This weekend I attempted to replicate a popular Thai street food at home, Khanom khrok ขนมครก (literally mortar-shaped snacks). I drastically underestimated how easy this would be, especially since I was using a pre-mixed powder from Thailand. Using the cooking vessel effectively is by far the most challenging issue with cooking these savory treats. That requires getting the pan seasoned properly so that the little cakes don’t stick and get burned into the cups. Another consideration is to get the batter and topping consistencies right.
If you haven’t had these before, khanom khrok consist of 3 elements in each cup: a thin batter on the bottom made from thin coconut milk (2nd extraction), and a mix of rice and other flours, a filling of coconut custard made from thick coconut cream, sugar, and salt, and usually some sprinkled toppings. My favorite are the kind with finely chopped scallions, but in Thailand you can find these with cubed taro, kernels of corn, and candied things.
After a few hours of frustrating experimentation (it takes a long time to scrub burnt-on cake particles out of the pan’s little cups) I finally produced a few batches of passable kanom. My biggest consolation from this experience is that the next time I try to use the pan it should be seasoned enough so that they won’t stick.
I began my process with going to the market with the intention of stocking up on all the ingredients to make this from scratch. After I saw they had a pre-mixed powder from Thailand, I decided that might save a lot of time (original recipes require resting the batter for some hours). I did pick up one unique ingredient though, that you out there might be looking for: Lime paste (ปูนแดง). In Thailand a pinch of this pink powder is soaked, and that water is used in the batter mix to make the cakes more crispy. This lime powder is also an ingredient in chewing betel nut, so if you visit a Southeast Asian market you might find this together with those items.
The night before I started, I chose to season my pan by the traditional method of filling the cups with freshly grated coconut and heating it low and slow until the oil is absorbed into the pan.
In my case, it didn’t work. As I hinted above, my first several cake batches were all completely fused into the cups. As I experimented, I just kept adding more oil with each batch, until the cakes didn’t get stuck any more.
Here are some words of advice on making these (better).
1. Make sure your pan is hot enough. I used medium/low heat, and the cakes cooked in just over 5 minutes. The pan is cast iron and takes some time to get up to temperature.
2. Make sure your batter is mixed well. It quickly settles.
3. I only poured batter in about 1/2 the cup. After you do a quick round of pouring, you can swirl the pan to make the batter climb up the sides a little bit. That will also help with the next step, of keeping the topping from touching the pan’s surface.
4. Use just enough topping to top each little cake, without letting it run into the pan. The topping, with its sugar, will stick.
5. After you sprinkle your ingredients and notice a healthy browning of the cake bottoms, cover the pan and let it steam for a few minutes. This should also help to loosen the cakes a bit.
6. Tease the cakes out by using a spoon or a small knife to go around each cake. If the pan is seasoned properly, the cake will come loose.
7. Enjoy them while they’re hot!