Cristina "Kika" Arantes instructs me to hold my nose as I repeat after her: "pao de queijo." The nasal tone of the Portuguese word for Brazilian cheese bread may be difficult for Americans to master, but the love for this Brazilian snack is easy to acquire. It looks like a small bread roll, but break the dough and cheesy deliciousness oozes out.
I only went back for seconds of two things at the media preview of the San Francisco Street Food Festival (Aug. 18) -- the arepas from Maite Catering and the pao de queijo from Kika's Treats. Arantes only branches from the sweet treats that have garnered her much acclaim (including S.F. Weekly's best cookies in 2009) once a year for the festival.
Last year people went crazy for the pao de queijo, and this year Arantes is upping the ante by making all the bread on site and serving it with a tomato jam. Pao de queijo originates from Minas Gerais, the second most populous Brazilian state located in the center of the country, and Arantes suspects that it developed from French influence in the region because the dough is similar to pate a choux used for French pastries like eclairs. Arantes played around with the recipe, trying various combinations of cheese to replicate the flavor of Minas cheese, renowned nationwide in Brazil that is difficult to find in the United States. After a lot of batches and a careful combination of cotija and parmesan cheese, Arantes found a recipe that hearkened back to the pao de queijo she grew up on in Sao Paulo.
Kika's treats offers one of San Francisco's only tastes of Brazil outside of the churrascaria. Arantes, a vegetarian and self-avowed chocoholic, has introduced Brazilian treats like honey cakes to many an eager San Franciscan. She tries to put a Brazilian flair into everything she makes, though her passion for chocolate-covered everything is her first priority. "I've always eaten dessert with a cookie in one hand and a chocolate bar in the other," she says. Arantes doesn't need to double-fist her desserts anymore -- she dips caramelized graham crackers (she fell in love with s'mores when she first came to the United States as an exchange student), honey cakes and rice cakes in chocolate -- and though she's no longer hand-dipping everything like she was when she started with La Cocina in 2009, she continues to oversee the entire operation in her Dogpatch kitchen. Arantes is also interested in gluten-free and vegan alternatives. Pao de queijo is gluten-free and she even makes a coconut shortbread (chocolate-covered, of course) using rapadura, an unrefined cane sugar with a unique caramel flavor.
You can find Kika's Treats at retail locations all over the city like Bi-Rite Market and the La Cocina Kiosk in the Ferry Building. At the Street Food Festival you can sink your teeth into the much anticipated pao de queijo, sip spiced Brazilian hot chocolate, and try her famous s'mores -- homemade marshmallows freshly toasted and sandwiched between her chocolate-covered caramelized graham crackers. Arantes is even considering a frozen option that could be ordered online after the festival. Our fingers are crossed.