Some argue pastel is Brazil’s favorite snack food. We like to think it is the Pão de Queijo.
Nevertheless whenever I fly home a pastel de queijo is one of the first things on my ‘to eat’ list. You will find them at farmer’s market as huge rectangles or in bars and restaurant in a smaller versions of thin-crust fried pastries with assorted fillings. My favorite by far is the cheese one followed closely by the heart of palm. Other popular fillings are ground meat, chicken or shrimp.
I had never made them myself until I moved to the US. The whole frying part was a little intimidating to me. It wasn’t until my daughter insisted she was so homesick she would not survive another day without eating a pastel that I gave it a try. One must have his priorities straight.
The secret to a dry and crunchy pastel is in one of the ingredients, namely the Brazilian Cachaça. Funny I had to learn this from my aunt, the nun. She swore by a a good cachaça, for cooking purposes only she guaranteed me.
You will need:
- 1 lb of all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup of cold water
- 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 3 Tbsp of Cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane liquor)
- any variety of your favorite shredded cheese
- any other seasoning to taste i.e. oregano, pepper flakes, dice tomatoes, sun-dried tomato pieces etc.
- In a bowl add the cold water, the oil, the lightly beaten egg and the cachaça.
- Add the flour and mix well until you have a smooth dough.
- Do not over mix the dough however. Add more flour if the dough is sticky.
- Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.
- At this point you can roll out the dough as thinly as possibly either with a rolling pin or the pasta attachment on your stan-up mixer.
- Cut into square pieces (about 5×5 inches)
- Lay them out on plastic film and cover with film and let them rest overnight for best results.
- Take a tablespoon of your favorite cheese and place it in the middle of the dough pieces.
- Fold over to either make a triangle or a rectangle and pinch the sides with a fork all around so that the cheese does not spill out.
- Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a heavy saucepan or deep fryer to about 360 degrees.
- Fry in hot oil till golden brown and crispy.
- Let the pastel drain on a paper towel before serving.
- Serve while still warm.
- This recipe will yield about 20 small pastéis.
- Be careful because the filling will be hot. Sometimes it is a good idea to poke a hole for the steam to escape.
Photograph Caetano’s Bar