Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dessert Bars Made With Yuca Root

Once again, I have a recipe to share that is made with an unusual ingredient. Most stores these days carry some of the more unusual vegetables, and I have been able to find Yuca in most of the places I have lived. Yuca is a tuber root vegetable, Manihot esculenta. Called by many names in different countries, it is also known as cassava or manioc root. I first learned of and tasted this root in Guatemala long ago. It is a highly starchy root, far moreso than a potato, though it is potato-like in its usage. It has little strong flavor of its own, but lends flavor and filler to soups and stews. It is great in soups, and I have used it this way often over the years. 

All that aside, when in Guatemala I also learned that they make desserts out of the most unlikely vegetables (to a mid-westerner born and raised). So it was that I learned that the Yuca root is also made into a dessert. They call it "Torta de Yuca" down there. A Torta is often a nut based cake of many tiers, or any cake made into many layers. This particular "torta" is just a bar-type dessert. It has no crust, and is not like a cake in texture or consistency. The texture of this dessert comes out more along the lines of pumpkin bars or lemon bars. It is easy to pick up and eat with the hand, as opposed to a cake where a fork is usually necessary. 
Torta de Yuca: a "Bar" type dessert

Just as an FYI, if you decide to try out this recipe, be warned: this root is starchy. Starchy to the point where it is difficult to mash or puree because of the stickiness of it. Typically, in Guatemala, the root is peeled and cut in chunks and cooked through, then passed through a food mill before combining the puree with some sugar, eggs, and cinnamon. Getting this to pass through the food mill is a tedious process, to say the least. Still, once in a while it is just a delicious dessert and well worth making. My children all love it, so when they were younger and living at home, it was something I took the time to make. I feel it is important to keep their half-Guatemalan heritage alive. 
Torta de Yuca

When buying the root where it grows fresh, peeling is a very easy thing. Make a slit along and through the skin, then just loosen it and it comes off. No "peeling" necessary. If it has been shipped somewhere and is older, the consequence is that it will need to be peeled with some kind of vegetable peeler. Another problem with age is that the root can become more fibrous and stringy. I bought one locally and was surprised to find that though I did need to use a vegetable peeler, there were relatively few fibrous strings. Hurray!

Batter is gloppy and "sheets" from spoon     |                  batter in pan, ready to bake    

Trying to mix the batter for these bars is a little daunting at first, but just persist in the mixing and it will come together. The batter is gloppy and will sort of "sheet" from the mixing spoon once mixed. It is best to use true cinnamon, a soft-stick variety (sometimes called Ceylon cinnamon), rather than the cassia cinnamon so common in the US. True cinnamon will give the most authentic flavor to this dessert. Another thing to be aware of is that while baking, the dessert will rise prettily, but once out of the oven, it will fall. The edges will remain slightly higher. This is no way affects flavor, but it is not a flaw in the recipe, but something that always happens, in my experience. At least, if made the way I was taught! Here is the "recipe" I use, though it is certainly alterable, to taste. In past I had added some flour to the mixture, but as starchy as the root is, the flour just made the bars heavy and even more dense. These days I omit the flour. This makes the recipe completely gluten free, if that is an issue.
Straight from oven, nice and puffed                |           Shortly after, it falls, leaving higher edges

Torta de Yuca

Torta de Yuca or Cassava Bars

makes one 8 x 8-inch pan, or 9 to 12 servings

1 medium to large yuca/cassava/manioc root
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk, if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla

Peel the yuca root and cut into small chunks. Place them into a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, add in a teaspoon of salt and cook until completely tender. Drain the water and puree the root, either with a food mill or mashing. I would not advise a food processor, for fear of burning out the motor. (If you have used a food processor and it works well, I would love to know!) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

Once pureed, add the butter and stir until it is combined. Add in the sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir well. Add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring until it is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add n the vanilla and milk if needed to make the batter thin enough to resemble a thick cake batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the torta for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake tests done (when a toothpick is inserted it is moist but not wet). Allow to cool completely before slicing. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.