à ma recherche de temps perdu

Kanomkai

When the Portuguese arrived in what was then the Kingdom of Ayudhya (the predecessor to the Kingdom of Siam, which is Thailand now) in the early 1800’s, they brought with them many culinary techniques that would remain until today in Thai cuisine. Perhaps the strongest influence was in dessert making, where Foy Thong, Thong Yip, Thong Yod, and other desserts made with egg yolks cured or cooked in syrup remain in the forms recognizable even in today’s traditional desserts in Portugal and some parts of Spain.

The Portuguese also left a primitive form of oven baking with the Thai, as seen in this particular dessert in the photo above. It’s called Kanom Kai (Kanom means, simply, desserts, in Thai, and Kai means eggs). It’s made of egg and sugar, beaten together into a cake-like batter, then baked in a cast iron pan with ridges (like the back side of a Madeleine). The pan is heated over a charcoal fire, with more smoldering charcoals filling the lid of the pan, providing heat from bottom and above.

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The proper Kanom Kai relies on the freshness of the eggs and uses no
other leavening or artificial scents. The best ones, looking like oversized Madeleines, are ethereal, baked until the bottom forms a crust
that is almost crispy, tasting of caramelized sugar and fresh eggs and
nothing else. Frankly, I haven’t had a good version of them for a long
while. Kanom Kai is getting harder to find, as it is fighting a losing
battle with other newly arrived, fanciful desserts. The ones that are
around these days use baking powder and fake vanilla scent, and taste
like nothing I remember from way back when.

I still can’t help stopping in my track every time I see these Kanom Kai. When I was little I just adored them. I remember staring
in amazement at the pan doing its magic, transforming wet batter
into delightful little cakes, before buying a bag and running home.
Invariably I wouldn’t make it half way back before I broke open the bag
and ate a few, all the while skipping happily, ignoring the protest
from my nanny that eating on the run was not what proper little girls
do.

These days, when I see them, I would buy a bag, take a bite, and sigh
with disappointment. The ones in the picture above were no exception.
Oh well, at least watching them being made brought back some lovely memories.

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14 Responses to “à ma recherche de temps perdu

  • Matthew Bowden said:
    February 2nd, 2006 at 2:52am

    They look heavenly. Its making me hungry.

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande said:
    February 2nd, 2006 at 6:18am

    So funny and coincidental, my theme today is the them
    A la recherche du temps perdu : Madeleines au thé Matcha – Matcha Tea Madeleines
    http://www.beaskitchen.com/blog/2006/02/02/a-la-recherche-du-temps-perdu-madeleines-au-the-matcha-matcha-tea-madeleines/
    These look interesting!!

  • slurp! said:
    February 2nd, 2006 at 6:51am

    Pim,
    That’s a interesting history. That prompt me to search for Kanom kai. Did you have yours Thonburi City?? I read that’s the originating place of Kanon Kai (Egg Bakery)? thanks!
    Do typepad have the word verification feature? When enabled, readers will have to enter a short random word before they are able to post up their comments. I think this feature helps alot.
    p.s: was hoping you will have Khao chae coming up soon 😛

  • French Toast said:
    February 2nd, 2006 at 8:49am

    A Thai madeleine ? For the huge Proust fan I am, this sounds like quite a discovery. Thanks !

  • Lil said:
    February 2nd, 2006 at 10:41am

    oh yes, this is absolutely yummy… very light and literally melt in the mouth…

  • alb said:
    February 4th, 2006 at 8:35pm

    In the Philippines, this is the similar method of cooking for our beloved bibingka, a a sweet rice cake. Street vendors cook it in this makeshift “double-fired oven” which consists of a clay stove filled with hot charcoal, where the pan with rice batter sits, and a cast-iron container filled with hot charcoal is placed on top of the pan.
    Eaten year-round, but especially during the Christmas holidays when street vendors hawk them outside churches. The traditional beverage to wash it down is hot pandan tea.

  • ben and jojo said:
    February 5th, 2006 at 5:03am

    hello pim, i write to you from paris. i thought you might like to know about the new flavour at bertillion: fleur de lait.
    c’est si bon! it taste like baby cows scampering about a mountain top. and it smells exactly like freshly boiled milk.

  • Austin said:
    February 5th, 2006 at 11:45pm

    Interesting topic, reminds me of our conversation! The Portuguese contributed so much to SE Asian cooking, but actually came to Thailand in the late 16th century, much earlier than you suggested.

  • Pim said:
    February 13th, 2006 at 1:06am

    Matthew: They used to be great. I haven’t found a good one in a long time, but my search continues.
    Bea: That is funny, and certainly coincidental. Your matcha madeleines look good!
    Slurp: No, that photo was taken at Don Wai market about 30 minutes outside of Bangkok. Khao Chae is coming up soon, soon, I promise.
    French Toast: I will definitely blog about this more when I find some good ones!
    Lil: The great ones are, absolutely.
    Alb: The bibingka sounds good, and the pandan tea even better!
    ben and jojo: baby cows scampering about a mountain top? I might have to give this ice cream a try next time I’m in Paris just to see what you mean!
    Austin: Yeah, you should get that book going man! But hey, what’s with a century or two, huh?

  • anthony said:
    February 14th, 2006 at 4:48pm

    The Portugese are definately the foodie’s choice for colonialism. They’re pretty much responsible for brinking bread to Japan. The city of Nagasaki (the foreigner exclusion zone of the era) is still favoured for a kind of dense sweet sponge cake called theCastella Cake. I believe they’re also responsible for the Chinese custard tart (happy to be corrected on that one).

  • Austin said:
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:41am

    Hi Pim,
    I realize this is an old post, but I just recently posted something at RealThai that discusses some of the sweets you’ve mentioned here, as well as the Portuguese influence on Thai food in general. It’s here: http://realthai.blogspot.com/2006/04/thai-day-luso-siamese-synergy.html

  • Karla Pengsagun said:
    July 30th, 2007 at 9:36am

    Hi Nong Pim,
    I just found this searching on Kanom Kai, where to find it in Bangkok, Thonburi:
    “Apart from the Catholic Church founded by the Portuguese, another heritage of this area is the bakery called ‘Kudee Jeen bakery’ or some call ‘Kanom Kai’ (egg bakery). The main recipe of this bakery is eggs which is different from original Thai desert. There is no egg included in Thai desert. Sugar is also scattered on top of some egg deserts…. And since it’s a common desert in the community, you can easily get it anywhere. But once you exit the community or just cross back to Pak Kiong Talad, you can hardly find it.”
    http://farang.pai-nai.com/article.php?story=20050625234313303

  • Dissertation Abstract said:
    October 21st, 2009 at 3:12am

    Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

  • agoodic said:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 12:44am

    hello pim, i write to you from paris. i thought you might like to know about the new flavour at bertillion: fleur de lait.
    c’est si bon! it taste like baby cows scampering about a mountain top. and it smells exactly like freshly boiled milk.
    touch screen mp3 player

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