Thai desserts have become my main heart throb, my raison d’être…after my lovely boyfriend of course! Every time I come to Bangkok now, I make a beeline straight to the back of Nahm’s kitchen. My good friends Pi Pat and Pi Ta welcome me back with squeals and semi-hugs (Thai’s don’t hug) and they ask me what I would like to learn this time.
I spend most of my time in the pastry section watching, taking notes and getting my hands messy. Thai’s use their hands to mix batter and to scrunch the herbacious notes from pandan leaves into eggs. Where we would use a whisk or a mixer, they use their hands. It’s such a wonderful feeling to cook and touch the food you are working with–to be wrist deep in what you’re producing. To take the whisk or spoon out of the picture allows you to connect with what you are making.
I remember eating in India and learning to use my right hand as you would a fork or spoon. To forsake silverware is to eat like you’ve never eaten before. You taste your food simply and it’s so satisfying to eat (like a classy toddler).
Cooking is the same.
Thais also believe that when making a dessert, or a curry for that matter, it is necessary to stir the pot in one direction. I remember a few times back when I was put in charge of making a sticky, clingy, gooey dessert on the stove top, and I was attacking the bubbling pot with wild stirring movements. I was scraping and churning and reversing and attacking the blob with all my strength. Pi Pat came over and gently took my paddle away and instructed that I stir in one direction, and one direction only. Over the years I’ve come to read in many recipe books, and have been told by many Thais, that yes, you must stir in only one direction. Whether there’s any merit to it, I’m not sure. But I’ll follow along because so far Thai food has never let me down.
Yesterday I went into the kitchen to learn how to make khanom waan doc jork, or crispy flower pastries. Pi Hua, the tiniest and most gentle woman in the kitchen, whispered and giggled instructions to me in half English, half Thai.
3 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 T salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut cream
2 egg yolks (chicken)
1 cup lime water (made from limestone paste)
4 T each black and white sesame seeds, toasted
Place a shallow pan of oil (rice bran or unflavored oil), at least 2 inches high, over high heat and add the flower molds to the pot. Let the oil heat while you are making the batter.
Put the first four ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hand. Slowly add the coconut cream and stir. Begin to kneed the dough. Add the two egg yolks and continue to kneed.
Once the flour has pretty much formed a dough, add a small amount of lime water to form a springy dough. Kneed for a few minutes. Add the rest of the lime water and stir until a thin batter is formed. It will be thinner than pancake batter but thicker than crêpe batter.
Add some of the batter to a small bowl that holds roughly a cups worth of the mixture. Add about a half tablespoon of the sesame seeds to the batter and stir. Have a separate plate lined with several paper towels, used for blotting. Have two long skewers or chopsticks at hand for pulling the pastries out of the oil.
Have a sheet tray lined with paper towels ready. You will need tiny inverted bowls to drape the flowers over if you want them to open up and ‘blossom’. If you don’t happen to have miniature bowls, we played around with cutting veggies into convex shapes, wrapping them in foil, and using them in the same manner. This works too!
Once the oil is very hot and shimmering, remove one of the molds from the oil, blot quickly and dunk immediately in the batter, coming just up to the top of the mold, but not submerging. Shake off the excess batter and then return the mold to the oil, holding it just under the surface and not touching the bottom of the pan. After about 10 seconds of frying, jiggle and shake the mold while still in the oil (carefully) to loosen the batter. Shake it free!
Let the mold heat up again and in the meantime use a second mold to repeat the process.
Once the flower is light golden brown, flip it over with your skewer. Allow the top side to turn golden as well. It takes about 2-3 minutes total in the oil. Once the flower is golden, flip back over and skewer through the middle. Lift from the oil, shaking off the excess, and carefully drape the pastry over the inverted bowl, pressing down on the sides to open up the flower.
Repeat the process, using more batter and more sesame seeds as needed.
These flowers are shatteringly crispy, lightly sweet and nutty. They pair perfectly with a creamy Thai dessert, or in my head, I’d enjoy it with my morning coffee.