Category Archives: Ecuador

And then I ate five in a row

This post has been a long time coming- let’s say 5 years. It all started when I spent a semester abroad in Ecuador. My host mother was a wonderful woman, Ines, who was also a fabulous cook, but not without eccentricities. For example, when I moved into my room, I found one wall that was plastered with gift bags- some were solid colors, others had decorative prints, some had Disney characters (I don’t think I ever asked, but I’m sure it was simply part of the decor). I should get to the point otherwise we will all be wallowing in a sea of my Ecuadorian nostalgia.

As I mentioned, she was one hell of a cook: tamales; ham, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches; tasty rice dishes; jugo de tomate de arbol (tree tomato juice); mote pillo (hominy with eggs); and an 8 pound birthday cake were among her specialties. The most delicious and baffling of her culinary concoctions was pan de yuca. For those who haven’t yet read the latest issue of Saveur Magazine (and also for your general edification), there is a great article about the cassava plant. Cassava is a starchy staple in many countries around the equator that also goes by names such as manioc, or yuca (say YOU-ca). Obviously, I knew that this pan (bread) was made up of yuca, but I didn’t ever pay enough attention to the baking process to replicate it (I always offered to help, and was always shooed back to the kitchen table to drink my endless cup of Nescafe instant coffee).  After 4 months of Ecuadorian immersion, I returned to the states not expecting to ever taste pan de yuca again.

So, a couple of years went by and I stumbled upon this blog. It’s author, Laylita, grew up in Ecuador and writes about many of the foods I experienced during my stay- including- pan de yuca! So I made a mental note, bookmarked the blog and went about my day-to-day for another couple of years, periodically checking back to make sure it was still there (it was).

Okay, I feel like this story is starting to drag on a bit… but stay with me.

As mentioned before, there is an article in this month’s Saveur Magazine about the wonders of Cassava- complete with a Brazilian variation of my beloved pan. In this article I learned that tapioca starch is really just cassava starch. Revelation of revelations- I had a bag of tapioca starch in my freezer left over from baking gluten-free cupcakes last summer!

I followed the recipe on Laylita’s blog instead of Saveur- only because I wanted to get the recipe as close to my memory of it as possible, I thought that a woman who grew up in Ecuador would hit closer to that target than a recipe from the other side of the continent.

The truth of these little treats is that they taste best right out of the oven (okay, give them 5 minutes to cool a tad). Since they’re made with cassava/yuca/tapioca, they’re also gluten free but tend to harden up once cooled. Give ’em a quick nuke in the microwave and they’ll be almost as good the next day.

Did I mention they’re cheesy too?

See, it didn’t take THAT long to cover 5 years worth of time to track down one tasty recipe!

Pan de Yuca (adapted from

Preheat oven to 500

2 1/2 cups yuca flour (tapioca starch)

4 cups grated motzarella cheese

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 stick of butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

2 large eggs



Combine flour, cheese, baking powder and salt in a mixer and mix until incorporated

Add butter and eggs and mix until butter is entirely incorporated. I’d add a bit of milk to get the dough to bind together- but not much- 1/4 cup MAX.

Remove the dough from the mixer and form into a ball. You can make the dough ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a day.

Make small round balls out of the dough (about as much as you can squeeze in a fist) and place on a cookie sheet with parchment.

Bake for about 7 minutes. They will look very anemic- this is when you pop them under the broiler to give them a bit of color- just until golden.

Serve immediately.


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Filed under Baking, Comfort Food, Ecuador