These steamed cupcakes (khanom pui fai) come in vibrant colours and, as they cook, they ‘smile’ by bursting open at the top, like a crown. This ‘smiling’ is meant to symbolise growth, making them an auspicious Thai treat to serve when there is something to celebrate. The batter is usually spiked with jasmine extract – just a splash – to add an exotic note. But rosewater, vanilla or pandan extract will also work. This recipe only makes a small amount, as all the cupcakes need to fit in the steamer and should really be eaten straightaway. You can double the recipe if you have a larger steamer and more hungry people to feed!
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the sugar and yeast into the warm water. Set aside until frothy, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk and sift in the rice flour and baking powder. Whisk until you have a smooth, lump-free batter, then cover and let it sit on the counter in a warm place until doubled in size, at least 1 hour.
When the batter is ready, set a steamer basket over a saucepan of boiling water. Add the extract – and food colouring, if using – to the batter, and mix to incorporate.
Find six small heat-resistant teacups. (Waxed-paper mini-muffin cases will also work, but it’s best to double them up as they can go soggy in the steam.) Pour the batter into the cups and immediately sit them in the steamer basket. Place a tea towel between the steamer and its lid, stretching it taut and taking care to keep the ends away from the heat. This helps to soak up any condensation, so your cupcakes don’t get waterlogged.
Steam the cupcakes for 15 minutes – without lifting the lid, as this can cause them not to ‘smile’.
Serve warm, with a small bowl of brown sugar for dipping. These are best eaten fresh and shouldn’t be kept for longer than a day.
© 2019 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.