From time to time there are specialty dishes that are difficult to find on most menus — not because they are unpopular, but because of the attention and care required to get everything just right.
The Thai treat, kanom krok (also spelled khanom krok), is one of those dishes.
Kanom krok are sweet-savory cups of rice flour filled with custardy coconut cream, which is often topped with savory elements such as scallions, corn, taro, or pumpkin. According to Beau Thai sous chef Nicha Thongpanchang royalty would often enjoy them with shrimp.
Translated, the phrase means “candy mortar”. The candy refers to a broad range of sweeteners, while the mortar refers to the cup-like base in a mortar and pestle set, not the artillery.
In Thailand, they are usually served by street vendors, who stack the little cups on top of each other to form flattened spheres that look almost like macarons. Kanom krok can also be found in Bangladeshi, Laotian, and Indonesian cuisines.
Beau Thai co-owners Ralph Brabham and chef Aschara Viggsittaboot decided to add kanom krok to the Bangkok Street Brunch menu after Brabham tried the dish for the first time at the Songkran Festival at the Wat Thai temple in neighboring Silver Spring, Md.
“It was the perfect mix of sweet and savory that works well at brunch," he said.
Thongpanchang explains that when they first started serving kanom krok at Beau Thai they used a specially made cast iron pan with half circle indentations, which was heated and greased. To speed the process they eventually switched to a takoyaki pan. A Dutch ebelskiver (donut) pan may also be used by some kitchens.
Once preheated, a warm batter of rice flour, coconut, and sugar is squirted into the pan to form the cups and the crisp outside. After this cooks for a little while, a second sweeter batter of coconut cream and rice flour is squirted on top, and topped with scallions. It is covered with foil to finish cooking.
The biggest challenge is controlling the heat level — too hot and the outside burns, too cool and the outside won’t crisp properly. Kanom krok also require constant attention and vigilance. Even with sufficient oiling, it can be tough to get the kanom krok out intact.
The ideal result is a perfectly crisp outside and a creamy middle.
For those looking for kanom krok during the weekdays, a version without scallions or other savory toppings appears on the dessert menu at Baan Thai (1326 14th St. NW). Or keep an eye out for Songkran festivals in April at Wat Thai and other local Thai Buddhist temples, where vendors specializing in kanom krok can often be found.