Tong ek

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.

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About pattiblaine

Raised under the name of Snyder in the upstate NY town of Vestal, I've worked as a typesetter, a fast food salad bar tender, an art reviewer, a waitress, a part-time nanny, and a very-bad-with-phones temp. Once upon a time I was all-but-thesis toward a Masters in Art History. Now I'm just a mom with a lot of fiber squirreled away throughout the house. We call it insulation. In 2013 I completed a life-long learning program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and am a postulant toward the diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY. In addition to coordinating volunteers for the soup kitchen, I volunteer as a tutor at a deeply impoverished city elementary school, and am a docent at the Memorial Art Gallery.
This entry was posted in Extracurricular, On the fly (aka from a mobile device), The Joy of Cookies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tong ek

  1. Canned coconut milk is a staple in my pantry–I confess, I would just open a can and use the amount needed, reserving the rest in a jar for use later.
    In nyc the price of canned coconut milk varies.. a 12 oz can might cost as little as $1.29 or as much as $3.49! (and dried unsweeten coconut flakes are harder to find… or were– now they are a bit easier)–Joy of Cooking suggest just poring boiling water over the coconut flakes, puree in a blender, and letting them steep.. and the straining through cheese cloth (which is squeezed to extract all of the liquid.) I like the cheese cloth method–the pulverized coco meat is pretty flavorless–but it makes a good meal (flour/meal) to add to other things… (like say cookies)

    As for grated fresh coconut–step 1 is the nut (and you might find a fresh coconut in a well stocked gourmet store, even at this time of year) but the classic tool for shredding the meat? it looks like a torture devise paired with a mechanical apple pealer and wool/ball winder!
    A crank at one end, and huge semi circular serrated blades at the other! You hold the half coconut against the semi circular blades, and crank away (the motion of the blades is complex–more like a ball winder than an apple pealer) They make quick work of shredding the meat. (I like coconut, and at one point in the past, considered buying one of the machines.) with out the machine, grating 1 coconut is an all day activity–what with cracking the shell, prying out the meat, and pealing it, and grating it!

    ON some show on PBS–they showed a man preparing coconut meat to extract the oil.. he was able to shred about 1 (2 halves) of a coconut in less than a minute using a similar machine.

    • pattiblaine says:

      Very interesting, Helen! One reason given for making your own coconut milk is that it consists of two ingredients. I’m not sure what is in the canned version as I’ve never bought it. I was amazed by how creamy the milk was. It sat for a bit before I used it and it separated, which was also kind of interesting… to me anyway! Thanks for the machine description.

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