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.
Pandan Khanom Chan (Layered Rice Sweets) Recipe
- 10 pandan leaves, chopped, or 2-3 tablespoons natural pandan extract
- 4 cups water, divided
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 4 cups (1 pound) glutinous rice flour, divided
Place pandan leaves and 2 cups water in blender and blend on high until water is deep green and pandan is pulverized, about 2 minutes. Strain into saucepan, making sure to remove all pulp. Add remaining two cups water. If using extract, just combine with water in saucepan. Add sugar and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat.
Divide rice flour equally into two large bowls, adding last 1/2 teaspoon salt to one. In other bowl, pour in coconut milk and 2 1/4 cups pandan syrup. Add remaining syrup to bowl with salt. Whisk both mixtures until no flour is visible and lumps are smoothed out.
Pour coconut milk batter into baking pan and place in steamer. (I use a wok with some ramekins to prop up whatever vessel I'm steaming in, covered tightly with aluminum foil.) Steam until gel is mostly set and a skin forms, about 45 minutes, then slowly add second batter evenly across the pan. Steam until both gels set, another 1 3/4 hours.
Chill in refrigerator overnight. The next day, cut into small squares or thin slices and serve. Keep remainder covered in pan and refrigerated.
steaming rig, 9 by 9" baking pan, blender