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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you’re done, enjoy the Sankaya with gusto.
* This also works great for artichokes.