Kitchen disaster & a look at ‘rice cakes’

When you hear the words ‘rice cake’, is this what you think of?

Quite possibly yes if you frequent health food shops and are on a gluten-free diet. This style of rice cake actually reminds me of the traditional Chinese puffed rice cracker, 米通 mi3 tong1 [Mand.] / mai tong [Cant.].

However, as this Wikipedia entry reflects, many cultures have ‘rice cakes’ and the term encompasses an incredibly diverse range of food items produced from rice. Rice itself comes in thousands of strains, can be in the form of rice grains or rice flour, and can be boiled, steamed, baked, grilled etc.

Several weeks ago I tried out a recipe from a Taiwanese book labelled with the English name, ‘Brown Sugar Rice Cake’, and in Chinese, ‘黃鬆糕’(lit: yellow, light cake). I was attracted by the short list of simple ingredients and easy method.

Ingredients

300g glutinous rice flour 糯米粉
200g rice flour 大米粉
150g dark brown sugar 紅糖
150cc water

Method

1) Dissolve the brown sugar in the water. Discard any sediment.
2) Put the two kinds of rice flour in a bowl and add in the sugar water.
3) As the mixture will be lumpy, use your hands to break up the lumps.
4) Pass the mixture through a sieve to create the texture of sand. This is the most time consuming step, especially since there is quite a large volume of ingredients.
5) Prepare a tin by oiling the surface, then lining it with a wet cloth. Pour in the mixture and smoothen the top surface.
6) Steam for 10-15 minutes.
7) Leave to cool, then cut and serve.

That’s what the book says. My finished cake looked nothing like the photo in the book and it tasted awful! And here’s an awful picture of the cake! You can even see the holes where I poked a chopstick to test if it was done.

As with most of my other steamed cakes, this one seemed to take much much longer to be fully cooked than what was stated in the recipe (I must be doing something wrong, OR I simply can’t tell when the steamed cakes are ready :/ !). Admittedly, I didn’t follow the instructions to use line the tin with a wet cloth and just used cling film (as is illustrated in the same recipe book) to make it easier to remove the cake from the pan [17/4/08 update: in the comments to this post, CantonPixie reminded me of the dangerous dioxins released when cling film is heated! oops!]. In the photo you can see I’ve removed it from the pan after it set to continue cooking it in the hope that it would eventually be done!

Let me rewind — I actually think the root of the disaster started when I tried to get creative and replace Chinese rice flour – a very fine, light powder that puffs into the air at the slightest movement and leaves a layer of white all over the kitchen and you – with organic brown rice flour, which was heavy and sort of in damp clumps in the case of the type I bought. The cake had a sourish, uncooked taste even after being steamed for more than 45 minutes, and it’s quite likely that was due to the flour (which flour? I’m not sure, but my glutinous rice flour always makes delicious glutinous rice balls!).

Finally, we gave up steaming the damned thing, which didn’t look anything like the photo in the book, which showed a dry, crumbly texture resembling coarse sugar grains. In contrast, you can see from my photo that the cut edge looked like dried-out plasticine – yuck. I tried to rescue the dish by chopping the block into bite-sized squares then boiling them as one would do with glutinous rice balls. The taste remained unpalatable and I ran out of ideas how to salvage this disaster.

Moral of the story: ‘rice cake’ can mean a lot of things, ‘rice flour’ can mean a lot of things, don’t ‘anyhow’ substitute ingredients (as we would say in Singlish/ Singapore English), and well, you win some you lose some.

N.B.: If you want to try the recipe, you might want to also watch this YouTube video for making a very similar kind of Korean rice cake (and yes, it’s 15 mins in the steamer for 1kg of rice flour! I am definitely doing something wrong….).

N.B.: for further advice on using different kinds of flours, please see my page on Flours.

Making salted eggs II

One of the very earliest things I wrote about on this blog was making Chinese sated eggs at home (as well as a good reason to do so). Eight months and four batches of a dozen eggs later, I’m extremely happy with my eggs but have realised that the eggs do not keep so well once they have been removed from the brine (I use five weeks of soaking in brine).

The first week out of the brine, they have beautiful, bright orange yolks with an even tone. Three or four weeks later, they look like this:

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Notice that the yolks have become a strange colour and developed an uneven texture. The whites also taste more salty than before. Overall, the taste is still fine and I enjoy my homemade eggs very much, not to mention feeling reassured that there are no unwanted artificial colours or preservatives and having sense of satisfaction of having made them myself.

The solution is to make a smaller batch of salted eggs each time and try to finish them within two weeks. As it takes five weeks to make them, one might start a mini-production line and have a few lots of eggs at different stages of the process.

However, that means finding space to lay out the all bowls of brine. They do get a bit sticky on the outside of the container and there may be flakes of crystallised brine so you’ll want a hardy kitchen surface, or else a plastic tray to place beneath the bowls if it’s a surface that needs protecting. Perhaps if one has a set of large stackable containers, you can use those for soaking and stack them vertically to save space, with the eggs that will be ready first put on the top.

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Making coconut milk II

When I first started finding out about different types of coconut graters, it was with the intention of finding the best way of preparing coconut shreds to make coconut milk.

As you can read here, the method used in my family is to use a traditional aluminium grater. As you’ll notice, it’s a pretty scary looking piece of equipment and could be very dangerous if your hands slip or when the piece of coconut gets very small! So I decided to try out the safer suction-style grater used in South Asia, which grates the coconut flesh from inside the shell.

However, the problem with both kinds of graters, especially the suction one, is that they don’t produce shreds of coconut that are fine enough. When making coconut milk, the finer the shreds, the greater the volume of milk you’ll be able to extract.

By this time I’d also developed a fascination with different types of graters: in the material and shape of the cutting surface as well as the shape of the grated items. So I splashed out on one of those Microplane box graters, which grates two sizes and comes with a knuckle protecting slider attachment which actually works! (I’ve bought graters in the past which had rather useless finger protector gadgets). The selling point of Microplane tools is that they are very sharp and started out as woodworking tools.

microplane-grater1.jpg

With the sharp blades and the knuckle protector, we can grate coconut more quickly than with our traditional spiked aluminium grater and it’s nicer using this high-quality tool than the S$6 suction crank grater which also rusts easily.

But take a look at the shape of the shreds produced by the Microplane grater:

grated-carrot1.jpg

Notice how they are broad and flat. This carrot was grated with the large holes but the shape is the same for the small holes as well. Here is a close-up of the fine grater surface:

microplane-closeup-450b1.jpg

So great new grater but back to square one with the original problem of trying to produce super-fine coconut shreds.

The solution to this, no matter which grater we use, is to go through an extra step of using a food processor to chop the coconut even more finely. This is what the final product looks like:

coconut-grated1.jpg

This coconut will now produce a good yield of coconut milk, following the extraction method I explained here.

Traditional coconut graters

Some time back I wrote about different types of graters, especially those used for grating coconut. [Also read here how we make coconut milk at home.]

One thing that fascinated me was the various styles of traditional coconut graters used in different cultures, and on a recent trip to the National Museum of Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised to find a display of traditional coconut graters.

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You can see here a couple of stool-type graters in the foreground and at the back, handheld versions, one of which looks rather phallic! Partially obscured on the right-hand side towards the back is a suction-style grater similar to the one I described in my previous posting.

This display is found inside the Food gallery, which is one of the four “Living Galleries” and is free entry from 6-8pm daily :).

NM Food Gallery A-1.jpg
NM Food Gallery B-1.jpg
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