I often find the difference between buying and making an ingredient is the amount of respect we give it.
Making an ingredient allows us to understand its character and the process needed for producing it. The time, effort and energy involved in the creation of an ingredient affects how we are willing to use it. I find that when we make something we give it greater value than when we buy it. An unfortunate obstacle arises when we re-value items based on the effort we put into making them. In this case, rice cakes change from something easily accessible to something cherished and rare. We become unwilling to take the risks with our homemade ingredients because we don't want to waste them.
The hidden gem in the process of creating of our own ingredients is our ability to customize and manipulate the end results. To put our own signature on the plate and to gain an understanding of the process. When we go to the trouble of making an item that is readily available, we gain knowledge and develop respect for the product. We understand why it was mass produced in the first place. And then we get to mess with the whole thing, adding flavors and testing ideas that are not part of the original. We can try to make it even better.
I learned a lot in our first, really--our second, run of Korean rice cakes. The first run was a hot mess of sticky rice paste, an unworkable glue that caused laughter, frustration, and a face-palm "Why am I doing this?" reaction. We began our refinement in our second run. I learned that rolling rice cakes into beautiful logs takes more skill and more practice than a first attempt is capable of producing. Cooking, like writing, benefits from going beyond the first draft.
First Draft Korean Rice Cakes
350 grams sticky rice flour
3 grams salt
175 grams boiling water
Put the rice flour and salt into a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flour and use a rubber spatula to stir it into the flour and combine the mixture into a shaggy mass. Let it cool slightly about 10 minutes, until it is still hot but cool enough to handle. While the dough is cooling, prepare a large steamer and set it on the stove over low heat to warm up.
Use your hands to knead the shaggy mass into a smooth dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled plate and turn the heat up under the steamer. (In our picture you see we used parchment paper. That was a bad idea. The dough sticks to the parchment and then you have to spend meticulous minutes peeling the paper off the dough, hoping you get it all. Use a plate.) Once the steamer is going full blast, put the plate in the steamer and cook the dough mass on high steam for 25 minutes.
Remove the plate of dough from the steamer. Lightly coat a counter top with a neutral oil, we used avocado oil, and knead the hot dough. If the dough is too hot, let it cool to a workable temperature. Knead the dough into a silky mass and roll it into a nickel sized log. Cut the dough into 8-10" logs and let cool to room temperature. The rice cakes can be then cut into desired shapes or refrigerated and used later.