What is palitaw? Palitaw is a Filipino snack made with galapong—a soft dough or batter (depending on the amount of water) made with rice flour and water—cooked quickly in a pot of boiling water, rolled in niyog ( freshly grated coconut) and served with a mixture of white sugar and toasted linga (sesame seeds).
The name is derived from the Filipino word “litaw”, literally, to surface. The name is descriptive of the way palitaw is cooked—the dough is dropped in a pot of briskly boiling water and when it rises to the surface after less than a minute, it is fully cooked.
Palitaw was a favorite snack when I was a child. My grandmother often bought native snacks whenever she went to the market. As a child, I wasn’t very fond of freshly grated coconut so I would scrape off the coconut sticking to the rice cake and replace it with a crazy amount of sugar with sesame seeds.
By the time I was in college and badly smitten with everything coconut, I discovered that palitaw was so much better when rolled generously in grated coconut. It was also during that time that I learned that it is possible to freeze palitaw and steam them to reheat. My father bought palitaw in unbelievably huge amounts, stacked the cakes in tightly covered containers, froze them and simply thawed and steamed what we wanted for a snack.
Much later, I learned to make palitaw from my mother-in-law. Watching her do it, I never realized how fast and easy making palitaw could be. She always made a large batch, two dozens or more, because everyone in the family had a healthy appetite. My late father-in-law was especially fond of palitaw. So was I.
Let me show you just how doable homemade palitaw is.
First, have the grated coconut and sugar ready.
Place the grated coconut in a shallow bowl.
Toast the sesame seeds in an oil-free pan and cool. When cool, mix with sugar.
Make the dough by mixing together glutinous (sticky) rice flour and water. It should be a fairly soft dough. Not crumbly. The dough should come together but not so wet that it sticks to the hand.
Can rice flour be substituted? Yes, but to get the correct texture for the cooked rice cakes, the dough has to be ultra soft which makes it more difficult to handle and shape. In the past, I used rice flour. And, oh boy, the mess I made! I kept running back and forth between the stove and the sink to rid my hands of wet dough. So, stick to glutinous rice flour. It’s easier to manage.
Pinch the dough into small pieces. The actual size depends on how small or large you want your palitaw. Aim for a size between one to two tablespoons. You’re going to flatten the dough but don’t do it yet. If you flatten all the pieces ahead of time, they will just get sticky and more difficult to lift to drop in boiling water. So, wait up!
Boil water in a pot. When the water is boiling briskly (see tips on how to boil water), take a piece of dough, roll then flatten to about a quarter of an inch thick. Drop immediately into the boiling water. Repeat until you have three or four rice cakes in the pot. Don’t overcrowd the pot to prevent the rice cakes from sticking to one another. Cook in small batches.
When the rice cake floats, and it will in less than a minute, scoop out with a slotted spoon. Repeat until all the dough has been flattened and boiled.
Take the warm cooked rice cakes and coat both sides with freshly grated coconut.
You can serve the palitaw at this point with the sugar-sesame seed mixture on the side. Don’t attempt to roll the rice cakes in the sugar mixture while still warm because that will make the sugar watery.
If you prefer to serve the palitaw already dredged in sugar, wait for the rice cakes to cool to room temperature after coating with grated coconut. Sprinkle both sides of the palitaw with the sugar-sesame seed mixture, or just dredge both sides in the sugar mixture, and serve.
- Spread the grated coconut in a wide shallow bowl.
- Mix the cooled sesame seeds and sugar in another shallow bowl.
- In a bowl, whisk together the glutinous rice flour and salt. Pour in 3/4 cup of water. That’s water at room temperature. Not hot. Not warm. Not cold. Mix until you have a soft dough that comes together. The dough shouldn’t be crumbly nor should it be wet. Altitude affects the texture of dough so you may need to use less or more water.
- Pinch off about a tablespoon of dough. Repeat until you have uniformly sized small pieces of dough.
- In a pot, boil enough water to reach a depth of at least six inches.
- Flatten a piece of dough into a disc about a quarter of an inch thick and drop immediately in briskly boiling water. Cook the rice cakes three or four at a time to prevent them from sticking to each other.
- The rice cake will sink to the bottom of the pot when you drop it. As soon as it rises to the top (it takes less than a minute if the temperature of the water is correct), scoop out with a slotted spoon and move to a plate.
- Flatten and cook the rest of the rice cakes in the same way.
- Coat both sides of each rice cake with grated coconut.
- Serve the palitaw with the sugar-sesame seeds mixture on the side. Or cool the coconut coated rice cakes to room temperature and dredge in the sugar mixture. Serve as a snack or as dessert.
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