For today’s easy Filipino recipe, I’m sharing how to make Kutsinta, the traditional Filipino rice cake or “kakanin” popular during celebrations and holidays.
Puto kutsinta is one of those treats that transports me to childhood. The warm, sweet smell of rice flour mingled with coconut takes me back to lazy Sunday mornings in the market. Growing up, we always enjoyed puto kutsinta after Sunday mass.
Puto kutsinta—soft and chewy rice cakes steamed in molds— represent comfort, family and tradition for Filipinos. It belongs to a vast pantheon of kakanin, the diverse native sweets made from rice, cassava, and other starches that are part and parcel of a traditional Filipino meal.
In an environment where grains like rice and corn have long been staple foods, it’s no wonder new desserts emerged when sugar became available. Puto, bibingka, sapin-sapin and more utilize simple local ingredients prepared with skill and care.
The technique of steaming rice cakes is thought to date back centuries in the Philippines. There’s a lot of argument about where the word comes from, ranging from our Malay ancestry to Spanish influence. (not the Spanish curse word though 😂). In Malay and Indian culture, “puttu” means portioned which is a probable root word. Some also say the name “puto,” is derived from the verb “putok” meaning “to swell,” which refers to how the moist batter puffs up inside the mold during steaming.
Cooking the Puto Kutsinta is very basic, really, so long as you have the right ingredients. But the addition of Yema Dip takes this basic puto kutsinta form and elevates it through the addition of condensed milk and butter which results in a complex butterry and caramel notes.
Now as a mother trying to teach my family about our food heritage, preparing puto kutsinta for my own daughter reconnects me with my culture. Hopefully one day these cakes will evoke for her the same feelings of joy, nostalgia and family that they do for me.
So if you’re looking for a simple, comforting dessert that also celebrates Filipino culture, I recommend putting puto kutsinta on your menu. The bounty of kakanin awaits—short eats with a long history, each with its own story to tell. I invite you to dive into this sweet world and discover new flavors that connect you to your roots.
To make this simple kutsinta, first combine rice flour, all-purpose flour and brown sugar in a bowl. Next add the water and annatto water (or powder if that’s what you have) and whisk until smooth. This will give your kutsinta the traditional orange color.
Now comes the secret ingredient – the lye water. Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, helps the batter rise quickly in the steamer without yeast. Just make sure to use only the specified amount and stir it in well.
Once the batter is combined, pour into your greased kutsinta molds. I find small tin cans or ramekins work well. It’s great to invest in molds that you can buy from the market or Lazada as you can use them a lot, not only for kutsinta but for puto and pichi pichi as well. Steam the molds over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tops are set when touched. See the notes on what to do to avoid wet kutsinta.
Remove from the heat and let cool slightly before turning out the kutsinta cakes onto a platter. Serve with grated coconut for sprinkling on top. Dip into the caramel “yema dip” for that aromatic, caramel-flavored kutsinta will transport you straight back to holidays in the Philippines!
I hope this easy recipe brings back sweet memories and help create special moments with your little ones. To get this kutsinta recipe along with other recipes and activities emailed to you, simply sign up for my newsletter below.