Pão de queijo is a traditional Brazilian cheese bun; easy to make, tasty, and since it's made with tapioca flour rather than wheat flour, it's gluten-free. When I want to make it, I just look up someone else's recipe online. There are versions that involve boiling the milk and cooking the tapioca flour (which is also called tapioca starch) in it. But I usually just go with a quick recipe that involves nothing more complicated than piling all the ingredients into my blender and hitting "puree."

One of the great things about p
ão de queijo -- and there are so many great things -- is that you can vary the cheesiness of the flavour by using stronger or milder cheeses. I've even made it with blue cheese. And even then, the cheese flavour was more subdued than I expected.

But recently, I've been experimenting with altering the basic
pão de queijo batter to make other breadlike things. When I do this, I use a mild cheese such as mozzarella, either the hard cheese type, or the fresh, soft, "buffalo" style. I've had good success with doughnut holes (secret batter ingredient; ground nutmeg!) and pholouri. And this evening, I tried something else; bread pudding.

I had a couple of
pão de queijo mini sandwich loaves in the fridge. They'd been there for a few days, and I didn't want them to go bad. So I figured, why not make them into dessert?
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Bread pudding is one of those dishes I cook without measuring anything. It's a fairly forgiving thing to cook. It's traditionally made with stale bread. The way my mother does it is to soak the bread in milk until it's soft enough that you can mush the bread and milk into a paste. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, raisins and spices. Bake at 300F until it's solidified. So I decided to try it that way.

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I put the oven at 300F.

I poured milk -- in this case, non-dairy cashew milk -- over the loaves. Any type of milk should be fine. You can tear the bread into small pieces if you'd like. You want enough milk that once the bread absorbs it and you mush it, you'll have something about the texture of a runnier oatmeal porridge. If you're unsure how much liquid that will be, go with less rather than more; you can always add more later, if need be.

Leave the bread to soak and soften in the milk for a few minutes.

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And there was my first challenge; a bread that is essentially cheese will not soften much in liquid. But then I thought, cheese melts.

So I put the dish in the microwave on low for a couple of minutes. I didn't want to overheat it, because if it got too hot, the eggs I added later might congeal before I wanted them to.

It worked like a charm. The pieces of bread softened up, and I was able to break them into smaller pieces by hand, just like making mud pies. Another way to deal with this instead of using heat would have been to put all the ingredients -- except the raisins! -- into the blender.

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Then I added:

1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger.
1 teaspoon of vanilla.
The zest of 1/3 of a lime. (If you don't know, lime or lemon zest is the finely granted rind. Take care not to grate it down to the bitter white pith beneath the rind.)
2 eggs. You should beat them first. I didn't because I thought it'd make a prettier photo this way.
Sugar to taste. I used 1/4 cup, and it was actually a little too much. Bread pudding doesn't need to be a very sweet dessert.

Mix it all until everything's incorporated.


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Second challenge; I didn't have any raisins. I always forget to buy them. But I did have chocolate chips. I considered using some diced nectarines or plums instead, because I did have those. It would probably have been healthier than the chocolate chips, but because the fruit was raw, the bread pudding would have had a shorter shelf life before the fruit in it began to spoil.

So chocolate chips it was. I tossed two handsful of them into the batter, then ate a teeny handful for myself; cook's prerogative.

Stir in the chocolate chips, or raisins, or what have you. Pour the whole thing into an oven-safe dish, preferably a ceramic or glass one. Bake until the kitchen smells wonderful, the top has browned, and the pudding has gelled all the way from the edges to the middle. I found this version of bread pudding was a little wobblier when I first took it out of the oven than the wheat version would have  been; the cheese in it was hot. Think of what mozzarella is like when it's on fresh, hot pizza. That's okay, though. Once it had cooled, it was the expected texture.

And the expected taste! Yum.