I travel to Thailand to visit family about once every two years, and one of my first orders of business every time I arrive is to find the nearest source of kanom krok. These little hotcakes are made by street vendors everywhere in these giant, cast-iron pans -- think aebeliskiver pan on steroids -- and they are served piping hot to eager customers who pop them in their mouths while the cakes are still steaming and gooey with cream. Just writing about it makes me want to hop on the next plane there! You can make a smaller-scale version of these cakes at home with a regular aebeliskiver pan. They are almost as good as the streetside version in Thailand, but you will quickly learn why the vendors there use giant pans -- when you use smaller ones, supply can't keep up with demand! But you can try anyway and just eat the cakes as they finish.
The traditional way to serve these cakes is with a bit of green onion or chive in the middle; Thai cooks love mixing sweet and savory flavors. But if you are uncomfortable with conflating dinner and dessert, you can certainly leave them out. To be honest, I usually do! —vrunka
Test Kitchen Notes
Oh my goodness -- these are scrumptious little coconut rice pancake pods that are ridiculously addictive. The outside of the pancakes gets caramelized and slightly crunchy, while the inside remains gooey and creamy. The scent of the rice and coconut milk as it cooks is what I imagine my own personal heaven smells like. Like many travelers to Thailand, I fell in love with Kanom Krok on the streets and have craved it since. This recipe is an excellent approximation of the textures and flavors, and is surprisingly accessible for a western kitchen (okay, the aebeliskiver pan is not in everyone's pantry, but I found all of the ingredients in one trip to a local trustworthy grocer). I made one batch with the optional chives and one without, and definitely preferred those without chives. —Chris Van Houten
Open all three cans of coconut milk -- be careful not to shake them! Skim off the heavy cream at the top until you have about 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream. Place this cream in a small saucepan along with the sugar, reserving about 2 tablespoons of sugar for later. Bring to a low boil, whisking out the lumps. Remove from heat once the consistency is smooth and the sugar has dissolved. In a small bowl, combine the corn starch with a couple tablespoons of the remaining coconut water and whisk that into the coconut cream.
In a food processor, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle, grind the coconut and the rice until it is a fine, sand-like consistency. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining coconut milk over medium heat until just warmed enough to melt the solids. Remove from heat and whisk in the ground coconut and rice, the rice flour, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Pour into a pitcher or other container with a spout (in Thailand the street vendors use a metal teapot which works great).
Heat the aebelskiver pan over medium high heat. Once hot, brush with a bit of oil. Fill the cups about 3/4 full with the rice batter. Top off each one with the coconut cream. If you are using chives, add them now. Cover with a lid and cook for about 3-5 minutes until the bottom becomes brown and crispy and the top bubbles (the batter will remain a little liquid in the center). Use a spoon (ideally, a metal soup spoon) to remove the cakes. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing pan with oil before each batch.
Serve these one on top of another to make a little globe of sweet, gooey goodness. Eat immediately!