Savory Sticky Rice Celebration Bundt Cake: Restaurant Cooking at Home

By Charleen - January 02, 2021

New Year 2021 started off rainy, but with high hopes for a better year, and perhaps by summer, a chance to reconnect with family and friends. I wanted our New Year dinner to link future hopes back to childhood memories. This delicious, stunning centerpiece entrée based on a recipe by Chef Yotam Ottolenghi fit the bill perfectly. It combines elements of several traditional Chinese sticky rice treats, both savory and sweet, into a new vegan interpretation redolent with the flavors of mushrooms, maple syrup-sweetened soy sauce and warming spices. I took it a few steps farther by substituting several of the ingredients in a nod to the Eight Treasure Rice dessert traditionally served at New Year, and cooked it quickly in an Instant Pot Bundt cake pan for a stunning and delicious meal. 

Shortcut to the recipe.   

Classic Sticky Rice Treats

As a child growing up, one of my all time favorite treats were the bamboo-leaf wrapped tetrahedral treats known as 粽子 Zòngzi, Joong, Chinese tamales or sticky rice dumplings among other things. My first memory of eating these hearty and satisfying hand-held meals was at the annual Lotus Festival in Los Angeles. These hearty delicacies, made by the Senior Citizens Association of Chinatown, were stuffed with lots of treasures including salted duck egg, chestnuts, dried shrimp, winter mushrooms, delectable braised pork, lotus seeds and probably other ingredients. Zongzi can be stuffed with either sweet red bean paste, as the ones made by my college roommate's mom, or a mix of savory ingredients that often includes a slightly fatty cut of pork, winter mushrooms and peanuts. They can be wrapped as a pyramid-shaped tetrahedral or an elongated oblong tetrahedral, skills difficult to master as the rice is wrapped in while still raw without the stickiness to help. To this day, the Lotus festival version stands out as the best I have had, both in the richness of ingredients, their size and the low price for such a filling meal. 
Shanghai style zongzi with pork filling

Sticky rice 糯米 is also known as glutinous rice. Glutinous refers to being sticky, like glue, in texture. While similar to the name of the wheat proteins collectively referred to as gluten, which comes from the same Latin root, glutinous rice is completely gluten-free.

We also occasionally enjoyed a lightly sweet dessert called 八寶飯 Bābǎofàn or Eight Treasure Rice Pudding. This is a beautiful dish of molded sticky rice topped with jewel toned dried fruits and nuts arranged in patterns, kind of like an upside down pineapple cake. Because 8 is an auspicious number in China, particularly for the Cantonese, a selection of 8 precious ingredients is a common theme.  

Click here to read about how I developed my recipe for Ba Bao Fan, using the same Instant Pot Bundt pan as for the Savory Sticky Rice in this post. 
Sticky rice bowls with homemade char siu pork, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, greens and peanuts.

On Chinese buffets and dim sum places, I discovered 糯米雞 Nuòmǐ jī. Translated literally as sticky rice chicken, this dish is more commonly known by its Cantonese pronunciation of lo mai gai or Chinese sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves into square bundles, instead of the bamboo leaves of its more northern cousin. Although chicken figures prominently in its name, this dish typically includes mushrooms and often bits of Chinese sausage and dried shrimp. In contrast to Zongzi, where the rice enfolds and encases the fillings so they are not obviously visible upon removal of the bamboo leaves, or Ba Bao Fan with its ordered pattern of treats on top, lo mai gai simply has all the ingredients mixed together. These can be steamed in small sticky rice bowls instead of being wrapped in lotus leaves, and I recently made a version using Chinese bbq char siu pork

My most recent sticky rice dessert discoveries come from Thai restaurants. Mango rice features a fresh slice of mango on top of white, mildly sweetened, coconut-infused glutinous rice. Even better, in my opinion, is the black sticky rice topped with a Thai pumpkin custard offered at the Red Orchid restaurant just north of Pittsburgh. 
Mango rice and black sticky rice with Thai pumpkin custard

Celebration Sticky Rice Cake

The Chinese have always been consummate omnivores, celebrating vegetables as well as meats. With such an array of naturally vegan, delicious options to choose from, it has been simple to incorporate more plant based meals into our diets for both health and planetary reasons. After enjoying a fantastic prime rib with roasted root vegetables for Christmas, I decided to google vegan holiday entrées. 

I considered the delicious, Gordon Ramsay-inspired strikingly pretty cauliflower steaks I have been making throughout the pandemic, but decided that had become almost like an everyday meal for us. I also skipped past the fat-laden pastry-wrapped mushroom Wellingtons given our current knowledge about how damaging margarine and other artificially modified fats are for heart health and how damaging palm oil is for the environment. 

So it was with great pleasure that I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi's vegan celebration sticky rice cake recipe. Like the sweet 8 treasures rice cake (Ba Bao Fan), which features an attractive pattern of food treasures on its top and is drizzled with a syrup from cooking the toppings, his celebration rice cake features a mushroom-chestnut topping cooked into the top of the cake and a moat of perfectly spiced mushroom gravy with a splash of green herbs on top. 

I took it a step further and decided to use my new fluted 7-inch bundt cake pan that I had bought to make rice and other dishes in my 6 quart Instant Pot, getting the idea from a fellow member of the Facebook Instant Pot® Community, who used it to steam plain white rice above shredded chicken stew. This 7-inch diameter x 3.27 inch high pan has a 6 cup capacity, so you could cook 2 cups of dry rice in it. 

First you soak the glutinous rice in lots of water until you can break a grain by pinching. After straining the rice, a set amount of water is added back.

Because I did not want my first try to overflow, and I was not used to cooking glutinous rice, I decided to use 1.5 cups of raw rice, or about 309 g, cutting all the ingredients (except the mushrooms) down to 3/4 to adjust. I had neither fresh oyster nor chestnut mushrooms (not sure what the latter is), so I decided to use a mixture of dried oyster mushrooms, dried Chinese winter mushrooms (shiitakes), fresh button mushrooms and fresh cremini mushrooms.  

After soaking 6-8 g each of oyster and shiitake mushrooms, I found they had expanded to 79 g in weight. Adding in all the fresh mushrooms I had, I ended up with only 364 g of mushrooms instead of the 580 g called for in the recipe. This resulted in plenty of extra mushrooms, so no need to struggle to get the weight called for. As with many Chinese dishes, a little more of this and a little less of that gives rise to fantastic results anyways.

I used walnuts instead of chestnuts, as I could not find any precooked chestnuts and my husband dislikes the moisture-sucking sensation of chestnuts. My Chinese chives had gone bad and I did not have pine nuts, so I simply omitted them, substituting some red onion for color.  So my eight treasures of flavor and texture boiled down to the four different types of mushrooms, plus walnuts, parsley, red onion and scallions.

Top left: After mixing the raw and rehydrated mushrooms with the sauce ingredients. Top right: Roasting for 15 min generates a lot of juice. Lower panels: The juices are strained into a saucepan and boiled to thicken into a delicious gravy. 

The dish is quite easy, involving soaking the rice for a few hours, draining and adding back the cooking water. Next you prepare the mushroom topping, which also generates the mushroom gravy. While the rice is cooking, you can thicken the gravy and chop the parsley salsa.

The topping is placed in the pan first, with the rice layered on top, and then the Bundt pan is steamed at high pressure for 15 minutes in the Instant Pot, followed by a 10 minute rest. 

The dish unmolded with ease to produce several compartments for a gravy moat, spooning extra mushrooms into the hole, and topping with the bright green salsa.
Savory Sticky Rice Celebration Cake

It was soooo delicious, pretty and festive.  In fact, I discovered that my two dogs loved the mushroom gravy.  Apparently they did not get the memo that it was vegan.

I will definitely be adding this dish to my repertoire -- looking forward to experimenting with different toppings! 

Love2Chow Savory Treasure Sticky Rice Celebration Bundt Cake
1.5 cup (~309 g) raw glutinous rice
6-8 g dry oyster mushrooms
6-8 g dry Chinese shiitake mushrooms
~285 g of fresh mushrooms
~70 g soy sauce
90 ml EVOO
2 Tbs tomato paste
45 ml maple syrup
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
150 g walnuts
10-15 g fresh parsley leaves
15 g finely chopped red onion
40 g EVOO
30 g lemon juice

1. Place rice in large bowl of cool water and allow to soak for about 4 h or overnight Place dry mushrooms in a medium bowl of cool water and allow to soak for 30 min, or until there is no chalky center when cut in half.

2. Preheat toaster oven to 450°F. Cut rehydrated oyster mushrooms into 2-3 cm pieces. Cut reydrated shiitake caps and fresh mushrooms into slices. Smaller ones can be quartered. Place all mushrooms into a glass casserole dish with relatively high sides. You do not want the mushroom juices to evaporate while it bakes. 

3. Gently stir in soy sauce, 90 ml EVOO, tomato paste, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and cumin. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt and 20 twists of a black peppercorn grinder.  Roast for 15 min.

4. Strain mushroom juices into a small saucepan and then return mushrooms to the baking dish. Roast for an additional 15 min, pour off any additional juices into the saucepan. Then add walnut pieces and return to oven for 5 more minutes until mushrooms are golden brown. Set aside.

5. Check if rice is ready by pinching a grain in half. There should be no chalky center. If rice is ready, drain away the soaking water and add 265 mls of fresh water and 3/4-1 tsp of salt.

6. Lightly oil the bundt pan.  Add about 2/3 of the mushroom mix and gently press down into the fluted top. Add rice and its water. Use a chopstick to poke 6 holes to the bottom of the pan to allow steam to escape.

7. Place 2 cups of water in the Instant Pot. Add a low trivet. Prepare an aluminum foil sling for the bundt pan, and lower it gently in the sling onto the trivet. Seal the Instant Pot and cook at High Pressure for 15 min. 

8. Meanwhile, mix the last four ingredients in a small bowl with 1/4 tsp salt and set aside. Put the saucepan on medium heat and gently boil the mushroom juices, whisking frequently, until thickened about 3 minutes. When the Instant Pot beeps that the 15 min at pressure is completed, allow the keep warm clock to count up to 10 minutes without disturbing. Then open the Instant Pot and use the foil to remove the bundt pan.

9. Invert a serving platter capable of holding a small amount of gravy at its base over the bundt pan, and carefully turn the whole unit over. Unmold the rice cake. Spoon warmed mushroom gravy into the center hole and around the edges of the rice cake to form a moat. If desire, spoon some of reserved mushroom topping into the center. Top with about 1/2 of the parsley mixture.  Serve the rice cake with additional mushroom topping and parsley mixtures on the side.

🐾 Be sure to strain the mushroom soaking water through two layers of dishcloth to remove any sand. It has a lot of flavor and can be used in place of broth or stock. If necessary, you can boil it down to concentrate it.  I keep a glass jar in the freezer and keep adding to it until the next time I want to make soup or ramen.

🍃 Once you have measured out the length of foil needed to form a sling to remove bowls and pans from the instant pot, you can let it dry and keep reusing it.

Modified Feb 8, 2022 to increase IP cooking time to 15 min, based on good results using 2 cups (400 g) of glutinous rice for Ba Bao Fan in a Bundt pan.


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