My Thai: Coconut cake

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

The ultimate Coconut cake recipe

The key to creating outstanding Thai food can be summed up in one word: balance. Whether it’s a creamy green curry, steaming soup neua or zingy som tam, all Thai dishes strive for that perfect balance of hot, sweet, sour and salty flavours, each one punchy without overpowering the others.

But while this delicate interplay runs through the expansive range of the nation’s dishes, Thailand’s culinary heritage is remarkably localised. Head north to the ancient cities of Lampang and Chiang Mai and the dishes you’ll encounter bear witness to the region’s relatively cool climate, with its mild seasonal food rich with bitter flavours. Further east, nearby Laos flaunts its culinary influence and, direct from the banks of the Mekong, freshwater fish dominates Isaan menus. Head for the beaches of the south and, unsurprisingly, seafood reigns supreme, while the chilli wields its might most heavily here too. And in Bangkok, the geography of the central plains, influences of the country’s predominate minorities and the wealth of the royal palace have all served to shape the local cuisine.

But what doesn’t vary, no matter which region you find yourself in, is the Thai people’s emotional connection to food. Wherever they’re found, these dishes signify history and heritage: a family recipe, created in the same way for generations, or a regional tradition, evolving with the twists and turns of geography and social history. The cult of food is an incredibly powerful theme to the Thai, for this is no fast-food cuisine: rich stocks bubble and simmer, patiently, for hours, while spices are pounded vigorously by hand, over and over, the better to draw out their complex flavours. And, come mealtimes, eating in Thailand is a communal affair, the food shared around the family table as the day’s tales unfold.

Make no mistake: in Thailand, it’s not just food. It’s a labour of love.


Khanom ba bin

The fragrance of coconut, the earthy sweetness of palm sugar and the richness of egg

come together in this innovative reinterpretation of a classic central-Thai sweet.

Source // Khun Tanongsak ‘Dtong’ Yordwai

Location // Nahm restaurant, Bangkok

The Thai word khanom is often translated as dessert, but in reality it is closer to a sweet snack, a titbit eaten on its own at any time of day or night. A classic example of the genre in central Thailand is khanom ba bin, coin-sized pancakes of batter and coconut meat.

Like other Thai sweet snacks, khanom ba bin most likely has its roots in special occasions and ceremonies, but today is ubiquitous, particularly in Ayutthaya, the formal royal capital located just north of Bangkok. ‘Khanom ba bin requires a lot of coconut, so it’s only available in the central plains and southern Thailand,’ explains Tanongsak ‘Dtong’ Yordwai, referring to regions of the country where coconuts are grown in abundance. In Ayutthaya, khanom ba bin are typically sold from stalls and mobile carts operated predominately by Muslim vendors. ‘The version sold on the street is crispy on the outside, brown and nutty,’ explains Chef Dtong. ‘They’re similar to French-style coconut macaroons, but I can’t say if they’re related.’

At Nahm, the Bangkok fine-dining restaurant where he oversees sweet dishes, Chef Dtong has decided to give khanom ba bin a unique twist. ‘The version we do here is baked,’ explains the chef. ‘It’s not part of our normal dessert menu; we serve it for special occasions, like a birthday cake.’ And in addition to cooking technique and presentation, Chef Dtong’s take on khanom ba bin is also novel in its ingredients. ‘This is a special recipe,’ explains the chef, ‘on the street, they would use white sugar, fewer eggs, more flour.’

Yet despite having played with the format of the dish, Chef Dtong chooses to maintain khanom ba bin’s characteristic consistency and flavour, the result of some unusual ingredients. ‘The dish includes arrowroot powder, for a sticky texture,’ explains Chef Dtong of the starch derived from cassava, a common ingredient in Thai sweets that should be available at a well-stocked Asian supermarket. 


Khanom ba bin

Serves 8

Preparation time: 1.5–2 hrs

Cooking time: 45 mins


120g (4 oz) glutinous rice flour

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp arrowroot powder

pinch of salt

120ml (4 fl oz) water

30ml (1 fl oz) coconut oil

300ml (½ pint) coconut cream, plus 2 tbsp for drizzling

250g (9 oz) palm sugar

350g (12 oz) finely grated fresh mature

coconut (about 2 coconuts)

350g (12 oz) shredded young coconut (about 2 coconuts)

3 large eggs

In a large bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot and salt. Stir in the water and knead together. Cover with cling film and allow to rest for at least an hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and grease a 25cm round or rectangular tin with the coconut oil.

3. In a medium saucepan over a low heat, combine 180ml (6 fl oz) of the coconut cream and the sugar and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

4. Stir together the coconut cream mixture and the flour mixture then strain through a sieve into a large bowl. Add both the shredded coconuts, the eggs, one at a time, and the remaining 120ml coconut cream, stirring to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, drizzle with the 2 tablespoons of coconut cream and bake for 45–60 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

‘The version sold on the street is crispy on the outside, brown and nutty, similar to a French-style coconut macaroon.’

‘Dtong’ Yordwai

FromTheSource_Thailand_cvr RGB150dpi

Recipe and extract taken from  Lonely Planet’s From the Source – Thailand (£19.99; out now)

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