Thai Pumpkin Custard | Sankaya

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

This fall put Thailand on the table: steam sweet coconut custard inside tiny gourds.

Let’s be real: Give someone a single tiny gourd filled with custard and a spoon and they’re guaranteed to smile (And possibly love you forever).

Whether you use a squash or a pumpkin, Sankaya eats like a deconstructed pumpkin pie. The center of the gourd is filled with coconut custard, rich with egg and vanilla extract. As the steam heats the custard, the palm sugar and coconut milk butters the gourd’s tender, orange flesh from the inside. But unlike chilled pie, Sankaya is at it’s best a few clicks above room temperature.

Sankaya earns an A+ in the “fun for kids” department.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

My daughter and this tiger her nephew love helping in the kitchen.

The gourmet treat forgives wobbly hands and giggly attention spans. As long as most of the custard makes it into the pumpkin, this dessert is in good shape!

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

While the ingredient list is short, a few simple tips will keep you from a soggy pumpkin and raw custard. Here are the top 4 lessons I learned while experimenting with this steamed dessert.

Choosing the right gourd

Recipe for Thai coconut custard steamed in a pumpkin

Pumpkins are hard to cut.

I experienced pumpkin misery last year when I attempted to slice, carve, drop, slam my daughter’s pumpkin onto the cutting board to split it for roasting. I was sweating before I ever popped the four-pounder into the oven. Even then? It wasn’t pretty.

When it comes to ease of preparation, pumpkin doesn’t hold a candle to squash (unless it’s on the patio in which case pumpkin likely does hold a candle). But each has its benefits. I tried them all.

Recipe for Thai Pumpkin Custard

Clockwise from bird plate: long delicata squash, sweet dumpling squash, kabocha, and mini pumpkin.

Tiny pumpkins that fit in the palm of your hand have thinner shells, but even after steaming the outside remains challenging to slice (and often cracks under pressure). You can get away with it if you peel the shell away from your slice before serving. Otherwise, tiny pumpkins work best for single, self-contained portions. Just provide a spoon!

Kabocha squash is the traditional gourd the Thai use for this recipe. Kabocha slices much easier than pumpkin. But with tender flesh comes fragility – removing kabocha from the steam bath risks cracking unless you let the squash cool somewhat and have a plate at the ready before attempting the move. Don’t even bother with tongs – a cloth napkin and your hands are the best tools for this job.

Kabocha squash typically fill two palms and will take a good 15-20 minutes longer to cook than tiny pumpkins. To help the custard set quicker, cook the squash “lid” on the side.

Small squash, like sweet dumpling and delicata are even more tender than kabocha. Handle with care and wait to slice the dessert cools significantly. Bonus: the skin can be eaten.

50 Shades of sugar


Thai recipes use palm sugar shavings to make a creamy white custard. I realized too late that my palm sugar – long forgotten in the back of my spice drawer – had seen better days. I didn’t have time to run to the Asian market to pick up a new package. Good news: brown sugar makes a great substitute and doesn’t require dissolving in warm liquid. If you make your custard with brown sugar, expect a dusky caramel hue. Do 50-50 with granulated sugar for a color closer to tan.

Foil your plans


If you don’t have a specialty steamer basket that can accommodate multiple gourds, try lightly crumpled aluminum foil on the bottom of your pot. Magically, the crinkles don’t compress under the gourds, but rather keep them raised out of water.*

If the pumpkins are too tall to cover with a lid, use a second sheet of foil to seal the top and trap the steam.

As for trapped cats?

Place a chair by the door and they’re guaranteed to want out. Boom.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

Stay cool, be cool

Keep your fingers from burning – let the gourds cool 10-20 minutes before attempting to move or slice them. This also allows any excess gourd juices to redistribute and reabsorb into the pumpkins.

Recipe for Thai Coconut Custard steamed in a pumpkin

While you wait, why not collect some hay for your next hay ride?

Since we’re cooking Thailand this week, let’s make it rice hay.

"Rice farmers Mae Wang Chiang Mai Province" by Takeaway - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Rice farmers in Thailand gather rice straw after the harvest” by Takeaway.

When you’re done, enjoy the Sankaya with gusto.

Yum, yum.

pumpkin-coconut-custard-recipe-01 pumpkin-coconut-custard-recipe-02

Thanks, Thailand.


* This also works great for artichokes.

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Sankaya makes a wonderful sweet treat in the autumn. Provide one small pumpkin per person or slice up a larger squash to serve up to 6 people. Thai Pumpkin Custard | Sankaya
Servings Prep Time
3-6people 5minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45-60minutes 15minutes
Servings Prep Time
3-6people 5minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45-60minutes 15minutes
For the custard
  1. Cut the top of your pumpkin or squash. Scoop out seeds and discard.
  2. Whisk together all custard ingredients and pour into the gourds. Fill just below the top. Place the tops on smaller gourds or cook on the side for larger gourds.
  3. Steam for 45 minutes to an hour. The custard may appear jiggly - check with a toothpick to ensure it has set.
  4. Serve a little warm or at room temperature, slicing into wedges if desired.

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.


  1. thulerose says

    That looks so good, Sasha! I’m going to make it for my career reinvention book club on Sunday!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Wonderful! The question is, which squash/pumpkin will you use… decisions, decisions. 😉

  2. This looks very awesome, and the final pic of your daughter makes me believe it tastes as good as it looks!

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