Southeast Asian

The Only Kind of "Rice Cake" I Want to Eat This January

January  4, 2016

The nutrition label on a package of rice cakes—those round squeaky things that have more relevance this month than they will all year (January is resolution rice cake season, people)—never fails to amuse me.

"1 cake" is the listed serving size. One cake.

Disc, patty, round, puck, saucer... sure. But cake? Nope. Even if you sprinkle it with cinnamon, even if you smear it with Nutella, even if you toss it with melted chocolate and confectioners' sugar and freeze it until set (which sounds like a very good, very crunchy version of puppy chow, now that I think about it), a rice cake is not a cake. And, even if the name fools no one, it's deceptive to refer to it as such.

A rice cake—for real Photo by Mark Weinberg

But if you want a real-deal rice cake for January—one that squishes and smooshes rather than squawks and squeals—look no further than the sticky rice cake from Naomi Duguid's Burma: Rivers of Flavor.

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(The Burmese name for the cake is htamanei, and Duguid calls it "Deep Forest Monklets' Sticky Rice Cake." And yes, a "monklet" [!!!] refers to a young monk.)

The star of this cake Photo by Bobbi Lin

Made from Thai sticky rice boiled with chopped ginger, sesame seeds, peanuts, and sugar that's pressed into a pan and topped with fried coconut, it's dense and sticky and moldable (and also gluten-free! and vegan! and no-bake! holy cow!).

Its texture is more akin to that of Mochi Cake (made with glutinous rice flour) than Bundt cake, and the sweetness is only subtle—so it is January-appropriate, I suppose.

For added flavor, moisture, and sugar, I took inspiration from How Sweet It Is' sweetened condensed coconut milk, which is simply full-fat coconut milk reduced with a small amount of sugar until it's viscous and drizzleable. Any extra syrup should go directly into your coffee.

Diamonds are forever Photo by Mark Weinberg

So perhaps this cake is a far cry from the over-the-top, frosting-as-thick-as-snow cakes of December. Perhaps its understated sweetness and gummy texture is a welcome respite after the holiday eating frenzy. But only in the best way.

Note:

You can find frozen grated coconut in the freezer section of speciality grocery stores (we found it at Kalustyan's in New York). It's different than desiccated coconut (the stuff used in baking and granola) because it is fresh, not dried. In a pinch, you might try pan-frying large dried coconut flakes, though we found this created a product that was crunchier and less flavorful.

Strong opinions on rice cakes (either type)? Share with us in the comments.

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3 Comments

Zainab K. January 5, 2016
So wonderful to find a recipe for this! My mom makes it all the time because her dad grew up in Burma -- just without the ginger and with diced coconut for texture instead of peanuts.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. January 12, 2016
I hope you give it a try!
 
Erin M. January 4, 2016
Thai sticky rice is one of my favorite ingredients of all time. Love this. Also = the whole first part of this article I said "Amen, sister friend" out loud. Thrice.