Rancho Gordo – Making beans sexy again

Let’s just address the elephant in the room, right off the bat – Beans are not exactly what one would call sexy food, right? Well, were we talking about the decidedly pedestrian offerings we’re all too used to seeing out there, I’d agree. Yet, when you consider what a little outfit based in California has been quietly doing for beans lately, the answer is a resounding, wrong – Because Rancho Gordo is making beans sexy again.

Some of the Rancho Gordo goods
Some of the Rancho Gordo goods

Back about a decade or so, I discovered Rancho Gordo and some truly amazing beans. No, seriously – Truly amazing beans. We’re talking the kind of beans that you try a couple of after they’re just done cooking, and then you raise an eyebrow, and then you try more, all the while thinking, ‘damn! Those are outstanding!’ – Beans that good. Then I kinda forgot about them, for who knows what reason, until just recently, when we were reunited. In the meantime, Steve Sando and the Rancho crew had gone from harvesting a few thousand pounds a year to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and many, many more varieties. What John Bunker has done for apples in Maine, Sando is doing for beans. NOTE: When I asked Steve what their current production was, he wrote, “A lot! We’re in the middle of planning and we’re not sure where we’ll land.”

Sando wasn’t an agricultural expert, by any sense of the words, when he started this endeavor. He’d been, in fact, a web designer, DJ, and clothing wholesaler who happened to like to cook. He also lived in Napa, one of the lushest areas for food and wine one could wish for. Yet when he headed out one day in search of good tomatoes, he found… Crap. Nada – Nasty, hard, hothouse tomatoes from Holland were the best thing in sight. Since he was already an accomplished Jack of All Trades, he decided to take a swing at growing heirloom tomatoes and other veggies he’d like to cook with. Eventually, that lead to beans, and therein was made a match in culinary Heaven. Sando and crew have, in fifteen years or so, gone from humble origins to major stardom in the foodie world, with luminaries like Thomas Keller using Rancho Gordo beans in his restaurants, and an heirloom variety named after Marcella Hazan.

If you haven’t read the recent New Yorker piece on Sando and Rancho, do. It’s a wonderful vignette of the work they do, searching out new-to-us but old bean varieties, and bringing them to the rest of us. As Rancho Gordo grows, so does the search – That has spread throughout the Americas, from modest beginnings in California, through Mexico, and in to South America, (with inroads to Europe, including that Marcella bean, which naturally has Italian roots.) Their Rancho Gordo Xoxoc Project teams them up with a very fine Mexican outfit, to bring stunningly good heirloom Mexican beans to the markets up here in Gringolandia.

these are not your average commodity beans
these are not your average commodity beans

Oh, those beans! Seriously! We’re not talking flaccid plastic bags full of dullness – we’re talking rock stars, peacocks, a veritable rainbow of delights for the eye and stomach. Go to the Heirloom Bean Page on Rancho Gordo’s website and you’ll see, currently, thirty varieties that shine and sparkle. There’s no dullness here – There are glowing tones of red, black, white, cream, and purple – Shining solids, stripes, and blends. Let me assure you that these gems look every bit as good in person, even after they’re cooked. 

And cook them you must, my friends. Yes, although I sound like a broken record, they are better than ‘that good.’ That’s important for a couple of reasons. First off, meatless meals are a thing we need to do more often. The world grows smaller as we continue to overpopulate it. Meat takes a hell of a lot of energy to produce, rather ridiculous amounts, truth be told. When we consider how and what and who produces food these days, things get grimmer yet. Up through most American history, well over 50% of the people lived in rural areas and were involved, in some degree, with farming and producing food. That figure is now around 1%, and ya can’t get a hell of a lot lower than that. Secondly, as agricultural area diminishes, or is generally overrun by huge corporate farming, diversity suffers foremost – That’s the reason why a visit to your local grocery finds those boring bags of industrial beans. Just as apples have rebounded, (leading to far greater availability of what were niche varieties), beans need to make that leap too, right into our gardens.

Beans are members of the legume family, which includes other such notables as peas, clover, and the lovely lupines that Monica planted out in front of our new digs this spring. Legumes have a great trick, a symbiosis with rhizobia, a common bacteria that are capable of fixing nitrogen, so long as they have a suitable host – Legumes provide that, so rhizobia settle into the plant’s root nodes and good things result. Instead of depleting soil, they enrich it. Fact is, planting beans or field peas at the end of your garden’s annual sojourn, (AKA, late fall), will not only help stabilize soils during the wet months, it’ll provide your next round of crops with a decent nitrogen fix, if you cut them down before they flower in the spring. 

And for the record, Rancho Gordo not only approves of, but encourages home cultivation – Right there at the top of the Heirloom Bean Page, it reads, ‘Heirloom Beans are open-pollinated seeds that can be planted and you’ll get the exact same bean. They tend to have a lower yield and can be much more difficult to grow but the pay off is in the unique flavors and textures that you don’t find with bland commodity beans.’ Hey, everybody needs to start somewhere, yeah? Why not start with the best? RG doesn’t stop there, by the way – Sando wrote, The Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, which’ll provide all the knowledge you need – Just add horsepower.

Then there are the nutritional considerations. Beans provide ample calories in a high protein, low fat package, with a low glycemic index, that includes complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and a generous sprinkling of vitamins and minerals. The USDA recommends we eat 3 cups of legumes a week as part of a healthy diet, and beans ought to be your star player in that endeavor. Now granted, all of that ain’t worth a Hill of beans if you don’t like the taste of ‘em. If what you’ve been exposed to is the seemingly endless world of canned and highly processed, or dried, low quality crap, who can blame you? Trust me when I say that Rancho Gordo is here to save the day.

As I mentioned, these beans are so far above the norm, they’re downright stratospheric. Go online, and look up threads of folks discussing cooking and eating these little beasties – you’ll read, repeatedly, something to the effect of ‘I was snacking on them so much, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough left for the dish I’d intended to make.’ They’re not joking. The first time I cooked some since my reintroduction, I experienced exactly that. Those were Vaqueros, by the way, gorgeous little black and white beauties that make amazing chili, (and are perfect for the Pacific Northwest – Their nickname is Orca Beans). Damn near anything and everything you want to eat with them or cook them into will be amazing, and just like that, your bean aversion is alleviated.

the Rancho Gordo label, delightfully campy and instantly recognizable
the Rancho Gordo label, delightfully campy and instantly recognizable

And the labels, well, those are just a fun, campy kick in the ass, far as I’m concerned. Sando was a web designer, you’ll recall, and he certainly does have an eye for catchy. They’re instantly recognizable, and downright appealing, and yeah, that kinda stuff does matter. Remember those dull, boring bags at the store? Well, screw that – These are as fun to look as they are to eat.

Alright, so whataya make with these things, anyway? Well, as I alluded to above, the sky’s the limit. From just beans, to salads, dips, and spreads. Soups, stews, and chili, to cassoulet, pasta y fagioli, and chakalaka, everything you make, from super simple to legendary, will be outstanding. For my mind, the simpler you start with, the better. Let the beans speak to before you layer them into other stuff. I’m not kidding. Eating these with an extraordinarily light seasoning hand will show you exactly what I’m gushing about. Sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, a drizzle of very good olive oil, maybe a chiffenade of a single, fresh basil leaf – nothing more – Yes, they have that much flavor and character. Do that, and on the second round, you’ll know exactly what each one will shone at when you really turn it loose. Your second wave might be a lovely bean and wild rice salad for something cold, or red beans and rice for a hot dish. After that, dive into the longer, slower stuff.

Now, when you want to genuinely layer up, and make something that will show what Rancho Gordo beans can really do, I’ll offer this recipe up, the very first elaborate one I made after RGB’s and I got reacquainted. I did it in an Instant Pot, (AKA, the IP, a truly spectacular electric, programmable pressure cooker, if you’re not familiar with them.)  I’ll recommend using one, because the primary benefit of an Instant Pot can be summed up as follows – The entire process can be done in that appliance, and the total cooking time is only 18 minutes, and that includes pre-cooking the beans, yet the finished dish will taste like you slaved away all day – Capiche? If you don’t have an IP, you can soak, parboil, or bake the beans first, (Type ‘Beans’ into the search box here and you’ll get a bunch of options in that regard), then you can slow cook them as you see fit.

Frijoles Vaqueros in the IP
Frijoles Vaqueros in the IP

Frijoles Vaqueros

1 Pound Rancho Gordo Vaquero Beans

1/4 Pound Pork (whatever version you’ve got on hand)

1 Cup Chicken Stock

1/2 Cup Sweet Pepper, chopped

1/2 Cup Onion, chopped

1/4 Cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

1 to 3 fresh Serrano Chiles, cut into roughly 1/4” thick rings

1-2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced 

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Garnish: Crema or sour cream, hot sauce, more cilantro, fresh lime, Pico de Gallo, and so on, si?

Veggie mise for the frijoles vaqueros
Veggie mise for the frijoles vaqueros

Add dry beans and 8 cups of water to the Instant Pot.

Set the IP to 8 minutes on Pressure and let ‘er rip.

I used precooked pork – Use whatever you’ve got, from ground, to whole, to bacon. 

If your pork is uncooked, give it a quick sauté to just brown it and get rid of most of the pink. When that’s done, transfer it to a small bowl and let it hang out while you continue. NOTE: If you’ve got a fatty cut of pork, trim the lion’s share and reserve it – You’ll use it shortly.

After the pressure cycle is completed, allow the pot to stay on Keep Warm mode for 10 minutes, then carefully release the remaining pressure on the IP. Use a towel or hot pads to grab the cooking vessel, then drain the beans through a colander – It’s always a good idea to save the pot liquor, it’ll be great for soups and stews down the line, and it freezes well.

Return the cooking vessel to the IP and set it to sauté.

When the IP is heated, add the reserved pork fat, (a tablespoon of avocado oil will do if you don’t have fat).

sautéing the veggies and pork fat
sautéing the veggies and pork fat

Allow the fat to melt (or the oil to heat through), then add the onion, sweet pepper, garlic, and chiles, and sauté, stirring lightly, until the onions start to turn translucent. 

Add the chicken stock, pork, beans, cilantro, and seasoning to the IP and lock the cover back down.

Set the IP for 10 minutes at Pressure and let it go.

When the pressure cycle is complete, press Cancel, and let the IP’s pressure bleed off through ‘Natural Release’ – It’ll be about 20-25 minutes before you can unlock the cover.

Give beans a quick stir, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired.

Serve with whatever accoutrements you desire, albeit you’ll not really need anything else…

NOTE: Because I always get asked, I always point out the following – No, I do not get any sort of endorsement deal/perks/freebies from anyone or anything I review or recommend. I bought my Instant Pot same as you, as I do my Rancho Gordo beans and other goodies, (and oh boy, do they have other goodies – Go to the site and poke around, for cryin’ out loud!)  I recommend what I love, because I want to share it with y’all – It’s that simple. 

The volume of my Rancho Gordo stash, (and no, that’s not all of it, gang…) should illustrate the fact that I love their stuff. If, when you get there, six bucks seems expensive for a pound of beans, believe me when I tell you, it’s not. You’ll get a couple of great meals from that bag, without having to add a lot of other expense – That’s not pricy, that’s well worth your money, and you’re helping maintain little growers all over the place, as well as genetic diversity – Both very good things. 

I’ll also mention that I belong to the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, in which you get a big ol’ shipment 4 times a year for $40 a pop, which includes six bags of beans, plus another goody, (like red popcorn, hominy, or cacao, to name but a few, as well as free shipping for something else in that quarter, and a newsletter with great recipes. The club was closed at 1,000 members for quite a while, and then was recently expanded and reopened. If you really dig Beans, you’re a fool not to join. There’s also a FB group for the club, and there are truly spectacular recipes and dishes floating across that on a daily basis, including the incredible pizza bean dish.

Seriously, go check it out, and tell ‘em I sent y’all.

Hey, Sandbakkels! You’ve got A Way With Words!

Well, I’ve already heard from some folks this morning that our little blog just became a bit more popular, and for that, I’ve got A Way With Words to thank, so let me flesh out that explanation a bit. If you’re not familiar with this wonderful show/podcast, I encourage you to become so. It’s the NPR ‘show about language and the way we use it,’ hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and it’s a genuine treat for word nerds like me. Folks call in with questions about words, word origins, slang terms, etymology, regional dialects, and much, much more – It’s delightful and fascinating stuff. So, to all y’all who have journeyed here for the first time after hearing this week’s episode, welcome! If this post wasn’t waiting for you when you got here, my apologies – This is a journey that began way back in late March, so it’s required a bit of juggling to get things coordinated. but hey, you’re here now, and for that we offer Big Thanks and a hearty welcome – Please do subscribe and enjoy!

Anyway, here’s how it all started. While researching the subject of today’s post, a Norwegian cookie called the Sanbakkel, Monica came across the ingredient, Caster Sugar. Now, I knew what that was from many recipes over time, but it was new to M. For the record, Caster (and sometimes caster) sugar is the British term for what we call baker’s sugar on this side of the Big Pond – It’s granulated sugar that’s notably finer than table sugar. It blends, dissolves, and integrates far better than regular old sugar, and as such, bakers and chefs dig it. 

What I didn’t know is why it’s called caster sugar – A bit of research really didn’t give a lot of info, albeit it did reveal that the stuff used to be held in a sugar caster, (basically, a fancy shaker placed at table in the old days, where folks could cast it onto whatever the liked). The caster versus castor variant also piqued my interest, and there was virtually nothing I could find to explain that, so naturally, I called A Way With Words, and as fate would have it, I ended up on the show that was broadcast today. Rather than go too far into that rabbit hole, I’ll simply say, listen to the episode, and you’ll not only get a great fleshing out of the term caster, but you’ll hear yours truly as well –  A win-win if ever there was one.

So I ended up on the show, and had an absolute gas. For the record, while I noted that we live on Lummi Bay, in the northwest corner of Washington State, I recorded my part on a bus headed from downtown New Orleans to the airport. Along the way, Martha and Grant were kind enough to ask the name of the blog, and, well – Here we are! Now, as I write, a batch of fresh sandbakkel are wending their way southward to the gang at A Way With Words with our fondest thanks – Therefore, on to those cookies, yeah?

Sandbakkels with fresh fruit and crème fraiche
Sandbakkels with fresh fruit and crème fraiche

Monica has a healthy dose of Norwegian heritage from her maternal side, so a cookie that reflected that is what we were looking for when we landed on Sandbakkels. These lovely, light little sugar cookies are also sometimes called sandbakelse, or sandkaker – The sand theme running though this speaks to the shortbread-like consistency of the finished product – Sand tarts, if you will. They’re a simple sugar cookie that yields best results when the ingredients are as fresh as you can get.

Sandbakkels are traditionally a Christmas season treat, but for my mind, they’re good, if not better, in the spring and summer time – More on that thought in a bit. In their purest form, Sandbakkel contain flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. Common additions include almonds or almond extract, vanilla bean or extract, and cardamom. For the latter while virtually no recipes I found specified what variant of cardamom gets used, I’d bet on it being green, freshly ground, as it’s the sweetest version, (versus black or Madagascar). 

The coolest aspect of Sandbakkels, for my mind, is the use of small fluted or patterned molds used to bake the cookies – This leaves you with a wafer thin, delicate little treat that is wonderful all by its lonely, and for my mind, spectacular with fresh fruit, nuts, etc, (even if some Norwegians consider such additions blasphemous).

The first published recipes for Sandbakkel show up in mid 19th century Norwegian cookbooks, which indicates pretty strongly that they’d been around for a while prior – A point that A Way With Words often makes about stuff showing up in print. When Norwegians packed up to emigrate, they brought their Sandbakkel molds with them, and a delicious old country traditional was maintained. Such was the case for Monica’s Gramma, Palma Hoover (née Solvang), who came to the western side of Washington State and homesteaded in the Carnation Valley, back in 1907 – Palma was just six month old at the time, one of eleven siblings. There is some discussion about where and how Sandbakkels took hold back in Norway, but nothing definitive – They are, in all likelihood, a simple treat that spread because they’re pretty, fun to make, and delicious – All the reason any of us need to dig in, right?

Sandbakkels are quite simple, and as such, quality and freshness of ingredients is paramount. What I’m getting at is this – If I’m doing these for an event, then I’ll likely make butter from very fresh, local cream, and grind flour from fresh wheat – Now, you might call that extreme, and it may indeed be somewhat, but if you’re looking to produce your best, that’s kinda the level we go to. That said, making sure that the flour and butter you use is as fresh and good quality as you can get your paws on will do the trick.

So, find the freshest butter you can for starters. Then there’s the flour question. Most stores these days will offer bread and all purpose flours, and many will also have cake or pastry flours hiding somewhere. Keep in mind that as you descend through that list, what changes is the protein level they contain – Bread relies on good gluten development to be successful, and so the protein level in that flour is relatively high, as much as 14%. Down at the other end of the spectrum, pastry flour will have protein levels as low as 8% – What that means to us from a practical standpoint is this – If you want gluten development and chewy stuff like bread, you use bread flour, and if you want something delicate and flaky like a Sandbakkel, you’ll use pastry flour. Now, that said, if what you’ve got in your pantry is All Purpose Flour, don’t fret- AP usually weighs in around 9% to 11% protein, which means it’ll do just fine, if that’s what you’ve got – After all, we’re here to have fun and chow down, si? NOTE: check out our Flour Power post for more than you probably want to know about such stuff.

Now for the catch – Yeah, it’s those little Sandbakkel molds. If you’re doing these right, you need them. Fortunately, they’re cheap and widely available online, so grab a set – They pay back the minimal expense with lovely finished product, so it’s a worthwhile thing. When you get your molds, they’ll need to be seasoned once prior to use. 

Seasoning Sandbakkel Molds.

Wash your molds with soap and water, rinse thoroughly and allow to dry.

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

Lightly grease your molds with leaf lard, then arrange in a baking sheet.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, then remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Wipe excess lard off the molds, and you’re good to go – The molds will provide a long life of easy releases thereafter.

So, on to the goods. This recipe will make about 4 dozen cookies. You can, if any survive, freeze them if you wish. Although they won’t be quite as yummy, of course.

Sandbakkels

4 Cups Pastry Flour (AP is just fine too)

1 1/2 Cups Unsalted Butter (If you use salted butter, just omit the additional salt listed below)

1 Cup Bakers Sugar

1 large Egg

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

Allow all ingredients to come to room temperature before proceeding.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, add the butter and hand whisk for 2 minutes – You’re preparing the butter to accept sugar and go through the creaming process, so take the full time allotted, (And you certainly can use a hand mixer to do this work if you wish.)

Add sugar and salt to the butter and whisk to combine thoroughly, about 2 minutes. This is ‘creaming,’ wherein you’re introducing a bit of air to the dough, and helping the sugar to disperse thoroughly and evenly.

Add the egg and whisk to incorporate thoroughly – About 1 minute.

Add flour a cup at a time, whisking as long as you can, then switching to a kitchen spoon to finish the job. The dough should not stick to the bowl or your fingers when you’re done mixing, so adjust flour a pinch or two at a time, if needed.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough or 1 hour. 

Preheat oven to 340° F, and set a rack in the middle position.

Even though your molds have been seasoned, it’s never a bad idea to grease them a bit more. Let a very little bit of butter melt onto your fingers, and wipe a light layer around each mold.

Rolling 2 teaspoon balls of Sandbakkel dough can help with portioning
Rolling 2 teaspoon balls of Sandbakkel dough can help with portioning

Pull off about 2 teaspoons of dough, (and if you have issues with portioning, feel free to roll out little 2 teaspoon balls before filling the molds), and press the dough evenly into the molds – Watch your thickness, as you want things nice and even – Avoid thick bottoms and thin sides, and don’t let any dough extend beyond the rim of the mold. And by the way, this is a gas for kids – Our Granddaughters dig it big time, and I’ll bet you’re will too.

Fill Sandbakkel molds evenly as possible
Fill Sandbakkel molds evenly as possible

Place molds evenly spaced on a baking sheet – Ideally, you want an inch or so of free space around each mold, so you will likely need to do multiple sheets or batches, (unless of course you’ve got a way sexier oven set up than I do, and if so, I salute you!)

Bake cookies at 340° F for about 10 minutes, then have a quick look – The upper edges of the cookies should be firm and light golden brown.

Sandbakkels, fresh from baking
Sandbakkels, fresh from baking

Remove sheets from oven and, using a hot glove or mitt, gently turn each mold upside down and place it on a cooling rack.

Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then carefully pick up a mold, still upside down, and place it just barely above the cooling rack – tap lightly on the bottom of the mold and the cookie will drop onto the rack.

Allow unmolded cookies to cool to room temperature. And yes, at this very point, the cookies will be warm and vulnerable – It’s entirely likely that several will lose their fragile lives right there and then – So be it…

Now, for a last bit of pure joy, consider this – As mentioned, I have Norwegian friends who absolutely consider anything, (and I mean anything), added to a fresh Sandbakkel as an act of sheer blasphemy. For the record, I am not Norwegian, (Scots, Welsh, and Dutch), and Monica has German and Cherokee blood as well – So, yes Virginia, we add stuff to ours, and we think you should too. This is why, point of fact, I think that these little gems were meant to be enjoyed when fresh, local fruit is abundant – A Sandbakkel filled with such stuff is an unbelievably delicious treat.

Sandbakkel blaspheme? I don’t think so...
Sandbakkel blaspheme? I don’t think so…

This also means that you might want to whip up a bit of crème fraiche, or perhaps whipped or pastry cream, as a bed for that lovely fruit to sit on. If the cream seems a bit heavy to you, then a lovely, light fruit glaze might be a nice option.

a simple fruit glaze is a nice touch
a simple fruit glaze is a nice touch

Fresh Fruit Glaze

3/4 Cup fresh Fruit Juice, (literally, whatever you like – Orange, grapefruit, apple, grape, etc)

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar, (honey is fine too, or bakers sugar, for that matter)

2 Tablespoons crushed Fruit, (whatever you’re filling the Sandbakkels with)

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot, (Cornstarch will do just fine, too)

2 teaspoons Citrus Rind, (lemon, lime, orange, as you see fit)

In a small, unheated sauce pan, combine fruit juice and arrowroot until thoroughly mixed.

Put the pan on the stove over medium heat, and add the agave and crushed fruit, whisk to incorporate.

Heat through, stirring steadily. Reduce heat to low and continue whisking until the sauce thickens notably, (it should evenly coat a spoon when quickly dipped in the glaze.)

Allow the glaze to cool to room temp, then drizzle or brush onto the fruit after arranged.

Chow down with relative abandon.

No Fail Frying

Alert follower Ian chimed in this morning with a great question:

‘How would I bread something wet like a pickle spear, or tempura vegetables?

The smooth surfaces would make binding difficult, would it not?’

As always, thanks for following and asking – I love being able to help with stuff like this.

The short answer is – Yes – A smooth and/or wet surface is a challenge when it comes to getting a coating to hang on whilst deep frying, or for baking for that matter. As many of you know, we like to watch a bit of food porn, and Chopped is right there at the top of our list. The other night, we watched a professional Chef and culinary instructor serve fish breaded with an ingredient from the mystery basket – His breading fell off. His fish ended up dried out, he’d effectively missed a mandatory ingredient, and he got chopped – Even Pros get the blues with this issue.

A further problematic component is the solution(s); ask five people their advice/method, and you’ll get five different answers – Egg wash, no egg wash – refrigerate, don’t refrigerate – cornstarch, no cornstarch – And on it goes. If the problem has ever happened to you, (and if you tell me it never has, I won’t believe you), we’re here to tell you how to make the bad thing stop.

The first consideration when frying stuff is whether or not any treatment is needed. You certainly could fry almost anything with no coating at all, but you’re not likely to get what you’re after with some foods. Frying is a relatively high heat cooking method, and the density of oil means that heat gets right to work on your food and stays at it. Relatively delicate stuff like veggies, seafood, and chicken can and will get dry and tough real quickly if they’re not properly prepped for frying. The reason we coat things is threefold.

First, a good coating protects foods from drying out or charring, and promotes browning;

Secondly, it forms a tasty, crunchy crust;

And third, that coating forms a barrier that keeps food from absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy.

That’s a description of a good crust, of course, but not all crusts come out that way. A bad crust falls off, ends up tough and chewy, or soft and mushy – We’ve all experienced those, so the question is, how do we achieve a good crust?

The first aspect to explore is what to coat with; each permutation has its plusses and pitfalls.

There’s breading, which means some combination of bread crumbs and seasoning. I’ve made breading with crumbs from many different breads, cereal, crackers, and potato or corn chips. Breading certainly makes a formidable barrier layer, and can add a nice elements of crunch and flavor, but may do so at the cost of overwhelming the food being breaded. Things to keep in mind are crumb source and size – Crackers and chips generally have higher fat content than bread, so those can end up burning easier and/or tasting greasy, so compensate with attentive frying and proper proportion. Same goes for exceptionally large crumbs – a lot of oil can and will get caught therein if things aren’t just right, so reducing crumb size with a quick spin in a processor or grinder might be warranted.

Dredges are usually flour based with some added seasoning. They’re far subtler than breading, but in and of themselves, don’t add as much crunch, which in the case of, say, fried chicken, might be highly desirable. Things to watch here are quantity and source. Too much flour leads to tough, doughy coatings, too little to an inordinately fragile shell. All purpose and bread flours made from wheat are relatively high in gluten, so they stick well, but that also makes them potentially gluey. Low protein alternatives, like Wondra, cake, rice, or corn flour will make a thinner, crunchier crust that won’t get sloppy. Root and nut flours are not recommended for dredges, because they’re prone to rapid breakdown in the high heat range of frying, and can lead to soggy results. Finally, mixing in a little cornstarch rarely hurts – it’ll help dry things out a bit and acts as additional glue.

For both breading and dredges, the egg wash is a must as far as I’m concerned – That’s the glue that makes your coating stick, and without it, it’s a lot more likely to fall off. Pat your food dry before you coat it, and here’s a serious secret weapon: The double dip and cryo routine is a sure fire way to avoid catastrophic crust release; here’s how it works.

Set out bowls of egg wash, (1 tablespoon of whole milk per egg, beaten well), and your seasoned crumbs or dredge. Drag whatever you’re frying through the egg wash, shake it a couple times, then run it through the crumbs or dredge, shake or tap off the excess, then repeat – So, egg/dry/egg/dry. That second run will lock both the glue and the coating tightly onboard. Then, place your prepped stuff in a single layer on a waxed paper lined plate or pan, and slide that into the fridge for about 30 minutes while you heat your oil. The cryo-treatment keeps that crust firmly onboard until you fry. Again, watch your oil temp, as colder food will make it drop faster – Work in small batches and adjust temp as needed to stay where you need to be.

Batters are wet coatings, made with water, milk, or beer. Again, batter adds great crunch and taste, but done wrong it can override primary flavors, and lead to that chewy or mushy coating we mentioned earlier. Batters really require deep frying to shine, while breading or dredging can be done shallow with fine results. Dairy or beer generally works better than water for batters heavier than tempura; the water has a tendency to turn quickly to steam when it hits the oil, and can lead to that premature coating release we want to avoid. If you’re working with slippery food in this genre, a quick dusting of corn starch makes a great batter glue, and won’t appreciably affect taste. Finally, adding a bit of a chemical leavening agent like baking soda helps form a lighter crust.

My advice is to experiment freely, trying different combinations to arrive at a favorite or two. With all of these options, make sure you season your crumbs/dredge/batter – boring batter leads to more blah fried stuff than any other source. Keep in mind that seasonings get amplified by frying, so watch the salt especially.

Proper temperature is also a big part of good results. You should fry pretty much everything between 325° F and 375° F – Lower than that range will allow oil to enter the food, make things heavy and greasy; too much higher and most oils will start to smoke, which is dangerous and not at all tasty. More delicate stuff like veggies and fish go at the bottom of that range, chicken in the middle, root veggies at the top. Oil variety is up to you. We fry in peanut oil, because it has a nice, savory taste note, can be had relatively cheaply, and is a monounsaturated oil that’s relatively good for you. Canola is cheap and works well too.

For post fry draining, brown paper bags are our go to – You’ll get the crunchiest results using those instead of paper towels or newspaper.

For Ian’s primary question, deep frying pickles, there is a trick I like a lot. Use thoroughly chilled pickle chips, slices or wedges. Make a thin beer batter with 50% – 50% cake flour and beer. Pull those pickles, batter them, and place on a waxed paper lined plate in the fridge for about 30 minutes while you heat your oil. Again, that cryo-treatment really helps the coating stay put. Fry at 350° F, in small batches, closely monitoring oil temp. NOTE: If you like the idea of breaded pickles, try crushed sea salt and vinegar, or black pepper and sea salt chips as your crumb; they’re both pretty stellar.

For tempura and veggies, incorporating rice flour will help the batter stick better. Our go-to tempura batter is nice and light – It looks like this:

1 Cup ice cold Water

1/2 Cup Cake Flour

1/2 Cup Rice Flour

1 large Egg

2 Tablespoons Corn Starch

1 Tablespoon Baking Soda

In a mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and incorporate thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine egg and water and beat to incorporate thoroughly.

Add half the dry mix and whisk gently to incorporate, then add the remaining half and combine thoroughly.

Fry veggies at 325° F; when they pop to the top of the oil and are light golden brown, they’re good to go.

Now, everybody say “Thanks, Ian,” for a great question!

Better Butter

Alert follower Jenn writes,

“I was surprised to see no post on fresh made butter in the UrbanMonique archives. Chris got me a rotary butter churn for Christmas and it’s been one of my favorite gifts in memory. Of course, we’ve done fresh pepper butter, dilly butter, rosemary and lemon peel, and obviously brown sugar and cinnamon. I know it can be done with ease in a stand mixer, but the rotary is fun to pass around at brunch parties or before dessert is served. I’m just curious to see what you’d put in butter given your expansive spice collection and superior wisdom.”

Knowing this young Texan as I do, I’m still not sure if that last line is her being a smartass or not… In any event, I’m cool with it, because she sent me filé that she grew and dried and powdered her very own self, and she’s a hell of a good cook to boot.

She’s also got an excellent point. Having relocated to an area rich in local dairy, we revel in fresh milk, cream, butter, and eggs. If you can get your paws on fresh cream where you live, making your own butter and compound butters is easy, and a true delight. We’ll cover both herein, as well as delving into the history and chemistry a bit.

First, let’s address a couple of core issues.

The Butter Is Evil mantra. If you’re late to this party, let me formally state for the record that it’s simply not so. The premise raised in the ’60’s and touted for several decades, to the effect that animal fats cause heart disease, has been roundly rejected. While it’s true that there are plenty of fine alternative vegetable fats, the artificial pantheon that replaced butter has been banned from our pantry for all time. The facts bear out that food from properly pastured animals is actually quite healthy. In particular, butter from grass fed cows is high in nutrients like vitamins E, A, beta carotene, and essential fatty acids. That last caveat, grass fed, also happens to yield butter that is notably tastier than that from grain fed cows.

The Cow Monopoly. There are thousands of species of mammal across our world, and all of them produce milk, yet here in the U.S.A., roughly 97% of our dairy products come from cows. Even at our quite enlightened local Co-Op, there are only a couple of goat milk options. Granted, when we turn to cheese, we find offerings from goat, sheep, and buffalo, but cow is still the king, hands down. Elsewhere in the world, folks drink camel, yak, water buffalo, elk, reindeer, and even mare’s milk on a regular basis. 99.9% of those critters are ruminants, mammals whose four-chambered stomachs yield prodigious quantities of milk from high-fiber, low-nutrient pasturage. On top of that feat, ruminants sport large, graspable teats that makes milking easy for humans, (hence, cats and dogs are safe for the time being). Goat, sheep, and cows were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 years ago. While all three have since been intensively bred to improve temperament and output, cows have far and away ruled the roost.

The Middle Eastern ancestor of the milk cow was the auroch, which went extinct in the 17th century. While wild aurochs were a handful, domestication quickly yielded a critter that quietly lines up to be milked, and produces about 100 pounds of milk a day. That docile nature sets cows apart from most other ruminants, including, as a for instance, the water buffalo. Bred for milking to this day in Italy and India, water buffalo are notoriously cranky, and considering their size, quickness, and very large horns, they’re potentially downright dangerous to the milker.

Here in America, the last great ice age that swept through around 20,000 years ago effectively removed all large ruminants, with the exception of the bison. When Europeans showed up with cows, they not only did just fine, they genuinely thrived. The easy separability of cow’s milk lends itself to a broad spectrum of things humans like to eat, the fat content is quite close to human milk, and it’s widely tolerated by human digestive systems. Goat’s milk, on the other hand, is richer and more complex in flavor, predominately because the cream does not separate as it will in cows milk. Goats produce the most milk of any ruminant by body size, but they’re so much smaller than cows that the advantage is null. That lack of cream separation also means that goat milk won’t readily make butter, either. As for the third member of the Fertile Crescent troika, almost nobody in this country drinks sheep’s milk. With twice the fat of cow and human milk, it’s far too rich to be popular, and the overall low yield weighs against them from a commercial production standpoint. That fattiness does make sheep’s milk near and dear to cheesmakers, however, for obvious and good reason.

On then, to butter, a part of the human diet for nigh onto 7,000 years. Through 99% of history, butter was cultured to enhance shelf life. Culturing allowed milk gathered in multiple milkings to last longer in the days before effective refrigeration; it also encourages cream to separate relatively quickly when churned. Raw cream is blessed with ample benign bacteria, so it will ferment and sour without the need for added cultures. This natural fermentation notably alters its chemistry, generating much more complex and subtle flavor profiles. One such flavor note stems from lactic acid, so cultured butter tends to taste tarter than uncultured, or sweet cream butter.

Chemically, butter is a relatively stable mixture of triglycerides from several fatty acids – predominantly oleic 31%, myristic 19%, palmitic 15%, and stearic 15%. The natural color of butter derives from trace amounts of carotene. Over time the glycerides break down, releasing free fatty acids; two of these, butyric and caproic acid, are largely responsible for the nasty smell of rancid butter.

Butter is made by churning cream. Exactly how and why churning works is still somewhat of a mystery; if that sounds unlikely, rest assured that it’s not. Delve into the chemistry of churning at the university level, and you’ll find analyses filled with detailed supposition and almost universally followed by the phrase, “not well understood.” While the process is ages old, there’s still a PhD up for grabs there. What we surmise is that air is incorporated into the liquid matrix of cream as it begins to turn into butter. A foam forms, and fat globules collect in the walls of the bubbles. Churning warms the cream slightly, to the point that those fat globules soften and liquify. Further churning bounces the softened fat globules off each other enough to break their protective membranes, and liquified fat cements the exposed droplets together. Material from the broken membranes helps in this process, as it contains emulsifiers such as lecithin. Once enough of the liquified fats have been freed by the churning process, the air foam collapses and butter granules form into larger and larger masses.

Once thickened and separated into butter grains and buttermilk, the buttermilk is poured off. 50° F water, at 20% of the volume of the cream used, is then added to the fresh butter; this ‘wash’ helps it separate thoroughly from the buttermilk. Churning continues until the butter granules are about the size of wheat grains. As with many kitchen processes, precision is important, and often enough, the difference between a pro and an amateur. Making butter is easy; even little kids can do it. Making great butter takes a bit more discipline. If you buy really good, local Jersey cream as we do, you’ll find that it’s not cheap; it certainly deserves extra attention. Of course, back when everybody did this at home such knowledge was not as arcane as it is today.

A bit more on nomenclature: Sweet Cream Butter means simply butter made from cream that has not been fermented, or cultured. When first introduced to Americans in the late 19th century, it was not popular because consumers thought it tasted ‘flat’, a sentiment raised by the lack of complexity found in cultured butter. Nowadays, sweet cream butter in some form or another rules the supermarket roost, but not all are created equally. Sweet cream butter is the taste of the cream, pure and simple. If you make butter with fresh, local cream, you get the flavor of that particular terroir – The grass, sun, water, everything. It’s sublime and truly lovely. As the seasons change, so will your butter. Change sources, and you’ve got a whole new pallete; taste, smell, and color will all vary. This is how it was before industrialization, when all butter was made locally. Back then, early spring butter commanded and received a higher price than any other.

Making butter at home, starting right now, will bring you back to where you belong; trust me when I say you’ll be buying far less commercial butter in the days to come. From buttered veggies, to homemade baked goods, everything is notably better. And speaking of baked goods, expect the biggest difference therein. Homemade butter totes a higher percentage of butterfat than the industry standard 80%, so your baked goods will taste and feel better as a result. Cultured butter can also be made at home. If home made sweet cream butter is champagne, homemade cultured butter is caviar. Those subtly complex flavors must be experienced first hand. Doing so really isn’t very much more work than making sweet cream butter, so do try it once you get in the swing of the basic process.

So, we need good cream to make all this wonderful stuff happen; the fresher, the better. If you have a choice, donor cow breed matters somewhat. Our favorite local dairy, Twin Brook Creamery, milks Jersey cows, the winner of the milk fat award. According to Iowa State University, (A pretty good judge of things dairy), Jersey’s weigh in just shy of 5% fat in raw milk, as compared to Holsteins at 3.7%, which rounds out the two most popular milking cows – or put another way, the most popular breed’s milk contains about 30% less fat than those Twin Brooks Jerseys. While there are other breeds making inroads, it’s likely to take some time – the U.S.D.A. reports that Holsteins account for 90% of the U.S. milk cow population, followed by Jerseys at 7%, with all others at a paltry 3% combined.

Some of that milk gets made into cream, and at your local store or coop, the one you want for making butter is Heavy Cream. You may have heard or been told that this is synonymous with Whipping Cream, but it ain’t necessarily so. To be called Cream in this country, dairy must contain no less than 18% milk fat. Half & half can run anywhere from 10% to 18%, so it’s right out for butter making. Whipping Cream is at least 30% milk fat, and rarely more than that. Heavy Cream is no less than 36% milk fat, and that’s our cream. If you’re allowed to buy raw cream where you live, by all means do it. Raw cream needs nothing to yield all the glory of real, live butter. It’s literally biologically active, packing its own culture, and it is absolutely redolent of its terroir. Your primary guide for what to buy is, naturally, what tastes best to you. Keep your cream refrigerated until you’re ready to churn, and do so right away; time is the enemy of freshness.

OK, let’s make butter.

In addition to cream, you need some form of churn. That’s literally anything that can agitate the cream in until butterfat comes out of suspension and separates from the buttermilk. You can use a blender, mixer, food processor, canning jar, or a dedicated churn, (Lots of places sell manual and powered versions). Whatever you use should be in good working condition and clean before you start. I use a small processor powered by a stick mixer; it holds a pint of cream perfectly. I recommend a blender if you have one – they work well and keep everything nicely contained.

 

House Made Butter

1 Pint fresh Heavy Cream

Option: Pinch of Sea Salt

1/3 Cup 50° F Water

 

Remove cream from fridge and allow to stand at room temperature, in its carton, until cream temps at right around 60° F; the optimal range for butter making is 55° F to 65° F.

Pour cream into blender vessel.

Turn to highest setting that won’t splatter the cream and keep a close eye on things.

Within a couple minutes, the cream will begin to thicken visibly – Increase blender speed a notch or two.

 

You will see butter begin to form, as you do in the image below; turn the blender speed down several notches. As butter formation increases, you may need to use a spatula to scrape down the butter as it forms. This process will take about 3 to 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer.

 

When butter is well formed and buttermilk is clearly separating, turn blender off and transfer butter to a mixing bowl.

 

Add 50° F water and knead butter by hand, thoroughly washing the butter.

 

Pour off the water and buttermilk, and continue kneading by hand, removing very bit of moisture you can find – Both water and buttermilk will cause your butter to spoil relatively quickly, so be diligent in this process.

 

If you wish to salt, or add other ingredients to make compound butters, now is the time. Note: Finishing salts with distinct flavor profiles make fabulous salted butters.

When done, transfer butter to clean glass or ceramic containers and refrigerate.

Butter should last about a week, providing you were diligent about removing the buttermilk.

 

Ready to try your hand at cultured butter? Cultures that work on butter are referred to as mesophilic, meaning they will activate in relatively cool temperatures, (As opposed to the thermophillic, or high temperature cultures we use in cheesemaking). Again, raw cream cultures naturally, but most of what we have access to has been pasteurized, and as such, it will require additional cultures to come alive. Outfits like New England Cheesemaking Supply and Leeners sell a wide variety of cultures that will work for butter, but it is easier and cheaper to use good quality, local cultured yoghurt, buttermilk, or kefir; just make sure that what you buy specifically reads that it contains live cultures. Allowing pasteurized cream to just grab whatever comes along is not a good idea: Pasteurization kills all cultures, including the good ones, so without it, cream is stripped of its natural defenses – This is why a known, quality controlled culture is your best bet. Here’s how to do it.

Use one of the following options to culture your cream;

For pasteurized cream, add 1 Tablespoon of live culture yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir to each cup of heavy cream, and whisk gently to incorporate. Allow to culture for 12 to 24 hours.

For raw cream, culture for 12 to 48 hours.

Use a clean glass bowl or jar with a clean cloth or paper towel rubber banded to cover. If you use canning jars, boil them to sterilize, then allow to cool to room temp prior to filling.

Culturing needs to be done between 70° F and 75° F for the stated intervals. If it’s not that warm in your house, you’ll need to gently heat the cream in a sauce pan over low heat, to about 75° F before transferring it to a bowl or jar and adding culture. Find a warm, quiet spot for the process to work, (On top of the stove works nicely.)

When the cream has successfully cultured, it will be notably thicker.

Stir cultured cream gently but thoroughly, then put it in the fridge to cool down to around 50° F; this will stop the culturing process and prepare the cream for buttermaking. Once it’s cooled, churn it as per instructions above.

 

Note that you will typically not get enough buttermilk from a pint of cream to be worthwhile, but if you love the tangy richness of that wonderful stuff as much as we do, you can also use your favorite milk to create homemade.

1 Cup of cultured Buttermilk

3 Cups Whole Milk

Pour buttermilk and milk into a sterilized quart canning jar and seal tightly.

Shake vigorously to incorporate, then leave jar to sit at room temp for 12 to 24 hours. When properly cultured, the fresh buttermilk will nicely coat the sides of the jar when shaken.

Refrigerated, it’ll last a good week or so.

 

And finally, compound butters, or beurres composés, are simple mixtures of butter and whatever else floats your boat. They’re ridiculously easy to prepare, making them a nice, quick way to add a custom touch to many, many dishes. They’re perfect as a general flavor profile enhancer, or used as a sauce/condiment all by themselves.

 

Freshly made butter is in perfect condition to make compound butters. We boil half pint jam jars with our pint butter jar, and use the smaller for compound butters. You can also go the more traditional route, and wrap them in waxed paper – Either way, pop them in the fridge until they’re nice and firm.

Proportions and constituents are up to you. Plan on doing some tasting to get things where you like them, (darn…) I use a fork to whisk everything to a nice, uniform consistency, then scoop them into jars or waxed paper. You can use them to top hot meats or veggies, or as a base or finishing elements for a sauce.

Here are a few classics, as well as some our favorites; the rest I leave up to you – It’s a very personal decision, and too much fun to just use somebody else’s ideas. All are prepared as described above.

 

Classic French Compound Butters

Beurre d’Ail – Garlic Butter

For every 1/2 cup of butter, add

2-4 cloves of pressed or smashed garlic and blend thoroughly.

 

Beurre a la Maître d’Hôtel – Hotel Butter

To each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 good pinch of sea salt

A couple twists of white pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 tablespoons of finely minced, fresh parsley.

 

Beurre de Citron – Lemon Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add the

Zest of 1 small, fresh lemon and blend well.

Note that any other citrus zest you like will also be delightful.

 

Beurre de Frais Herbes – Fresh Herb Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, start with a couple teaspoons of whatever fresh herb(s) you have on hand – Rosemary, parsley, chives, lemon thyme, marjoram, basil, tarragon, or oregano are all wonderful.

 

And here are a few of our faves.

Montmorency Cherry & Vanilla Bean Compound Butter

Cherry Vanilla Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

2 tablespoons minced Montmorency Cherries

Seeds from 1 freshly scraped Vanilla Bean.

 

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

Zest and juice of 1 small Lemon

Zest and juice of 1 small Lime

1 teaspoon powdered Kaffir Lime leaves

About 3″ of fresh Lemongrass, minced.

Add juice, zest, and lemongrass to a small bowl, mix well and allow to steep for 10 minutes.

Add butter and all other ingredients and mix well.

Squeeze butter by hand to remove all excess juice

 

Smoky Compound Butter

Smoky Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Salt

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1/4 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/4 teaspoon granulated Onion

1/4 teaspoon fine ground Black Pepper

 

Best Veggie Compound Butter

Best Veggie Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Savory

Zest of 1 small Lemon

Pinch Sea Salt

 

Filé Compound Butter

Jenn’s Filé Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 Tablespoon filé powder

1 pinch Sea Salt

Add to sauces, stocks, or soups as a thickener, or at table side for use in individual bowls.

 

Enjoy.

 

 

Pão de Queijo – Brazilian cheese bread

Just got home from a brief biz trip to New Orleans. It was in the 70s and 80s, mostly sunny, humidity not too bad. And here, well… Let’s just say that the Great Pacific Northwet is living up to its name – It’s 44° F, raining heavily, and the next week’s forecast is for more of the same. As M headed for work, she gave me the lowdown, “There’s crack ham in the fridge, (AKA, honey baked – She worked there for a time back when, and she’s right – it is), so if you want to make split pea soup, go for it.” I do, and I am, but this kinda weather calls for serious comfort food reinforcements – In this case, Pão de Queijo – Brazilian cheese bread.

Our Split Pea soup
Our Split Pea soup

How I ended up here is lovely serendipity. I planned on making either biscuits or corn bread, but was plowing through some social media food groups I belong to, and in of all places, my favorite Vietnamese cooking group, somebody mentioned having made Brazilian cheese bread. One of the many reasons I love this group is that stuff like this shows up all the time – They’re incredibly talented Vietnamese cooks, but fearless and curious in any and every other cuisine that floats their boats. I was introduced to Pão de Queijo years ago at a churascaria down in Texas, and hadn’t thought of or made them in quite a while, so this was a pleasant reminder.

Pão de Queijo is part of a truly delicious branch of cheese breads fueled by cassava (AKA yuca) flour, rather than wheat. As we outlined pretty thoroughly in our post about Guarani Cuñapes, cassava is a dominant starch down south, and for good reason – It’s abundant, works well in place of wheat flour, and tastes great – For gluten intolerant folks, it’s a champ.

Påo de Quiejo - Brazilian Cheese Bread
Påo de Quiejo – Brazilian Cheese Bread

The Pão variant differs from Cuñapes in recipe and construction. While they’re similar, the texture and flavored each is unique, so it’s genuinely worth adding both to your arsenal. To me, the pão de queijo is denser and chewier than a cuñape – More like Yorkshire pudding, for my mind. Best of all, they’re super easy to make – Maybe thirty minutes from start to finish, so they lend themselves to last minute inspiration, as any good side should.

I’ll share the simplest method of many for making these little gems. Like all signature foods, everybody’s Mom makes them, and their way is always best, naturally. Some folks use potato starch in lieu of yuca, and you can get very nice results that way. I’ve also seen these done up with the French pâte a choux method – They were delicious indeed, but really, those are gougères rather than pão de queijo. The method I’ll share is far less fussy and time consuming than that, especially in light of the cassava flour – That stuff behaves quite differently when employing the pâte method, and can be a handful if you’re not ready for it – It’s extremely fine, almost powdery, and when mixed with liquids, its, well, seriously glutinous stuff. Truth be told, my Brazilian cooking pals tell me that what I’ll share with y’all is the way they do it most of the time, because it strikes a perfect balance between taste, texture, and ease of preparation.

Påo de Quiejo - It’s a glutinous batter, even if it’s gluten free
Påo de Quiejo – It’s a glutinous batter, even if it’s gluten free

Finally, we must discuss cheese as well, sim? Down south, the traditional choice is either a quiejo de Canastra, or a quiejo de Minas. Canastra is a yellowish, cows milk cheese, fairly soft when it’s fresh and ripening to semi-hard. It has a buttery base flavor with a nice acidic tang – Very much like high quality Monterey Jack. Quiejo de Minas is also a cows milk cheese. When fresh, (Minas Frescal), it’s soft and very subtle, like a queso blanco, and lends itself well to adding fresh herbs into the mix. Once it’s aged into a Minas Curado, it’s a whole ‘nother world – rich and subtle like a good Asiago. While the vast majority of pão de quiejo recipes you find use Parmesan, for my two cents worth, a good Jack or Asiago will fit the bill much better, in both authenticity and flavor. Down the line, you can and should experiment not only with cheese, but with herbs as well. Cilantro, fennel, spring onion, parsley, and dried chiles are all delicious and opções muito autênticas, (very authentic options).

This recipe is fairly large, for good reason. The batter is stable and stores well, so you can use half tonight, refrigerate the rest, and it’ll be good for a week or so in a clean, airtight container. If you prefer to let ‘er rip, you can make the whole shebang and refrigerate or freeze whatever you don’t eat right away, (but be forewarned – They’re addictive little beasties, and you’ll easily be tricked into chowing down.) The recipe will make about 16 muffins.

NOTES: It’s best to have your milk and eggs at or near room temperature, so plan ahead accordingly. You’ll also need a muffin pan or two – They come in various sizes, but you’ll fare much better with ‘mini’ sizes, (muffin or loaf), as these guys will come out very dense indeed if you use regular size pans.

Påo de Quiejo - Brazilian Cheese Bread
Påo de Quiejo – Brazilian Cheese Bread

Påo de Quiejo, Brazilian Cheese Bread

3 Cups Cassava Flour
1 well packed Cup Monterey Jack or Asiago Cheese
1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Eggs
2 teaspoons Sea Salt

Set a rack into a middle position and preheat your oven to 400° F.

Wet a paper towel with avocado oil and lightly wipe the insides of each muffin cup.

Add all ingredients to a blender or processor vessel, (either truly works fine, so use what you’re most comfortable with.)

Pulse the batter until it’s smooth and consistent, scraping batter down into the mix as needed. Allow plenty of mixing time, until you’ve got a consistent smooth batter – This also allows some air to get integrated into the mix, which is important for helping these unleavened breads rise.

Fill muffin cups to roughly 1/4” from the top.

Bake, undisturbed for about 20 minutes, until the muffin tops have visibly risen and are light golden brown. There’s no leavening agent, so steam plays a roll here – Opening the oven will screw with that, so don’t!

Påo de Quiejo - Perfect accompaniment to soups and stews
Påo de Quiejo – Perfect accompaniment to soups and stews

Remove muffins from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then chow down.

Apreciar!