Hi Everyone, I was planning to hopefully recreate a treat I’d eaten a few times from a snack lady while at secondary school. However, what I created was far removed from what I was expecting.
Let me take you back.
One fine morning when the bell rang at 10.15, my classmates and I, along with the rest of the school for that matter, headed in various directions – to the canteen, to the shop across the road, to the vendors outside the school gates and to the school caretaker’s wife who had her stall set up within the compound. The caretaker’s wife made the best cassava balls and eggs balls. And the sour was wicked. On that particular morning, in addition to the regular fare, I noticed that she had something in one of her clear plastic containers. It had the same colour of the cassava and egg balls but it was shaped differently – oblong, broad and a little thick. When we enquired she told us it was cassava puff. My friend Sandra and I looked at each other (should we try it?).
“How much is it?” asked Sandra, the lady looked up, “one dollar”. Sandra and I looked at each other again (what should we do? Blow the money we have on 1 cassava puff each or go for the usual – 2 cassava balls and still have some change?). We bought the cassava puffs.
We watched as the puffs were removed from the container. The snack lady didn’t need to ask if we wanted sour. Come on, that’s a given. She took a heaped tablespoon of sour, red with pepper and fragrant with cucumber and made an indentation all along the cassava puff breaking the crust and letting the sour soak in. She dipped and put another spoonful and then handed us each, a large double folded piece of wax (greaseproof) paper upon which rested our warm expensive cassava puffs.
Light, creamy, almost buttery, the cassava puff melted in my mouth. It was as if the cassava was whipped to incorporate air into the mixture. Yet, at the same time, my friend Sandra and I kept thinking, but is this not like a cassava ball? The seasoning was the same and so was the crust. I think we were trying to figure out why we had to pay almost twice as much for the puff when we could have had more than one cassava ball for the same money. To make a long story short, every day thereafter we only bought cassava puffs. There was something about them that made the cassava balls pale in comparison.
Several weeks later, after the debut of the cassava puffs, the snack lady got sick and when she did return, she no longer made cassava puffs and a few other items. Now that I think about it, she must have been tired and still recovering from her illness.
Back to the present.
I have continued to be haunted by that heavenly cassava puff I had so many years ago. I have never seen it sold elsewhere either.
The other day I was chatting with a Bajan friend of mine extolling the delights of cassava ball, egg ball, boil and fry and then I told her about the cassava puff. I think I went into some sort of trance as I recounted the tale of the cassava puff from school for the next thing I heard was, “Do you know how to make it?” Alas, I shook my head and confessed that I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that the snack lady had done to make it so light and creamy.
Google to the rescue! I whipped out the iPad. Only a few recipes came up. One basically said that the cassava puff is really a cassava ball. A couple others though indicated the addition of baking powder and eggs to the mashed cassava as well as butter. Ah ha! Eggs and baking powder, now that is sure to give the puff factor! Right?
Armed with the cassava I bought, described by the vendor as “cooking like a match”, I headed home. They did cook up quickly.
I mashed the cassava smooth with the butter and ground white pepper then added in the baking power, mashed and mixed to incorporate and finally the lightly beaten eggs. The mixture was as creamy, light. And my mind went astray. I could serve this as just I would mashed potatoes, use it to top shepherd’s pie, I could do so many things with this…
As I looked at the mixture, it occurred to me that it was way too pasty for me to shape and fry. I’d have to roll it in a lot of flour or make some kind of batter and struggle to coat it. I do not shy away from work and I don’t back down from a challenge in the kitchen but there was no way that I was going to stand there and wrestle with the pasty mixture. Out came the muffin pans and I dropped the creamed cassava mixture into the cups and set them to bake in a preheated oven.
Did they puff up? You bet they did. Out came these gorgeous tender muffin-shaped puffs. They were so delicate that I had to handle them with care as I removed them from the baking pan. Waiting for them to cool was an impatient task. Eventually they were cooled enough but still warm, and I bit into the puff. Fluffy and tender is how I would describe it. These weren’t the caretaker’s wife’s cassava puffs. I still need to discover her secret. Nevertheless, what I had made was something different. It would make a perfect bread roll for a meal or at tea. Served with a generous smear of butter or thick slice of cheese, these cassava puffs would disappear in no time. And they did.
I sent a dozen to my friend Lynda and her family – my taste testers. And she reported they were gone before they even reached the table. Encouraged by this, I made another batch later in the week, this time I added cheese and green onions. Next time, I’ll do one flavoured with thyme and cheese, rosemary and cheese.
So while I continue to hunt for the cassava puff recipe that the snack lady at my school made (actually, someone suggested that I add some flour to the mixture so that it can hold a shape to be fried), I’m happy to have discovered this version of cassava puffs. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. And if you know how to recreate the cassava puffs I am longing for, please let me know!
2 pounds of peeled cassava
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
Add cassava to a large pot and cover with water, set on high heat and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, add salt to taste – this is to season the cassava. Cook until the cassava is soft, it will split open or until a knife inserts easily.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Lightly grease 2 (12 cup) muffin pans or baking sheets and set aside.
Drain cooked cassava and transfer immediately to a large bowl. Add butter and pepper and using a potato masher, mash until the cassava is smooth. During the process, remove the fibrous string that’s found in the middle of the cassava.
Add the baking powder and incorporate fully then add the eggs and mix until well blended.
Fill the muffin pans (half way up) with the mixture or if using baking sheets, drop the mixture 2-inches apart.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the puffs have risen and golden.
Remove pans from oven and let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer the puffs to cool on wire racks. Serve warm as is or with butter and cheese.
Add any of the following combinations after direction # 5 (above)
Cheese & Thyme
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
Cheese & Green Onions (scallions, chives)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
Cheese & Rosemary
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary