Palitaw

published Dec 16, 2022
christmas
Palitaw Recipe

Quick and easy to whip up, these chewy rice cakes are showered with shredded coconut and filled with just the perfect amount of sweetness.

Makes12

Prep20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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palitaw cookies with coconut sugar
Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

If there was just one dessert I could bring to a Christmas potluck, it would be palitaw, a chewy rice cake with just the perfect amount of sweetness. It’s quick and easy to whip up, and the flurry of shredded coconut that coats each cake reminds me of both the snow in New York, and my childhood in the hot and humid Philippines.

My first memories of palitaw date back to when I was growing up in Manila. I remember a lady masterfully balancing a woven basket filled with both sweet and savory rice cakes atop her head as she walked down each street repeatedly yelling “merienda” for the entire neighborhood to hear. “Merienda” is a midday snack, and for Filipinos it’s a term encompassing a fourth meal to hold you over just before dinner. To me, the call of  “merienda” was my equivalent to the ice-cream-truck jingle. I looked forward to devouring each soft and chewy palitaw, which left remnants of coconut and sesame seeds all over my face. 

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Aside from being an everyday snack, palitaw has also found its rightful place on the Nochebuena or Christmas Eve dinner table, especially for Filipino American families craving a taste of home. In my family, the act of rolling each rice cake, waiting for the cakes to float, and then showering each cake with shredded coconut, is not much different from building a gingerbread house. Making food during Nochebuena is a family affair, and it’s all hands on deck — especially for desserts.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve added palitaw to my arsenal of special-occasion recipes for its simple ingredient list and nostalgia-inducing qualities. It’s truly a welcome variation from the sweet cookies and cakes on the table during

holiday potlucks

What Is Palitaw? 

The name palitaw loosely translates to “float” or “appear,” which refers to its cooking method, where the rice cakes appear or float to the surface, indicating it’s done. Palitaw is a sweet rice cake dish traditionally eaten as “merienda” or a midday snack in the Philippines. In some Filipino families, it’s also served during Nochebuena or Christmas Eve, as a dessert.

Ingredients You Need to Make Palitaw 

This simple recipe requires five main ingredients: glutinous rice flour, water, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and sugar.

For a less traditional variation, yet a very Filipino flavor, add ube extract for a festive and fun pop of purple.

Are Palitaw and Pichi Pichi the Same?

Palitaw is the much simpler and less fussy sister to pichi pichi. Their main differences include the following:

  • Carbohydrate base: Palitaw is made of rice, while pichi pichi is made of cassava.
  • Cooking methods: Unlike palitaw, which is simply boiled in water, pichi pichi requires steaming individual molds filled with cassava mixture.
  • Toppings: While both are covered with shredded coconut, palitaw gets an additional topping of sugar and toasted sesame seeds.

Palitaw Recipe

Quick and easy to whip up, these chewy rice cakes are showered with shredded coconut and filled with just the perfect amount of sweetness.

Prep time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup

    white sesame seeds

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 2 cups

    mochiko sweet rice flour (about 11 ounces), plus more for rolling

  • 1 cup

    water

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ube extract (optional)

  • 1 cup

    unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. Place 1/4 cup white sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and light golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes.

  2. Transfer to a mortar and pestle, let cool, and coarsely crush. (Alternatively, let cool in the frying pan, then transfer to a zip top bag and coarsely crush with a rolling pin.) Transfer to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and stir to combine.

  3. Place 2 cups mochiko sweet rice flour and 1 cup water in a large bowl and knead until a smooth and pliable dough is formed (the mixture may look dry at first, but keep kneading until it comes together), 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. For an optional ube variation: Divide the dough in half. Add 1/4 teaspoon ube extract to one half and knead with gloved hands until evenly colored.

  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With mochiko-floured hands, divide the dough into 12 pieces (about 2 generous tablespoons each), and roll each portion into a ball. Place on the baking sheet, spacing them evenly apart. Flatten each ball with your palm into a 2-inch wide disc.

  6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, place 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut in a shallow bowl.

  7. Cook the discs in 3 batches: Add the discs one at a time to the boiling water and cook until they float to the top, about 4 minutes Using a slotted spoon, return the cakes to the baking sheet and gently blot up some of the moisture with paper towels (do not pat completely dry).

  8. Place the cakes in the coconut one at a time, tossing until well coated all over. Place on a serving dish in a single layer and sprinkle with the sesame seed and sugar mixture.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.