The Burmese name of these treats—traditional food at the Burmese water festival, in mid-April—translates as “sweets rising in the water.” The balls, made of a rice dough wrapped around small chunks of palm sugar, are dropped into a pot of boiling water. They swell as they cook and bob to the surface; when done, they are translucent, so they look a little like large peeled lychees. The magic comes when you bite into them, for each one hides a smoky, sweet molten core of palm sugar.

Smaller balls made of the same dough but without a filling are served topped with a light sugar syrup and a sprinkling of coconut shavings.

I usually make only the larger balls, but the traditional way is to divide the dough in half and make both filled balls and smaller ones.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup sticky rice flour
  • ½ cup rice flour, plus more for dusting
  • About ¾ cup lukewarm water

For Filled Balls

  • About cup dark palm sugar (or maple sugar) chopped into small chips the size of a half-peanut

For Smaller Balls in Syrup

Method

Combine the two flours in a medium bowl, then add about ½ cup of the water and stir to mix well. Dribble in a little more water and stir some more. You want a smooth dough that is not too soft or sticky. If you find the dough is a little too soft to work with, turn it out onto a work surface dusted with plain rice flour and roll it around to incorporate a little more flour, then return it to the bowl. Set aside for a moment.

Put out a small bowl of water for moistening your hands as you work. Set out a serving plate for the larger balls or a shallow bowl for the smaller syrup-coated balls. Pour 4 inches of water into a wide pot and bring it to a boil.

To Shape the Larger Balls

Once you have made a few, you will be able to estimate how much dough you need by eye, but to start with, it’s helpful to divide the dough, measuring out what you need. Cut the dough in half and set one half aside in the bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

Place the remaining dough on a work surface lightly dusted with rice flour and use a dough scraper or knife to cut it in half and then in half again. Cut each of these pieces into quarters, to give you 16 pieces in all.

Lightly moisten your palms with water. Place a piece of dough on the palm of one hand and, with your other thumb, make a large dent in the center, flattening it a little. Place 2 or 3 chips of sugar in the hollow, and pull the sides up around to cover it. Roll the ball lightly between your palms to smooth it out and set aside on a plate, When all 16 balls are shaped, drop them into the boiling water. The balls will sink and then slowly rise back to the surface. Let them bob there for about 5 minutes, then use a spider or a slotted spoon to lift them out onto the waiting plate. Repeat with the remaining dough.

To Shape the Smaller Balls

Cut the dough in half and set one half aside in the bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Place the remaining dough on a work surface lightly dusted with rice flour and cut in half and then in half again. Shape balls from one piece at a time, to start; each of these small pieces will yield 16 small rice balls (cut each into 4 pieces, then divide again into quarters). Quickly roll the pieces into balls between your palms and drop them into the boiling water; they will swell and bob up to the surface very soon. Let them cook for 2 or 3 minutes longer, then lift them out with a spider or slotted spoon and transfer to the shallow bowl. Drizzle on some syrup, turning them so all surfaces get coated; this prevents them from sticking together as they cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. Top the pile of rice balls with the coconut.

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