When I was really young, my mother loved to cook us a lot of things for afternoon snacks, especially during the weekends. Thinking back now, it was either to bribe us to go take a nap after lunch, or more often, just because we enjoyed watching her cook and so we can all sit together and bond. Either way, that made for wonderful childhood memories.
One of our favorites is the Palitaw. It is a quintessential sample of Filipino cooking: simply made from rice, coconuts and sugar, over a pot of boiling water. It is so Filipino that I am having difficulty translating its name to English. The best I can think of is “floating rice cake” or “something that one makes float”, the root word of the name being litaw, which means to float. (Please don’t stone me if you’re a linguist. Like I said, this is the best I could manage. 🙂 )
This rice cake owes its name to the fact that cooked rice dough literally floats once it’s cooked. For most foodstuff, you can tell that they’re cooked based on their color or temperature. This rice cake floats. Once it’s done that, you’re sure that it’s cooked.
For this recipe, I’m using glutinous rice flour which is available from my favorite supermarket, and probably in an Asian store near you. It’s also called sticky rice flour. Weirdly enough, even though it’s called “glutinous rice”, this one doesn’t have any gluten at all so gluten-free dieters should be fine. Unfortunately, this lack of gluten also makes working with sticky rice dough difficult. Don’t expect it to really come together. The dough will come apart if you try to make it too thin or if you handle it too slowly. My tip is to move fast during the shaping steps and when you throw (but not literally, or you’ll get burns from the splash) the palitaw in to boiling water.
If you’re familiar with this rice cake, you will also notice another difference. Instead of using fresh grated coconut meat, I used toasted, sweetened grated coconut. The toasted coconut gives a nice crunchy contrast to the soft rice cake, which I liked. I bought the toasted coconut from the supermarket as well.
- 500 grams glutinous (sticky) rice flour
- 2 cups cold water
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 cups toasted, sweetened grated coconut meat
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
Toast the sesame seeds in a toaster oven for 5 minutes, or on a small pan over low heat, until golden brown. Immediately remove from the pan and cool. Toss the seeds together with the toasted coconut meat in a wide, shallow bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour and sugar until combined. Pour in the water and use a heavy spoon or your bare hands to wet everything and form a dough.
In a medium pot with high walls, pour enough water until it is 3 to 4 inches deep. Get it briskly boiling over the stove. Once boiling, lower the heat to get the water to a simmer.
Scoop out enough of the dough to form a 2-inch ball. Using the palms of your hands, flatten the ball into a 4-inch disk, and gently drop the disk into the simmering pot of water. Make about 3 to 4 cakes at a time, and set them into the pot without any one overlapping another.
Note 1: You don’t need to have perfectly round disks. Just work the dough quickly into the water. Dropping the cake too slowly into the pot of water can cause it to tear. An oblong cake is nicer than an irregularly shaped one.
Note 2: Don’t bother pre-shaping the dough into disks. If you set the dough down, it will stick, even to parchment paper, and will tear if your try to pick it up. You can pre-shape the dough into balls though.
Using a slotted spoon or spatula, try to move the cakes around the water after about 30 seconds, just to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or together. Give the cakes about 3 minutes or until they float fully (no sections way below the water line), then remove them from the pot of water using the slotted spoon or spatula, draining as much water as you can. Give the cakes another couple of minutes to drain and cool on a piece of parchment paper set over some kitchen towels.
Gently transfer the cake into the bowl of grated coconut, coating both sides with it. Serve warm immediately.
This recipe will make about 20 rice cakes.
If you want the really traditional ones, simply replace the toasted coconut with 2 cups of freshly grated coconut meat and 1/2 cup of white sugar.