flour from the root vegetable. This flour is known as tapioca or manioc flour.

The enslaved women working in the kitchens of the wealthy mine owners started experimenting with the flour. They made small baked goods that were cheap to produce and had a pleasant cheesy flavor and texture. These snacks became known as “pão de queijo” and quickly spread in popularity across Minas Gerais and later the rest of Brazil.

The Main Ingredients

While subtle variations exist, the basic Brazilian cheese bread recipe contains just a handful of ingredients:

  • Tapioca flour – Also called tapioca starch or manioc flour, this ingredient is extracted from the cassava root. It provides the distinctive texture.
  • Eggs – Usually chicken eggs. They help bind the ingredients together.
  • Milk – Can be whole milk, low-fat milk, or even non-dairy milk. It reacts with the tapioca flour to create the cheese-like flavor.
  • Oil – Typically vegetable or olive oil. It provides richness and moisture.
  • Salt – For flavor enhancement.

The simplicity of the ingredient list makes Brazilian cheese bread an accessible and budget-friendly food. Tapioca flour can be found in most supermarkets today alongside other gluten-free flours.

The Cheese-Like Quality

When the milk and tapioca flour combine and bake, the proteins and starches interact to give a texture similar to cheese. Specifically, the flavor is often compared to a mild mozzarella or provolone cheese.

The chemical reaction between the milk and tapioca flour causes the proteins to cross-link. This gives the bread its signature elastic, chewy texture. The milk also contributes to the slightly sour, tangy cheese notes.

The cheese-like flavor is strong when the breads are warm right out of the oven. As the breads cool, the cheesy taste becomes more subtle. But the distinctive texture remains.

Shaping and Baking Process

There are a few basic steps to shaping and baking Brazilian cheese breads:

  1. Mix the tapioca flour, milk, eggs, oil, and salt together into a sticky dough.
  2. Knead the dough briefly until combined.
  3. Roll dough into small balls, about 1-2 inches wide.
  4. Arrange balls on a baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 350°F – 375°F for 20-30 minutes until puffed and lightly browned.
  6. Remove from oven and serve warm.

Baking times and temperatures may vary depending on the size of the cheese breads. Smaller balls generally require less baking time than larger balls. An internal temperature of 200-210°F indicates they are fully baked through.

The balls will puff up and double in size as the moisture in the dough turns to steam. This is what creates the signature airy, soft interior texture. Allowing them to cool completely changes the texture from soft and fluffy to more firm and dense.

Common Shapes

While small balls are probably the most common shape, Brazilian cheese bread can also be shaped into:

  • Flat rounds like hamburger buns
  • Small triangles
  • Rectangles
  • Rings
  • Braids or knots

The shaping possibilities are endless! Just adjust baking times as needed for larger or differently shaped loaves.

Serving Suggestions

Brazilian cheese bread is very versatile and can be enjoyed different ways:

  • As a snack or appetizer – Eat them plain or with dips like guacamole.
  • As a side dish – Pair with soups, stews, or grilled meats.
  • For breakfast or brunch – Serve alongside eggs, fruit, or yogurt.
  • In sweet treats – Use in dessert empanadas filled with fruit or dulce de leche.

Their mild flavor makes them a great accompaniment to many dishes. They pair especially well with bitter greens, coffee, and citrus flavors.


Brazilian cheese breads are best within a few hours of baking while still warm and soft in the center. But they can be stored to enjoy later.

To maintain optimal texture, store completely cooled breads at room temperature in a paper bag or bread box for up to 2 days. For longer storage, freeze in a zip top bag for 2-3 months.

Reheat frozen breads in a 300°F oven for 5-10 minutes until warmed through before serving.

Common Variations

There are many ways Brazilian cheese bread can be adapted:


  • Cheese – Grated parmesan or other hard cheese adds more complex flavor.
  • Herbs – Chopped chives, parsley, oregano, or other fresh herbs complement the bread.
  • Olives – Sliced or chopped olives provide a briny, salty accent.
  • Jalapeños – Minced jalapeños bring mild heat and spice.


  • Stuffed – Fill balls with cheese or other ingredients before baking.
  • Topped – Coat with seeds, herbs, or grated cheese before baking.
  • Braided – Interlock ropes of dough for a decorative look.


  • Sandwiches – Use breads as the “buns” on sandwiches.
  • Chips – Slice cooled breads thin and bake into crisps.

Let your creativity guide you when putting your own twist on Brazilian cheese bread!

Common FAQs

Is it gluten free?

Yes, traditional Brazilian cheese bread is gluten-free since it is made with tapioca flour rather than wheat flour. This makes it a great option for anyone avoiding gluten.

Can it be made dairy-free?

Yes, to make dairy-free Brazilian cheese bread, use non-dairy milk such as almond, oat, or soy milk in place of regular milk. The cheese-like flavor will still develop thanks to the tapioca flour and eggs.

Can you freeze it?

Absolutely! To freeze, allow cheese breads to cool completely first, then store in a freezer bag or airtight container. They can keep frozen for 2-3 months. Reheat directly from frozen before serving.

How long does it keep?

For best texture and flavor, Brazilian cheese bread is best consumed within a day of baking. But it will stay fresh for 2-3 days stored at room temperature. Frozen breads will keep for 2-3 months.

What is tapioca flour?

Tapioca flour, sometimes called tapioca starch or manioc flour, is a gluten-free flour made from the starchy cassava root. It has a mild flavor and helps give the bread its distinctive texture.

Nutrition Facts

One serving of Brazilian cheese bread (1 piece around 1″ wide) provides approximately:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 79
Fat 2g
Carbohydrates 12g
Protein 2g
Fiber 1g

As you can see, Brazilian cheese bread is relatively low in calories and fat. It makes a lighter, healthier snack or meal accompaniment.

How to Make Brazilian Cheese Bread

Ready to bake your own Brazilian cheese bread at home? Follow this simple recipe:


  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or non-dairy milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 2 tbsp minced chives or parsley (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the tapioca flour, milk, egg, oil, and salt until a sticky dough forms.
  3. Stir in the shredded Parmesan and chives, if using.
  4. Roll tablespoon-sized pieces of dough into balls and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and lightly browned on the bottom.
  6. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

For a perfectly chewy, cheesy center, make sure not to overbake them. The total baking time depends on the size of the balls.

Let the baked cheese breads cool for at least 5 minutes before eating so the interior can set up. Store completely cooled breads in a paper bag at room temperature or freeze for longer storage.

Tips for Making Perfect Cheese Bread

Follow these tips for the best homemade Brazilian cheese bread:

  • Use fresh tapioca flour for the best texture.
  • Knead the dough very briefly so it doesn’t get tough.
  • Shape balls of dough into a consistent size so they bake evenly.
  • Brush tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle shredded cheese or herbs before baking for a decorative crust.
  • Bake in the center of the oven on middle rack for even browning.
  • Check breads a few minutes before the minimum bake time to prevent overbaking.
  • Enjoy cheese breads within 2 days of baking for optimal freshness and texture.


With just a handful of supermarket ingredients, you can easily make the popular Brazilian baked good known as cheese bread or pão de queijo. This naturally gluten-free snack features a delightful cheesy aroma and flavor thanks to the reaction between tapioca flour and milk. Customize cheese bread by baking different shapes and sizes and adding herbs, spices, cheeses, or olives. Serve the light, fluffy, baked cheese breads as a simple appetizer or accompaniment to meals. With the right techniques, you can enjoy delicious Brazilian cheese bread from your own oven.

Leave a Comment