Tapioca Cheese Bread Bites with Butternut Squash

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Tapioca cheese bread bites with butternut squash and shallots are an easy version of Pao de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) with a California fresh and seasonal flair. Perfect for pairing with wine from Suisun Valley Filling Station for your holiday party appetizers. Today’s dash of science: Tapioca starch – what is it and how to use it.

What is Pao de Queijo?

If you have never had pao de queijo you are absolutely missing out. Pao de queijo is Brazilian cheese bread made with tapioca starch so it is completely gluten free. The tapioca starch (also called flour) also makes it incredibly stretchy and chewy. Of course adding a couple cups of cheese never hurts to make something awesome.

When I was brain storming alternative things to do with butternut squash, I came up with idea that I really wanted to make an appetizer something. In true me fashion, I looked in the cupboards at what else I had around: tapioca starch, shallot, and leftover cotija cheese from the corn salad (I love how long cotija lasts. It seemed like perfect combination for a California twist on Brazilian cheese bread. And the tapioca starch had a easy pao de queijo recipe on the back – which I modified to bring you these tapioca cheese bites with butternut squash. They make the perfect wine pairing food. Which is why I’m collaborating with Suisun Valley Filling Station to bring you some perfect pairing suggestions for your holiday entertaining.

Overhead shot of tapioca cheese bread with butternut in pan

The original recipe I made for several years was from Leticia Moreinos Schwartz (she has a great book called The Brazilian Kitchen) but it was very time and energy intensive. Particularly if you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook. Admittedly, this recipe is awesome because you can freeze the rolled balls of dough and bake them a few at a time (otherwise I can eat an entire batch in one go). But I haven’t physically been able to work with that recipe in over a year. But this version of the recipe is a lot easier – and much faster because it doesn’t require any working of a stiff dough and you just scoop it into the mini muffin pan. (Have a I mentioned I love mini muffin pans?)

A Dash of Science

Tapioca is a root or tuber similar to potatoes which is why flour is a technically incorrect designation for the starch. It goes by several other names: cassava and manioc being the most common. Like potato starch or even corn starch, tapioca starch is very good for making things gluey and stick together. This is because of the gelatinous structure created by starches (long sugar chains as I’ve discussed before) when they are exposed to liquid.

Because of it’s strong propensity to gelatinize, tapioca is a good substitute for gluten when creating a gluten free flour blend. It could be used similarly to arrowroot or sticky rice flour in that context, though it has a bit more flavour. It’s also great for making a gluten free vegetable fritter because of those binding properties. Just bear in mind that your fritter will have a chewier center – the outside will still be wonderfully crispy.Ripped open tapioca cheese bread with butternut in front of bowl

Is Cotija Cheese Vegetarian?

Just a note for vegetarians, cotija cheese is not always vegetarian. It does not have the same appellation protection that Parmigiano-Reggiano (the original parmesan) has in that it must always be made with animal rennet, but many of the small batch productions are because that is more traditional. However it’s worth noting that for 95% of cheese making in the US alternative sources of rennet are used. Since most cotija you find in the US is going to be made here, so there’s not too much to worry about.

Pairing with Wine

Wendy over at the Suisun Valley Filling Station and I had a lot of trouble picking out which were the perfect wines to pair with these because they went with so many on offer. Admittedly, all of our local wines are amazing too – everyone in Suisun Valley is making wonderfully nuanced wines that are great for food pairing. We settled on highlighting a very unique varietal from Tenbrink Vineyards, Assyrtiko, and a beautiful blend from Rock Creek Vineyard, their Dal Cuore.Tapioca cheese bread with butternut paired with two wines from SUisun valley Filling station

White: Tenbrink’s Assyrtiko

Assyrtiko is a Greek varietal that is only produced at a couple wineries in California – or the US for that matter. It is slightly sweet on the front of the palate with some ripe melon notes and an almost dry finish. The hint of sweet was absolutely brilliant with the butternut squash and the cheese in these tapioca cheese bread bites. But it was just dry enough to keep it from being cloying when combined with the honey. If I had to pick one wine – this would be it.Glass of assyrtiko with tapioca cheese bread

Red: Rock Creek Vineyard’s Dal Cuore

The Dal Cuore is a super-Tuscan blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. The sangiovese adds some earthiness to the cabernet to round out the fruit/jam notes and create an excellent food wine. Once again the fruit notes paired well with the squash and the dry complemented the cheese and honey. With the earthy notes you could really bring out the shallots in the cheese bread and how they brought just that hint of sharpness.Dal Cuore pouring into glass with tapioca cheese bread

Tapioca Cheese Bread with Butternut Squash

Course Appetizer, Snack
Keyword butternut, gluten free
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 36 bites


  • 1 ½ c/170g tapioca flour also known as tapioca starch
  • ¾ c/120g crumbled cotija cheese*
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ c/60ml olive oil
  • 2/3 c/160ml hot milk
  • ½ c/70g minced shallot
  • 36/180 g 1” cubes butternut squash
  • 1 tbs/15ml honey to drizzle
  • Flaky sea salt optional


  • Preheat oven to 375F. Prep 36 mini muffin wells with oil spray.
  • Combine all dry ingredients and cheese in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add egg, egg yolk, and olive oil. Using an electric mixer, beat until being to combine.
  • With the mixer running, add hot milk all at once. Continue beating until everything is well blended. There may still be some white particles from the cheese. Add shallot and beat until just dispersed.
  • Use a ¼ c scoop or large spoon to ladle the batter into the mini muffin wells until ¾ full. When all batter has been divided out, place one cube of butternut in tin, resting on the batter.
  • Bake for 17-19 minutes until slightly brown. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan before putting on plate. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with flaky seas salt.
  • Best served warm and fresh. Any extra can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated at 300F for 5-7 minutes but they aren’t as good.


*As much as I love Trader Joe's cheese selection, do not use their brand of cotija for this recipe unless you can't find anything else. The texture and flavour is not quite right and it acts a lot more like a parmesan. It isn't bad, just not as amazing. 


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