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Pandan Khanom Chan (Layered Rice Sweets)

Khanom Chan lie totally outside the Western dessert canon, and can be a refreshing change-up from more typical desserts. To the uninitiated, the texture's a surprise, like the chewy tapioca pearls in bubble tea or elastic balls of mochi. Its delicate flavor makes it great for serving with tea. And if you have any vegan gluten-free guests coming over while your oven is broken, you've got something to feed them.

Like some other Asian desserts, khanom chan is sugar syrup gelled with starch in the moist, low heat of a steamer. Khanom chan are typically made with several starches, most commonly glutinous rice flour (a very finely-ground powder made from sticky rice, which, despite the name, has no gluten) and arrowroot starch, which cooks quickly and gives gels a translucent appearance. I don't much care for arrowroot starch here, as it doesn't taste like much, so this recipe only uses glutinous rice flour. The longer steaming time and looser texture is more than made up for by the flour's subtle sushi rice flavor.

You can make as many thin layers as you like with this dessert. I opted for a simple two: a thick, creamy layer with coconut milk and a thinner, saltier layer based on pandan juice alone. Don't be afraid to go heavy on the salt here—a salty-sweet balance makes for excellent khanom chan.

This recipe is adapted from Appon's Thai Food, a great English language source for Southeast Asian desserts.

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