hese rice cakes are not the same as the sticky rice cakes that are also popular in Asia. These have a spongy nature and are delicious – at least for those who grew up eating them.
The problem about making them from scratch is that the authentic taste cannot really be duplicated 100%. This has to do with the kind of flour (rice flour) that is sold in Southeast Asia and the brand of coconut milk.
I used to work for a company that encouraged us to “think outside the box.” For rice cakes, however, I think I’ll look inside the box; that is, make my rice cakes from a packaged mix.
If you’re interested in making these, go to an ethnic store and see if they have a box looking like this. It will have the word “puto” in it (the Filipino word for rice cake).
Whether or not you’re making rice cakes from scratch or using the packaged mix like the one above, you will need a steamer like this one. In Asia, most rice cakes are steamed, not baked. If you have a bamboo steamer, that’s fine too.
I’m adding a picture of what the steamer looks like inside. This type of steamer is sold in many Asian stores and they come in different sizes.
Next, you follow the instructions on the box. It’s like putting together a pancake batter.
When your batter is ready, divide it equally into four small bowls.
Now add your food coloring (this is my favorite part, because I like my putos to come alive with colors.
Put the colored batter into individual tin foil bowls (the tin foil bowl is important to protect the rice cakes from getting wet, given the steam that will be rising from the main pot).
The steamer should be rapidly boiling already when you position your tin foil bowls gently.
Before covering the steamer, put a towel over the steamer rack (not directly on the rice cakes). The towel should be sitting on the edge of the steamer rack (as in a tent). Then put the cover. Make sure it fits snugly.
Let the rice cakes boil for 25-30 minutes, or as directed on the box (absolutely no peeking).
After 25 minutes, take a peek (this time you’re allowed!). The putos should have a shiny surface. Turn off the stove and gently remove the steamer rack (there will be water). Gently lift the bowls of puto with a tong. Brush with butter and sprinkle with either a sharp cheese or coconut flakes.
PS: For those who can’t find the boxed version of rice cakes, here are two recipes for preparing putos from scratch (which I have not tried).
http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,196,156174-250199,00.html (Filipino version)
And for those who don’t like to add artificial color, there is a natural food coloring product called Chefmaster Natural Food Color and is made by Byrnes & Kiefer Co of Garden Grove, California.