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สังขยาฟักทอง Sangkhaya Fak Thong – Thai Coconut and Pumpkin Custard

I love Thai desserts. Their use of coconut milk or cream as well as pandan is pretty much like what we have here at home and is totally up my alley! In fact, many of the Thai desserts are very similar in shape and form to our own kuehs and desserts here far south and it is not difficult to imagine that all of them probably share the same origins! Khanom chan is like our kueh lapis beras or lapis sagu while lod chong is quite similar to our chendol. And of course there are other signatures like tub tim krob and mango sticky rice which are so immensely popular. So it is no wonder that we take to Thai desserts very easily. Of all the Thai desserts I have tried, I have a particular affinity for สังขยาฟักทอง Sangkhaya Fak Thong which is essentially a coconut milk custard steamed in a pumpkin. So so yummy…

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Sangkhaya” in Thai means coconut custard while “fak thong” means “pumpkin! As you guys can probably see by now, it is by no means a coincidence that the thai word “Sangkhaya” and our local “serikaya” or just “kaya” mean very similar yummy things, i.e. a rich and sweet custard fashioned out of coconut milk. They probably share the same morphological roots and culinary origins as I’d iterated earlier.

I first tried this dessert during one of my Bangkok trips. It was sold at one of the stalls in Or Tor Kor Market that specialises in traditional Thai desserts and there sitting amongst there other colourful snacks and sweet treats was this curious looking fella which is essentially a steamed pumpkin with a sweet coconut custard filling. I just had to try it and it was so so good! Rich and creamy yet not cloyingly sweet. The best part of it is the whole thing can be eaten, including the skin!
The ingredients for making Sangkhaya Fak Thong is incredibly simple and easy to obtain. We get a lot of local pumpkins from Malaysia which are excellent for making this dessert. Otherwise the Japanese kabocha or even Australian butternut squash may also be used. Whichever variety of pumpkin you choose, make sure that it feels light for its weight. This means that the pumpkin has ripen nicely without the flesh being too laden with too much water. This is extremely important to make sure that the custard is able to set properly. Otherwise, the moisture from the cooked and steamed pumpkin flesh may leech into the custard mixture causing it to remain watery even after the pumpkin had been steamed for a long time. A good size for our regular local pumpkin or Japanese kabocha would be around 1 kg in weight. For the Australian butternut squash, choose something larger as the the top is quite solid through and cannot be used to contain the custard filling. But it can be used for another dish, baked and served along roasted chicken or turkey (think Thanksgiving!) or even made into our traditional Chinese pumpkin cake would be nice.

The standard sangkhaya uses rice flour to set the custard during steaming. I’d modified my own recipe for the “Sangkhaya” using my kueh sarlat recipe which uses plain flour and cornstarch instead. Whatever that works right?

Also duck eggs are traditionally used to impart their creamy and exuberant textures unto the custard but they are not the easiest ingredients to gather. Instead we use regular chicken eggs instead but to simulate the creaminess, an addition egg yolk is added. Choose eggs from corn-fed chicken if you want the custard to look a lovely sunset yellow. But that is purely aesthetic and doesn’t alter the palate sensation whatsoever…
To keep the dessert as traditional and authentic as possible, I’d used Thai palm sugar which is rather pale in colour and soft to the point of being pliable,  compared to gula melaka or gula kabong which we are more accustomed to using. I get the Thai palm sugar from the supermarket at Golden Mile Complex along Beach Road. Otherwise, you can use any unrefined or raw sugar like demerara as well.
The first thing to do is to give the whole pumpkin a good scrub and rinsing, since the skin can be eaten as well. Next, remove the “cap” of the pumpkin by carefully cutting around the stem with a paring knife. Then, get a thin metal spoon to gut out the pumpkin by scraping away all the sinewy-looking fibrous strands as well as the seeds. What we want is a nice and hollow vessel to fill our custard later. The custard preparation is fairly straightforward but one of the problems folks making this dessert experience after the pumpkin has been steamed is the splitting of the custard. I managed to solve this problem by first thickening the consistency of the custard through heating before pouring it into the hollowed pumpkin. The custard will set nicely and looks rather homogenous in colour and texture as well.
สังขยาฟักทอง Sangkhaya Fak Thong – Thai Coconut and Pumpkin Custard

1 pumpkin, around 1-1.2kg
200ml coconut cream
4 medium eggs plus 1 egg yolk
3 pandan leaves, cut into strips, slightly bruised or crushed
70g Thai palm sugar or any raw brown sugar, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
35g rice flour or 25g plain flour with 10g cornstarch

Clean the surface of the pummpking with a clean scouring pad or hardbrush to remove any dirt or debris. Rinse thoroughly with water.
With a sharp knife, carefully cut around the stem to remove the top.
Scrape out all the fibrous strands and seeds inside.
Rinse out the hollowed pumpkin and invert it to drain and dry out the hollowed part over a clean kitchen towel.
Meanwhile, prepare the custard by whisking 4 eggs and 1 yolk in a mixing bowl gently.
Add the sugar, salt and mix to melt as much of the sugar as possible.
Add coconut cream and finally either the rice flour or plain flour and cornstarch mixture and mix well to break up any flour lumps.
Using a fine wire sieve, strain the custard mixture over a cooking pot. Add the pandan leaves and cook the custard carefully over medium low flame until it thickens slightly. Remove the pandan leaves.
Invert the pumpkin and carefully pour the warm custard filling into it until it is just below the brim of the pumpkin.
Steam the pumpkin over medium low flame for 45 min or until the custard is cooked and set.
Leave the steamed pumpkin to cool down to room temperature before transferring to refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Cut the chilled Sangkhaya Fak Thong into thick wedges and enjoy.

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