We Filipinos love rice so much that we’ve come up with so many different ways to eat it. And I don’t just mean boiling it or frying it up with garlic (who doesn’t love sinangag? Yum!), but grinding it up into a powdery flour and steaming it into one of the most sublime pastries in Asia.
Puto is the Philippines’ version of the rice cake. It is traditionally made by pouring a fermented rice flour batter onto circular molds lined with cheesecloth or banana leaves and steaming the filled molds in a bamboo steamer with a conical-shaped lid (the shape prevents the condensation from dripping onto the puto molds) until the cakes swell up into opaque, fluffy rounds.
Made properly, puto has a clean, slightly yeasty aroma and a pillowy soft crumb. Because it’s generally served with savory dishes like pancit or most notably, dinuguan, it’s a bit on the bland side, taste-wise, but years of innovation have led to sweetened or otherwise flavored variants.
If you are a Pinoy who just moved to Australia and are sorely missing the taste of puto, the following recipe just might help you soothe your craving. You’ll need a steamer, certainly, but you can substitute individual muffin or cupcake tins for the more traditional puto molds:
Homemade Puto (makes about 3 dozen pieces)
4 cups rice flour (you can purchase this from the nearest Asian or Filipino grocery)
13.5 oz coconut milk (about 1 can, also available at an Asian or Filipino grocery)
2 cups water
Half a teaspoon of salt
1-½ cups white sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
Non-stick cooking spray
Combine the rice flour, coconut milk, and water in a non-reactive bowl. Stir well to make a smooth batter and then cover with cling film. Refrigerate overnight. (Important tip: Don’t skip the overnight refrigeration. This helps to ferment the rice flour in the batter for a soft, fluffy texture.)
Add in the salt and sugar and stir with a whisk until dissolved. Mix in the baking powder and whisk further until the batter is free of lumps.
Mist or lightly spray the insides of your individual muffin or cupcake tins to prevent the batter from sticking. Pour in the puto batter until the molds are about ¾ full. (Do not fill all the way to the top as the batter will expand during steaming.)
Prepare your steamer: place some water at the bottom (make sure you add enough for the entire cooking process) and bring to a boil.
Position your filled molds in a single layer on the steamer basket or tray, and carefully place it atop the bottom of your steamer. Take the cover of the steamer and cover it with a clean sheet of cheesecloth (this prevents the condensation from dripping onto the puto) or any other kind of cotton material. Cover the steamer and allow to steam for ten minutes. Pro tip: the puto is finished if a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool slightly and then carefully unmold puto. Serve immediately.
Put a thin slice of cheese atop your filled molds prior to steaming to make cheesy puto.
Mix a bit of ube (purple yam) paste and a few drops of purple food coloring into your puto batter for ube-flavored rice cakes. For pandan-flavored ones, swap out the ube paste and purple food coloring for pandan extract and green food coloring.
Add about two teaspoons of vanilla flavor to the batter to impart a sweeter fragrance to your puto.