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What Is a Palitaw?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

Palitaw is a Philippine dessert and snack made with simple rice flour dough that is boiled and then coated in coconut and sesame seeds. The small, flat rice cakes are traditionally eaten during holiday festivities but can be enjoyed at any time. The texture of the finished cakes can range from very moist and delicate to chewy and rubbery, depending on the preferences of the cook. Although there are a few variations, the palitaw is usually prepared according the same basic recipe without any changes. It is similar to other types of sweet, cooked rice cakes that are produced in countries such as Japan and South Korea.

The rice used for palitaw is traditionally glutinous rice, also called sticky rice or malagkit in the Philippines. An authentic preparation involves cracking the dried sticky rice and then soaking it overnight in water. After soaking, it is ground down into dough with water being added as necessary. If this method is being employed, the rice nearly always requires soaking in water before being used, sometimes to soften the very thick shell around the rice and other times to remove some of the starch before cooking.

Woman baking cookies
Woman baking cookies

In many countries, instead of laboriously grinding down sticky rice into a powder or dough, bags of readymade glutinous rice flour are available for purchase. The premade flour is actually the preferred method for making palitaw at home. It is not necessary to use sticky rice for the recipe, meaning regular rice flour can be used instead with no real ill effects.

The amount of water in the dough can help to determine what the final texture will be. Using as little water as possible and forming hard dough will create palitaw that is chewy, rubbery and dense. Adding extra water to create looser dough will result in cakes that have a softer texture.

Once the dough is the desired consistency, it is formed into balls that are flattened into discs. These discs are dropped into a pot of boiling water and allowed to cook for anywhere from one to five minutes, depending on the density and ingredients in the cakes. The palitaw is done cooking once the discs start to rise to the surface of the water. At this point, they can be taken out of the water, dried on some towels and then dipped in sugar, toasted sesame seeds and shredded coconut. They are usually served cold.

Some palitaw can be stuffed with ingredients such as fruits or nuts, or have the sugar and sesame seeds integrated into the dough cooking. These methods can cause difficulty for home cooks, however, because adding ingredients to the dough can cause it to break apart while cooking. Palitaw can be frozen once completed for long-term storage.

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