This is definitely on my list of recipes that I am going to make again when I get home.
Since coming to Xizhou, I have been having so much fun experimenting with local ingredients. Some of my favorite recipes that I have developed include pu’er tea muffins, 5-spice sesame shortbread cookies, and rose jam scones. I am working on a Xizhou-inspired cookbook this summer… stay tuned!
Last week, I was talking to someone who grew up in Dali about my project and he immediately asked why I wasn’t using dried papaya, his favorite local snack as a kid. Dali people like to prepare dried papaya with sugar and local ingredients, like dried shiso plants and other spices I can’t recognize. The result is sticky, chewy, and delicious.
I had a lot of freedom when developing the other recipes; I alone got to decide what ingredients I wanted to use and what recipe to adapt it from. However, this presented a challenge. How could I bake with this local snack? Dried fruit is such an odd texture!
For more inspiration, I visited a Xizhou papaya shop (pictured above), which offers the fruit in dozens of different flavors. The vendor was so sweet and made me try probably at least 80% of her products. For this recipe, I ultimately settled on the traditional flavored papaya, but I am excited to use other flavors as well.
After searching through recipes and thinking more about the papaya, I decided to try crumble bars a try. The dried papaya is delicious on its own, so I knew I wanted to find a recipe that would highlight the unique spice blend. I melted down the dried papaya into a sort of jam, then sandwiched it between two light, buttery layers.
The local dried papaya looks alien to me. It is thick with unrecognizable, dark spices, and curls up in the drying process. However, it melts down into a beautifully thick, spiced jam.
Spiced Papaya Crumble Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart
*You can easily substitute the dried papaya with other leathery dried fruits such as apricot or mango. This dried apricot comes with so many spices that I didn’t add anything to the filling, but if you are using regular dried fruit I suggest adding cinnamon, star anise, pepper… get creative! The sugar balances it out 😉
3/4 cup butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dried papaya
1/2 cup flour
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup butter, softened
- Heat oven to 180˚C. Butter an 8-by-8- by-2-inch baking pan, and set aside.
- Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, butter, and granulated sugar. Using a handheld electric mixer on medium speed, blend until crumbly and combined. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Using your hands, pat crust evenly into pan. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- Place papaya in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until soft and most of the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Finely chop until it resembles a jam.
- Combine 1/2 cup flour, chopped apricots, brown sugar, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Using a handheld electric mixer on medium speed, beat until combined; scrape down sides of bowl twice. Pour papaya mixture over crust.
- Make the crumble: mix the sugar, flour, and butter together until it resembles coarse crumbs. Evenly spread over the papaya mixture. Place in oven and bake until the papaya mixture is no longer glossy and a little firm, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares and enjoy!