Well, homebodies. This pandemic isn’t letting up any time soon. We’ve smoothed out the supply chain wrinkles that were causing things like flour and yeast shortages and people are gradually shifting away from “panic buying” and other habits somewhat tantamount to hoarding certain food items. For the millions of single people quarantining alone though?
Judging by my Twitter feed, we’re either cooking every single meal from scratch or have gotten so sick of cooking that we’re single-handedly keeping Grubhub and Doordash in the black.
Me personally, I keep using those nice coupons I get every weekend to place a big pick-up order at my local Indian joint. They make this delicious vegetable and yellow split pea curry that I can easily get three meals out of, especially if I order an extra side. I’ve tried time and again to make various Indian dishes at home, and they’re the kind of epic fails that make the Juicero look like the paragon of Silicon Valley investments. So I stick to ordering out to minimize headaches and the time suck, plus having to buy 12,000 different ingredients that will celebrate multiple birthdays before they’re even halfway used and/or wind up rotting before I can use them all. *sigh* When will food manufacturers start making things in Single Person Size?
And every time I get my warm and filling vegetable curry, it always comes with this big container of rice. Which most of the time, winds up going uneaten.
I’m about to duck several projectiles from Twitter food purists upon saying this, but I’m just not that into rice. It’s less about the taste and more a sensory thing that drives me up the frigging wall. Not ALL “squishy” foods, but if it’s there a certain squish quotient, it makes my brain explode. I don’t know why. IT JUST DOES. I prefer crunchy and chewier textures, and rice just doesn’t do it for me as a side dish. My family dubbed me a “breaditarian” as a child, and it kinda stuck in adulthood as I love everything about bread and breadmaking. Give a girl something she can sink her teeth into, come on!
Also, rice is SUCH a pain in the ass to prepare. Make fun allll you want about how I’m in my mid-thirties and can’t cook rice without scorching the bejesus out of it: I think it’s too much effort for a reward that’s just not worth it. So I just don’t really keep bags of rice at home. I have one small bag of Carolina brown rice I rarely go into. Because what do you DO with all this rice as a single person?! It’s like the skirt suit of the grain aisle; that shit will expand to three times its size upon making contact with water and as I’m feebly entering water, dry rice, and butter or oil measurements into the Google search bar trying to come up with a ratio that works for just 1-2 servings, it’s all for naught: I know if I put that rice in the pot, even if I add extra water and use heat low enough to barely warm up an iguana habitat, I’ll be scraping burnt pieces of rice off of the bottom of the pan then letting it sit in the sink overnight, where I’ll inevitably be pulling gross, wet pieces of burnt rice out of the sink strainer and wondering why I bothered when I could’ve just held onto the rice that comes with my takeout orders by placing it in the freezer.
So yeah, that brings me to the point of this article: what does one do with leftover rice if you have no choice but to make this gigantic pot of it, or this gigantic batch if you’ve got a rice cooker or something like an InstantPot? Or in my case, you have this one takeout container that you receive every time without fail even you offered to pay an upcharge to get extra naan instead?
There’s tons of food blogs offering suggestions, and trusted cooking sites like Kitchn and The Food Network which tell you the possibilities are endless now that you’ve done the hard part and gotten this rice already cooked.
Risottos sound lovely, but then you still need tons of ingredients I never have in the house. I have a shitty bachelor kitchen, my dude. This particular apartment layout was literally designed for traveling salesmen. My trusty dump in The Bronx served me well all these years, but a tiny NYC apartment is meant to be appealing for all the time you spend outside of it, something that the pandemic sucked all the fun out of. I’ve gotten a decent amount of baking done here and some incredibly simple food prep, but my weird trapezoid layout with zero counter space isn’t exactly Barbie’s Dream Kitchen.
So I looked at some of Kitchn’s suggestions, since I also like the visual cues they provide. It’s not just fun from a food styling standpoint, but how many of us actually own kitchen scales? And I hate you forever if you post measurements in both grams and ounces. HOW MANY FREAKING TABLESPOONS DO YOU USE! While the scale can still be hard to discern for some things, like how big that bowl of mushrooms is, finding out exactly how many individual carrots, onions, and celery stalks you need for that chicken and rice soup is a nice and helpful visual aid.
But while I appreciate the effort on Kitchn’s part, my executive dysfunction was kicking in: none of the recipes appealed to me because they contain things I won’t eat, like chicken, or just seem utterly appealing from a textural side: eww, it’s so squishy but oh god, I have to do SOMETHING with this rice before it inevitably winds up in the garbage. I feel bad for wasting it, especially with so many people going hungry right now, but I can’t just give it to someone since we’re in the middle of this deadly pandemic at the time of writing and that’s pretty suspect. Even if we weren’t though, wouldn’t you be weirded out by your neighbor randomly knocking on the door saying “Dude, want this little container of plain basmati rice? I swear, I never opened it and I keep getting it with every order, and didn’t want to throw it out!”
That might fly if you share your household with somebody else and they’ll happily eat it, but whether you’re resource-rich or struggling right now, this is a really sucky time to be quarantining alone.
So I thought maybe there was a dessert I could make with this container of rice that keeps showing up every week. I was greeted by 10,000 rice pudding recipes.
Some of them are vegan, you can make a slurry out of cornstarch and water or almond milk then let it heat up if you don’t use dairy. But even though I virtually never have dairy milk at home, something about rice pudding just did not excite me. Pfft, if I’m going to splurge on empty calories, it better be good dammit. Rice pudding can have a pleasant taste, especially if you get lots of cinnamon and whipped cream on it, but it still seemed unappealing based on the texture.
Suddenly, I recalled how my favorite panaderia in Jackson Heights with their wide selection of pan dulce had these delectable treats that were sort of like oblong Pop-Tarts, full of sweet sticky rice in the middle and with a light coating of cinnamon sugar on the outside. With no room to really roll out pastry dough, and no desire to make any, I put a pin in that idea but decided to retool it.
So I decided, screw Google results: I’m going to make my own recipe!
I figured I’d experiment since I am fortunate to have plenty of baking ingredients on hand, I get this container of rice with my vegetable curry every week, and I could always try again if I really wound up with something inedible. I did it all in the name of content creation and well, it’s lockdown. It’s not like I have anything better to do right now.
Baking a cake would simply mean that I work with what I got, and adapt it as needed. I’d need my nice carby base with the rice and some flour, an egg or egg substitute like ground chia or flax seed for binding, butter or oil for taste and texture, salt and baking powder for leavening, some kind of liquid to thin out the batter, and the right flavorings followed by temperature, time, and pan size.
Here’s how my first attempt came out!
It has crispy edges and a super soft center that is thoroughly baked all the way. Not high and fluffy like those eye-popping birthday cakes on Instagram, but in terms of taste, it’s more like a fortune cookie but in cake form. It’s better than cake mix cakes and whips up in seconds. And all you need is a food processor and a spatula! No doing things in 2-3 separate bowls. No, this is a cake for the lazy. You throw everything in the food processor and hope for the best.
Maybe you’ll add your own unique touch to it. Extra flavoring, or maybe using something like lemon extract instead? Why not. Frosting? The sky’s the limit, dollface. We’re under lockdown, you go add as much frosting as you want, you deserve it. Pieces of fruit to bake inside it? It’s your cake with your leftover rice. YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT WITH IT. Make it as Pinterest-worthy or Cursed Image as you please!
Rachel’s Leftover Takeout Rice Cake
- One takeout container of plain, white rice (basmati, short grain, any will do), which is approximately 1 ½ cups of rice that’s already been cooked
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, or margarine/vegan butter substitute if dairy-free
- 1 egg, or egg substitute like a “flax egg”
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ tablespoon baking powder
- ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Dairy or vegan milk, see directions below
- Preheat the oven to 375℉.
- Grease a 9” x 9” baking dish with cooking spray, I use Pam for baking that has flour in the spray and always get amazing results!
- In the bowl of a food processor, throw in the rice and flour first, then add all of the other ingredients EXCEPT the milk.
- Pulse a few times until a shaggy dough begins to form.
- Run on low or medium speed until the ingredients all come together, but be careful not to over-mix. A shaggy, pasty dough should be staring up at you from the bowl.
- Add some milk (I used plain almond milk) to the dough. I didn’t provide a measurement for this because everyone’s ingredients vary so much; flour differs from manufacturer to manufacturer and you might be using more or less rice than what I get in my takeout containers. It’s always a good idea to hold the liquid back and only add it gradually because you don’t want to add too much! Just add enough milk to thin out the dough a little, it should be like the consistency of hummus or toothpaste– you need to scrape it out the food processor bowl with a spatula, but it’s not tough like cookie dough or runny like pancake batter.
- Scrape your thicc AF cake dough out of the food processor bowl and into your greased pan. Get it all in there nice and smooth, run it over with a rubber scraper or an offset spatula if you want a nice smooth top. Or don’t; I’m not Gordon Ramsey and won’t care.
- Bake the cake for 35 minutes or until the edges are crisp, golden, and have pulled away from the pan’s edges.
- Let cool in the pan for a bit before transferring to a wire rack, or straight to a cutting board if you also don’t have room for those things in your kitchen.
- Descend upon it like a toad does to a mealworm!
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.