A Sweet Taste from Thailand: Pandan Rice Cakes

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

How best to describe this steamed rice treat? Well, it’s sticky! It’s also chewy in the way that mochi is chewy. It’s sweet with coconut milk and fragrant with something called pandan leaf essence. Never heard of pandan? Neither had we.

Pandan is a tropical plant with long, narrow leaves that grows widely in Southeast Asia. Those leaves are incredibly fragrant, even retaining their potency after drying and freezing. They can be used for anything from steaming fish to flavoring desserts like this one.

They smell – and taste – a bit like jasmine green tea, at least to our minds. It’s a fresh, sweet flavor. A bit nutty. Definitely floral. Wholly unlike any flavoring we’re used to, and definitely something you should try if and when you come across it!

This dessert is made in two layers: a chewy layer of coconut-infused sticky rice and a firm custard layer made with more coconut milk. Both are flavored with pandan paste to give the dessert its signature flavor and green color. The whole cake is steamed and then allowed to set until it’s firm enough to cut into pieces.

We love one of these little pandan cakes as a midday snack. They’re firm enough to travel well and the rice makes them feel just substantive enough to get us through to dinner. You can also sprinkle the pieces with toasted coconut milk or serve them with fresh fruit. (They’re also gluten-free!)

Our friend who first tipped us off to pandan cakes likes this recipe the best:

Pandan Sweet Rice Layer Cake from About.com

The recipe calls for pandan paste or essence, which can be found at any Asian grocery store with a good Thai or Southeast Asian section. You can also find the leaves dried in packages or in the frozen foods section.

Have you ever had these rice cakes?