BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Japanese cheese tarts and the Korean shaved ice dessert Bingsu might be all the rage these days, but husband-and-wife team Natthakit and Kamonwan Kansomsap know there’ll always be room in the tummies of Thailand’s sweet fans for local desserts based on centuries of collective wisdom.
Last March, they opened Gardenia House, a small Thai dessert cafe in their home compound off Bangkok’s Lat Phrao Soi 48, and while it’s a little off the beaten track, the tempting sweets and relaxing ambience is drawing in customers.
The glass-wrapped, 50-seat cafe lets natural light stream in and visitors can munch on their desserts while taking in the beautiful garden and fishpond stocked with koi. If the weather is fine, you can sit outdoors and enjoy a cup of coffee with sangkaya fak thong (pumpkin custard) and kleep lumduan (Thai-style shortbread cookies).
“Kamonwan prefers making Thai sweets to Western pastries and neither of us was enjoying working in an office anymore so we decided to quit and go into catering full time. We spent time over the past several years testing the market for Thai desserts at local markets and the feedback was relatively good. We finally decided to use part of the space in our home compound to open the cafe,” says Natthakit, a former ground officer with Emirates Airline.
“It’s a risky business though because Thai sweets have a very short shelf life due to the main ingredients of coconut cream and coconut flesh.”
Such typical Thai sweets as kanom gluay (steamed banana pudding), kanom mun thed (steamed sweet potato pudding), tago (pudding with coconut cream topping), sago khao pod (sago and corn with coconut milk) and woon (jelly with coconut milk) are served in tiny cups.
“The portion is not too big and we use less sugar to cater to today’s health-conscious customers. However, while the forms have changed, the authenticity of the taste has not. I learned how to make traditional sweets from a woman who lived next door to my home in Rayong’s Klaeng district. She has sold Thai desserts for over 30 years and I learned by helping her make the sweets for nearly a year,” says Kamonwan, who holds a degree in political science from Kasetsart University.
She also signed up for several courses in making sweet delicacies based on royal recipes. Among those on offer at Gardenia House are thong ek (a crown-like sweet made from sugar, coconut milk and egg yolk) and saneh jaan (a nutmeg-like dessert made with steamed mung beans ground with coconut cream, palm sugar and cinnamon powder). Both are finished with perfumed smoke from scented wax. A set of four pieces of thong ek and four pieces of saneh jaan goes for Bt60 (S$2.42).
The best-selling dessert is piak poon or black and pandan pudding with grated coconut (Bt45 for two pieces). While the typical texture is chewy and slightly dense and comes in a square shape, Gardenia House’s piak poon is truly soft in texture and moulded into round shapes.
Kamonwan opts for Japanese pumpkin when making her sangkaya fak thong (pumpkin custard) that sells for Bt95 to Bt200 depending on pumpkin sizes.
“The pumpkins are smaller than their cousins. Japanese pumpkin has a sweet flavour and a moist, fluffy texture like chestnuts. The custard is made with a mixture of chicken and duck eggs to ensure a smooth, moist texture. The challenging part comes in the slow steaming process where you have to be careful to avoid bubbling in the custard,” adds Kamonwan.
Kamonwan’s sister-in-law Apinya Teerakulkiet who has just graduated as a French pastry cook from Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School, adds a Western touch to Gardenia House with such delicacies as melon roll cake, vanilla dome mousse, and strawberry shortcake.
New on the menu is yoyo (Bt120 a piece) – a dark chocolate sphere filled with Nutella chocolate, crumble dressed with cinnamon powder that’s topped with raspberry mousse dome.
Gardenia House is at 85 Sub-soi 28-16 off Lat Phrao Soi 48. It’s open daily (except Monday) from 10am to 7pm and until 8pm on weekends.
Call (085) 441 7549 or visit the “Gardenia House” page on Facebook.