Ecuadorian food is an endless array of possibilities for the natives as well as for the tourist. Three regions and The Galapagos offering constant delights, to what we must add the famous street food, pan de yuca to tempt us.
Throughout the South American region, it seems each country has some variation of this classic pan de yuca, cheese bun or cassava bread. Pan de yuca is a type of bread made of cassava starch and cheese typical of southern Colombia and the Coastal Region of Ecuador.
What is the origin of pan de yuca?
There is an 1856 watercolor painting by Manuel María Paz that shows cassava bread being prepared by members of the Saliva people in the Casanare Province. Therefore, it is assumed this is the region or province where pan de yuca originated.
What is pan de yuca?
Ecuadorian pan de yuca is a small, cheesy bread made with yuca flour (also known as cassava or tapioca starch) and cheese. There are variations of these delicious breads in many Latin countries. They are known as chipas in Paraguay and Argentina. They are known as pan de queso in Colombia, cuñape in Bolivia, and pao de queijo in Brazil. The variations and exact ingredients vary from one place to another. Our recipe for pan de yuca is made with yuca starch, cheese, butter and eggs.
In Colombia, there is a very similar product to Brazilian cheese bread, except for its traditional format (flattened) called pan de bone or pandebono. Like the cheese bread, the pandebono has a spongy texture, low density, and it hardens in a short time, characteristics that are attributed to the sour cassava starch, known in the country as starch fermented yuca and which is obtained in the same way as in Brazil.
In countries where the snack is popular, it is inexpensive and often sold from street vendors, in snack shops, and in grocery stores.
Yuca bread makes a delicious warm appetizer. It can be prepared in advance and baked minutes before serving. Leftover breads will get hard when they get cold, but can be reheated in the microwave (great for breakfast the day after). The flour is made from yuca root, and is also known as cassava or tapioca starch. The flour can be found in most supermarkets, in Latin grocery stores, or online.
What is yuca?
Yuca (pronounced yoo-ka) is the root of the cassava plant. Its name can be confusing because of its similarity to the southeastern United States desert native plant called the yucca (pronounced yuhk-a). The two are unrelated.
The large tapered yuca roots are similar in size and shape to a sweet potato and can weigh anywhere from one to several pounds. In the United States, you can easily purchase tapioca starch (tapioca flour), which is the powdered form of this much loved Latin American root. At the local grocery stores you can also find yuca roots in the produce aisle. They look very much like their close cousins the yam and potato, with a rough, bark-like skin that must be removed by grating or peeling.
Yuca, or cassava, is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. It is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Here in the US, the name “tapioca” most often refers to the starch made from the yuca root.
What does yuca taste like?
The starchy flesh of the yuca root is a light white or cream color with a grainy texture similar to potatoes. The meaty flesh is often described as having a mild, sweet, somewhat nutty taste.
Yucca, on the other hand, is an ornamental plant. They are those spiky flowered plants common in Southern and Western parts of the US, including Florida, New Mexico, and California. But they don’t have the edible root of the yuca, and are commonly confused.
What is pan de yuca served with?
In Ecuador, pan de yuca is usually served with yogurt smoothies and there are several restaurants whose specialty is yuca bread with yogurt. The yuca bread is usually served as an appetizer, but they are also great for breakfast or with an afternoon coffee or tea. Pan de yuca is probably one of the easiest breads to make by hand, as the ingredients are easy to mix, but it is a little sticky so you can also try using the modern day food processor which works just as great!
How to make pan de yuca
The texture of the yuca breads will vary based on the type of the cheese you use. In Ecuador, it is traditionally made with freshly made queso blanco. For a cheese bread with a crunchier texture and stronger cheese flavor, you can use a harder and more aged cheese like parmesan or gruyere. Although the yuca root is starchy, the bread isn’t. It’s light and fluffy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Because the yuca bread is made with cheese, it has a slightly salty taste.
If you want the yuca breads to have a perfect uniform shape or if they tend to fall flat after baking (this tends to happen more if they didn’t have time to rest in the fridge before or if the oven isn’t pre-heated/very hot when baking them) – you can use a small muffin tin to keep them in place.
To freeze the unbaked yuca bread rolls, place them on a baking sheet with wax paper and place it in the freezer. As soon as the breads are frozen, transfer them to a Ziploc bag and save in the freezer until needed. To bake them from frozen, pre-heat the oven to 400-425F, place the frozen yuca breads on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake until golden on top. What a great time saver when throwing a party or a quick snack after school for the kids!
Many of the places you see yuca bread being sold also sell yogurt. I think the cheesy-salty flavor of the yuca bread would go well with some nice cool yogurt. Brazilian pão de queijo and our pan de yuca are void of wheat so they make a great option for kids and adults alike who have an intolerance to gluten.
If you happen to visit Ecuador on your next adventure, be sure to indulge in these little yuca bites, preferably piping hot, the cheesier the better and don’t forget the cooling yogurt!
- 3½ cups cassava flour
- 1 lb grated cheese (queso fresco/quesillo or mozzarella)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons butter (soft), cut into pieces
- 3 eggs , beaten
- 3 tablespoons milk (more or less, if the dough is dry)
Mix the cassava flour, cheese, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the butter and eggs, and using the dough hook, mix until forming small balls of dough.
Place the mixture on a work surface and mix the dough until forming a large smooth and homogeneous ball.
If the dough is too dry, add a little milk gradually.
Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 6 hours.
Separate the dough into 25 balls and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Place the balls again in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 480 F.
Bake for about 7 minutes.
Then turn on the oven grill and broil for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve the cassava breads immediately, by themselves or with a tomato aji.