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  • Writer's pictureElise

Cook Book Club: January's ingredient is Cornstarch. The country: Brazil!

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply a seasoning or spice, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include this spice, a recipe that highlights it, a little history on the spice or recipe, maybe some insight into the culture and some best practices. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!

 

Brazilian Cuisine Overview and Cornstarch History

Adapted from a number of online sources

Cornstarch is a relatively recent development. In 1842, Thomas Kingsford discovered a way to isolate the endosperms of corn kernels from the rest while working in a wheat starch factory in New Jersey, inventing what he saw as a clothing starch, as it was still very much in fashion for men to wear starched collars. Within a decade, its use in cooking became evident however and its popularity soared. Cultures that had more access to corn than wheat found a multitude of culinary uses that otherwise might not have been tried. Countries like Brazil, where arrowroot and cassava were more traditional flours than were wheat, found unique baking traditions when colonizers arrived. In the case of Brazil, corn flour and tapioca flour, and later cornstarch (not to be confused with corn flour), replaced wheat flour in a number of otherwise Portuguese dishes and cookies such as the sequilho were created.

It is a common theme. With colonizers from several countries coming in to South America, many "importing" (pardon the language) slaves, plus immigration and cross-cultural exchanges, many countries south of the Equator have a significant amount of melding of traditions from two continents. Techniques or ingredients from one shifting to another to the point where many natives aren't quite sure what their culinary constants are. Rice, beans, and manioc/yucca are staples in most if not all of these countries.

Otherwise, Brazil in particular finds its food culture shaped by European, Indigenous American, African, and Asian influences. There is one more cuisine constant that Brazil and the surrounding countries share. Coffee in general holds an important place in South American culture. Where you might have heard about afternoon tea in England and to a lesser extent Europe, in South America, these are afternoon coffee instead. And, much like the English afternoon tea, treats are often served along with the beverage, not the least of which is the sequilho.

 

Main Event

Brazilian Sequihos (a.k.a. Biscoitos de Maizena)

As adapted from OliviasCuisine.com for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club

servings: 24 COOKIES prep time: 5 MINS cook time: 15 MINS chilling: 30 MINS total time: 50 MINS ● author: Olivia Mesquita

Sequilhos, or Brazilian Cornstarch Cookies, are one of the easiest cookies you will ever make! Only 4 ingredients are all you need to make the cookies that were part of every Brazilian's childhood. Sometimes called biscoitos de Maizena after a popular brand of cornstarch, these cookies melt in your mouth. And if experimenting is in your blood, there are all sorts of variations to try. This is one of the simplest.

Note: The original recipe was written in metric and is twice the size of this version. Some margin of error may apply.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

  • ¼ cup + 1 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk

  • pinch Kosher salt

  • 1⅛ cups cornstarch

Directions

  1. Combine the butter, sweetened condensed milk and salt in a large bowl. Using a spatula, mix everything until the butter is incorporated into the condensed milk. A few remaining lumps is okay!

  2. Slowly add the cornstarch, mixing with the spatula to combine. It will eventually get hard to use the spatula, and you can then use your hands. Mix just until a smooth dough forms. You might not need all the cornstarch and should avoid the temptation to add everything if it's not needed.

  3. Roll the cookie dough (about 1 teaspoon per cookie) into balls and press each ball with your thumb (like you would thumbprint cookies). Place the balls on a two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using a fork, slightly flatten the cookies, also making their characteristic fork indentations.

  4. Refrigerate the cookies for 30 minutes to avoid them spreading when baking.

  5. Preheat oven to 350ºF with a rack in the middle.

  6. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until they begin to gain some color on the bottom. They should still be quite pale on the top.

  7. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool slightly still on the baking sheets. After 15-20 minutes, carefully remove them to a wiring rack so they can finish cooling.

Add-In Variations

  • ¼ teaspoon lime, lemon or orange zest

  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoons shredded coconut

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (you might need to add more cornstarch to reach the dough consistency)

  • sprinkled with powder sugar

  • dipped in a little melted chocolate

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