top of page
Nina's Pão de Queijo

Comfort Food Inspiration:

A gentle connection to home

Expanding Family Ties   

By Tam

The World Cup for many was a reason to gather with friends and family to celebrate football (also known as soccer to Americans) and community. Nina’s family was no different.

“There’s a big Brazilian community in Bloomington and we had neighbors who would grill out all day during the World Cup, the house would be packed with people,” she says as she laughs.


Nina Castro-Sauer, a graduating senior from Indiana University, grew up in Bloomington, her parents having met at Indiana University a little over 20 years ago. Her father is from Ohio with ancestral roots in Serbia and her mother immigrated to Bloomington from Guyana, Brazil, following her sisters here in order to get her Master’s degree from IU. 

As of 2012, all of Nina’s grandparents and many aunts live locally, making family gatherings a commonality while growing up. Nina notes that, “having my mom’s family in town allowed me the opportunity to feel connected,” in addition to trips they took throughout the years to Brazil in order to visit family and friends.


“The culture has always been there and the food has always been a part of it but there was a disconnect in my house,” she says. 

She grew up learning to focus on eating high quality food and appreciating the family time that came from sitting down all together around the table for dinner. “My mom did 90% of the cooking and always focused on nourishment, she has a bunch of recipes that are recycled,” such as potato leek soup, endless varieties of pasta, and burgers with veggie, made on the grill under the warmth of the summer sun. 

While Nina’s immediate family didn’t cook a lot of Brazilian or Serbian food outside of holidays, since her grandmother lives in town and only cooks Brazilian food, whenever they felt the craving for (fill in blank) they could pop in for a visit. “Food has always been her way of expression. She can stay connected to us and to Brazil,” she says,

“my grandpa made us these little aprons and we’d have cooking lessons.”


The connection between family and food was always present throughout her childhood journeys in the kitchen.

Stepping into adulthood meant a step back from cooking, with dorm halls and sorority house chefs.


Once quarantine began, Nina like many others saw the opportunity to grow more comfortable moving around a kitchen on her own. “Being confined to the home is when I got a little more into it,” says Nina, “I knew this was the time for me to start branching out.” She began cooking with her partner, and meal planning to have a consistent cooking routine. When moving homes, Nina’s desire to keep up in the kitchen shifts, greatly because of how much space might be available. Currently Nina has four roommates and finding time to have the kitchen entirely to herself can be difficult. Nina laughs it off, saying, “I enjoy having that time to myself and I’m looking forward to having my own space again,” and the ability to continue exploring her culture and others through cooking. 

Nina chose pao de quejo in part because of it’s simplicity and commonality. “It’s not a complex dish but it’s a staple and one thing my mom would always make to have around the home or for family gatherings.” Nina adds,


“it’s a reminder of growing up, of Brazil, of my family’s expansion.”


With a few simple ingredients, Nina shares the warmth and familiarity of her culture and a gentle reminder that you don’t have to do much to feed good cooking habits. 



Pão de queijo

Prep Time: 25 mins

Cook Time: 25 mins

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 24


1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons neutral oil

3 cups sweet tapioca flour (OR 2 cups sour tapioca flour if you can find it)

1 teaspoon salt (more if your cheese is not very salty)

2 eggs, beaten

4 ounces grated cheese (see notes about cheese, above)



1.Set oven to 400ºF

2.Combine milk, butter and oil in a small pot and place over medium-high heat. Bring to boil.

3.Put tapioca flour and salt into mixing bowl of a stand mixer.

4.Pour in hot milk and mix on low until smooth. It will look soft and stringy. Once cool to touch, mix in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

5.Mix in the cheese. **If your dough is too runny or soft to scoop, just chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer to let it firm up before scooping!

6.Line two baking sheets with parchment and scoop the dough out by large tablespoons, spaced an inch apart. (At this point, you may freeze the tray until the balls are solid, then store the balls in a freezer bag. When ready to bake, just put frozen pao de quiejo on a baking sheet and add an extra 5 minutes to cook time. Do not thaw first.)

7.Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly golden and and puffed. The interiors should be soft-set and elastic, but if you want a crispier outside, leave them in for 25-30 minutes.

8.Eat warm right away or let cool. Leftover pao de queijo can be left to cool completely, then stored at room temperature up to 3 days. Reheat in a low oven before serving (or eat at room temp).



To freeze: Drop blobs of dough onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet (or plate if a sheet won’t fit in your freezer). Freeze until solid, then transfer frozen blobs to a baggie or container. Save the parchment for baking. To bake frozen pao de queijo: Set oven to 375ºF. Put frozen dough onto parchment-lined sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.


Sourced: Johnson, Hilah. “Pao De Queijo - Brazilian Cheese Bread.” Hilah Cooking, 10 Jan. 2022, 

bottom of page