I know. I write the following five words too often, but here I go again:
According to Sharon Tyler Herbst, these are classic Thai cookies known as tong ek. A little internet research early this morning tells me these probably are not quite the same as the tong ek or golden stars (the one translation that makes sense, so I’m clinging to it — do correct me if you know better) one would encounter in Thailand. Those appear to be flourless, and consist primarily of ground nuts, coconut milk, sugar and possibly an egg, and whatever else might make them gel after stovetop cooking, enabling the mixture to be pressed into a mold and hold its shape once released. And the shape, although it varies from region to region, is as beautiful and intricate as one might expect to find when surrounded by the colors and structures of Thailand. And I hear a flake of gold leaf might be pressed into the top too. Exotic as can be.
Now, to Ms. Herbst’s version, which has appeared in various forms in different western recipe sources, and that uses an oven. And flour. The recipe gives directions for making coconut milk (more on that in a bit) and calls for that ingredient to be combined with butter, brown sugar and egg yolks, as well as finely ground toasted cashews, flour, baking powder and a little salt. After dropping the batter in little mounds on cookie sheets (no intricate molding here), I pressed a whole toasted cashew into the top of each for a slightly more humble crown than gold leaf, and baked. Light, sweet and delicately scented with coconut and cashew, they are little mouthfuls of deliciousness.
Coconut milk, the most exotic ingredient listed, is relatively easy to make as Ms. Herbst describes it. In a saucepan, combine a cup of unsweetened flaked coconut with half a cup of water, while stirring bring it to a simmer, then cover and remove from heat, and let the mixture steep for half an hour. Using a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, strain the contents of the saucepan, pressing on the coconut with the back of a spoon, and voilà! It yields about half a cup of creamy coconut milk. Ms. Herbst also says that a more creamy version can be made using cow’s milk instead of water, but I think what this process creates is quite creamy enough. At least it is enough for this cookie recipe. She also says that grated fresh coconut would be a more authentic ingredient for the process. However. Have you seen my backyard lately? I cannot imagine a fresh coconut wandering into this part of the world any time soon.