I’m planning another trip!!! (I know, it feels like I’ve just got back from the last work trip, but this one is a real holiday)
I’m giddy with excitement.
Because, because, because, guy, I’m going to Myanmar!! Think thousands upon thousands of Buddhist temples, giant Buddha statues, rows of novice monks and nuns walking by with alms bowls, slow boats, languid horse and carts, and slower train trips on colonial railways. (See here, this, those and that, and much more. Click on the photos below to go to the original page where I took the images from.)
This trip will be memorable in other ways, too. Apparently, internet is slow or nonexistent, and there are no internationally connected ATMs outside the two largest cities. And, it’s monsoon season. Friends are expecting lots of selfies standing in puddles, with crazy hair from the high temperatures and 80%+ humidity, and down to my last pennies after failing to find an ATM.
Why Myanmar, you ask?
Reading Naomi Duguid’s book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor (also mentioned here and here) first piqued my interest in the country. While it is a book about food, Ms Duguid also talks about the people, culture, customs, the many different tribes. Most of all, she made me want to go there, taste the mohinga, shan noodles, thoke, tea leaf salad, curries, eat pomelos, mangoes and other tropical fruits, and have a real Burmese meal with all the side dishes.
I wish I was going with Ms Duguid, not the least because, um, I don’t speak Burmese. Instead, I’m hoping sign language will go a long way. Ones like, I’d really like some food, preferably an awesome bowl of mohinga? Or, could you drive me to the massive Buddhas that you can climb into? Or, is this a scheduled stop or are we just sitting here for a wee bit while the overnight bus gets fixed?
I decided on this trip barely a week ago and paid for the flights on Friday. In between international flights, hotels (thank you Tripadvisor!), visa (fingers crossed….), bus schedules, train fares, calculating how much money I’ll need, and finding the perfect Colonial era hotel for the last night in Yangon, it feels like I’ve barely had time to breathe.
What does a girl do at a time like this? Make something simple, comforting yet utterly indulgent, of course. May I present to you Yum Yum Squares?
I first found this recipe on Leite’s Culinaria 2-3 years ago, when trying to deal with a surplus of coconut and walnuts. Since then it’s become a firm favourite.
It’s one of those recipes where you press & pour a lot of glob into the pan, and what comes out of the oven is a miraculous three-layered bake: a shortbread-like biscuit base, a caramel layer in the centre*, topped by a chewy-then-crunchy top layer where macaroon-like coconuts are studded with toasted walnuts. First time, I worried the walnuts would be too bitter, but its taste is mellowed by the coconut and caramel, and mostly added toastiness and a soft crunch.
* Baking notes: sometimes, people find the middle caramel layer doesn’t set as hard as they would like. It’s happened to me, but I’m not sure why. Maybe I used extra large eggs so the topping mixture is too liquid; or the slice needs to bake for a bit longer if I try to double the recipe. If the caramel is too runny, you can cover the top of the slice with foil and put the pan back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Or (if the top layer is already a dark brown and crusty), put the cooled slices into the fridge overnight to set the caramel before cutting the slice.
Colleagues and friends gave it a big thumbs up, some came back for seconds, thirds and fourths – !
Yum yum squares, and the pastiche of Brazilian peanut candies from the last post, have found firm places in my “last minute miracles” recipe box.
Without further ado, I’ll just bring the plateful to this week’s Fiesta at Angie’s. This should give everyone a sugar high for the rest of the weekend?
Yum Yum Squares
(from Erin Bolger’s The Happy Baker, via Leite’s Culinaria)
1/2 cup (about 115 grams) butter, softened
2 tablespoons (about 30 grams) plus 1 cup (about 200 grams) brown sugar, packed (weight according to Traditional Oven)
1 1/4 cups (about 175 grams) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconuts
1 cup walnut pieces (optional, but good) – I broke walnut halves into smallish chunks, and then measured one cup
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. Beat the butter and just 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the flour. Press the mixture into an 8 inch (20 cm) square pan.
3. Combine the eggs, salt, vanilla, and the remaining brown sugar and mix well. Stir in the coconut and walnuts, if using, and pour the mixture on top of the crust, smoothing the surface so it’s even.
4. Bake for 25 minutes, maybe a little longer (another 10-20 minutes if you try doubling the recipe), until the top is a rich shade of golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Place the pan on a wire rack and let the pan cool slightly before slicing it into small squares (Leite’s recommends 16 two-inch / 5 cm squares, I like to cut mine smaller, around 1-2 cm, to make these suitable for morning tea and any other time of the day).
Serving: I find the slices are good either at room temperature or after about 20 minutes out of the fridge. Ours never last more than a couple of days, but it should be good for 3-4 days when kept in an airtight container, optionally in the fridge?
Tagged: baking, bars, Burma, coconut, easy, Erin Bolger, Leite's Culinaria, miracle bake, Myanmar, Naomi Duguid, recipe, Rivers of Flavor, shortbread crust, sweet, The Happy Baker, travel, trip planning, walnut, Yum yum squares