The Taste of Thai Dessert, Global Union’s International Week
By Amalia Safran ‘13
After any great meal, all you want is something sweet. It caps off that almost too full, you could be sick-to-your-stomach feeling, and brings a wave of satisfaction. Usually a little ice cream or a piece of chocolate does the trick, but what about a Siamese cupcake?
The Thai culture, rich with colors and flavors, has a cuisine that emulates its vibrant culture, and the Siamese cupcake does the same.
The Thai Student Association of Lehigh University presented The Taste of Thai Dessert in honor of Global Union’s International Week. In a cooking presentation led by graduate student Benjamaporn Wonganu, students learned the process of creating the simple yet tasty treat that is the Thai version of cupcakes.
One of the most essential ingredients in Thai cuisine is rice. It manages to find its way into or accompany almost every dish, including desserts. Using rice flour, sugar, milk, eggs, limejuice, baking soda, cake emulsifier and vanilla extract, the Siamese cupcake is created. For the presentation, Wonganu used ordinary cake flour instead. But, what makes the cupcake different from the traditional American cupcake is the way it is cooked.
Sitting on top of Wonganu’s cooking table was a large stainless steel Chinese steamer. Cupcake papers sat on top of porcelain dishes inside the steamer. Each paper was filled with the batter and boiled water was poured into the steamer. In just 20 minutes, fluffy cupcakes were ready to be eaten.
Traditionally, the cupcakes are also flavored and colored with food dye. Pandan leaf flavoring is common in Southeast Asian cooking and can be found in the cupcakes. The leaf comes from a palm-like tree that grows in tropical environments like Thailand. With just a few drops of the extract, the cupcakes had a distinct aroma from the pandan leaf flavoring. They are also usually dyed with yellow, pink and green food coloring, creating a pastel plate of small, fluffy desserts. Siamese cupcakes can be found all over Thailand, and it is common to find them on the streets and on the table for special occasions.
With Thai desserts, there are mainly three categories that the desserts fall into: egg-based, fruit-based and bean-based. Another egg-based dessert like the cupcakes is called “foi thong”, “thong” meaning gold, Wonganu explained. This sweet, angel-hair looking dessert is made for special occasions like weddings, because the long strands symbolize longevity and everlasting love. Made from egg yolks and condensed sugar spun together, the mixture turns into a stringy, crunchy bite. For fruit-based desserts, a common treat is the fruit cup. Thai cooking uses tropical fruits and coconut milk to create syrup that the pieces of fruit sit in, creating a sweet dessert. Bean-based desserts use green or red beans, which are boiled, then sugar is added and coconut milk is drizzled on top.
But students of the Thai Association unanimously said that their favorite and one of the most popular Thai desserts used a combination of bread, a condensed milk syrup and ice. Choat Inthawongs, a graduate student who ran the program, said that “cold bread” was similar to shaved ice and often eaten on warm days in the tropical area.
Far from Thailand, Bethlehem does have an Asian market on Stefko Boulevard, which has many of the ingredients Wonganu and Inthawongs mentioned in the cooking class. With the right ingredients, Thai desserts can be made and the finishing touches of a meal can be satisfied with the flavors and colors of Thailand.
Recipe for Siamese cupcake
Yields 40 small cupcakes
200 g rice flour (cake flour can be substituted)
1 cup sugar
¾ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 lime for juice
1 tsp. baking soda
15 g cake emulsifier
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
Food coloring (optional)
1. Mix eggs, emulsifier, whole milk, limejuice and sugar together with an electric mixer on the maximum speed. Mix until it becomes a while fluffy form.
2. Add rice (or cake) flour, baking soda and vanilla extract.
3. At this point you can add 5 drops of food coloring, or even divide the mixture up into sections and color each section separately.
4. Stir the mixture well.
5. The mixture should be thick but still fluid. Fill each paper or foil cup to just below the top. The mixture will expand during cooking.
6. Boil the water in a steamer. Then, place the cupcakes and steam them for 20 minutes. You can check they are cooked by sticking a toothpick or fork into the center and if it comes out clean it is cooked inside.
November 15, 2012