Thai Cooking School & Lemongrass Bars with Coconut Shortbread Crust

Years ago in Paris I took a cooking class in a chef’s apartment. It was one of the highlights of my trip and something I vowed to do again, finding the skills I learned to be one of my best souvenirs. As a lover of Thai cuisine, I knew I wanted to attend cooking school while I was in Bangkok. My friend, The Inquiring Chef, recommended Baipai Thai Cooking School, and it was an absolutely fantastic experience.

We were picked up first thing in the morning by the cooking school and, after picking up other students (people from Texas, Australia, New Zealand, London, and China), they drove us to a market where we met Darin,

who taught us about the ingredients we’d be using that day. She also introduced us to different fruits

and local products. The information came in handy for more than cooking school later that evening. When I saw one of these

teeny tiny, incredibly hot chilis in my dinner, I knew to avoid it!

After the market, we were driven to an absolutely incredible house in the suburbs set up for learning, cooking, and tasting. The drive was a great way of seeing the outskirts Bangkok and the setting was gorgeous.

We were greeted  with a refreshing cup of lemongrass tea

and led to the open air classroom. The chef and sous chef, Monae,

were outstanding and guided us through three dishes: golden bags; spicy beef salad; and shrimp pad Thai. Each time we’d watch and learn from the chef,

taste his dish, and then go to our own station to prepare

and cook the dish ourselves.

After each dish, we went to a communal table to eat what we had made.

Cooking school was fun and engaging and Baipai thought of every detail from recipe cards to aprons and pictures to make it a spectacular experience.

Recently, I received lemongrass in my CSA box and the smell brought me right back to Baipai. I considered using it to brew some tea until I came across this recipe for Lemongrass Bars with Coconut Shortbread Crust.

The original recipe was provided by Crawford Organics CSA and attributed to Ivy Manning.

Click Here to Print This Recipe.

Yield: 24 bars

Ingredients:
Coconut Shortbread Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Lemongrass Filling:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 lemongrass stalks (bottom 4 inches only; tough outer layer removed; finely chopped)
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13×9 baking dish.
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, blend flour, coconut, powdered sugar, and salt. Add butter and beat on low speed until moist clumps form.

  • Press dough onto bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of baking dish. Bake crust until golden brown (edges will be darker), about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

  • Meanwhile, place sugar and lemongrass in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until lemongrass is finely ground.

  • Add lemon juice and vanilla and process until well blended. Add flour, a pinch of salt, and pulse until smooth.

  • Pour filling over hot crust and bake in 325 degree oven until filling is firm, about 23 minutes. Cool in pan.

  • When cool, cut bars lengthwise into 4 strips and crosswise into 6 pieces. Dust bars with powdered sugar before serving.

DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM HONG KONG TO BANGKOK: 1,099
http://www.baipai.com

Bangkok & Thai Iced Tea Cupcakes

I’ve shared a bit about my weekends in Hong Kong and Phuket but nothing about my week in Bangkok, which is a little like giving someone Oreo cookies without the cream filling. And just like the cream filling, my time in Bangkok was incredibly sweet and rich. I learned an unbelievable amount, was humbled and challenged in exactly the ways travel should, and my world view broadened immensely.

Bangkok is a sprawling city.

The sheer size and great distance between sites, along with a lack of English signage,
made getting around a challenge. Accustomed to walking everywhere in Europe, you can imagine my surprise the first time I realized that crossing the street was going to be a real life game of Frogger!

But once my travel buddy and I got the hang of things, familiarized ourselves with the Skytrain, and hired a driver, our efforts were more than rewarded. Even in the tremendous heat, I was awed by the ornate temples,

 
(Photo taken at Grand Palace)
intricate mosaics,
(Wat Phra Kaew)

venerated Buddhas,


(Reclining Buddha)

powerful sculptures,


(Photo Taken at Wat Pho)

and gorgeous flora.


(Photo Taken at Golden Mount)

Having just come from Hong Kong, I was fascinated by the idea that Bangkok had never been colonized. As such, I was always on the lookout for “East meets West”,

like the abundance of 7-Eleven stores and paraphernalia,
(Tour Guide at Grand Palace)
a well-known shrine outside of an Alexander McQueen store,
(Erawan Shrine)
traditional modes of transport outside of a ubiquitous American coffee shop,
and the addition of red beans to a green tea frappuccino from said coffee shop.

Any and all of my quick success at navigating Bangkok can be attributed to the fantastic friends we visited there. Not only did they welcome us into their home warmly, but they wholeheartedly and generously shared their city with us. They ensured that we never had a bad meal

and that our days were filled with unique experiences, like visiting a Thai market
during an afternoon at Thai cooking school (more on that in another post!).
They were patient and indulgent with my incessant questions about Thai culture and politics and capably gave me rudimentary language lessons. I was determined to master key phrases like hello, thank you, and, most importantly, how to order a Thai iced tea. While my more advanced lessons in how to ask and answer, “Have you eaten rice today?” (the Thai equivalent of “What’s Up?”) are starting to fade, I can still confidently ask for Cha Nom Yen (or Thai Iced Tea).
(Photo Credit: Amy Weinstock)

Back home and wanting to share my new language skills without having to carry around a pitcher and glasses, I decided to bake Thai Iced Tea Cupcakes!

This recipe modifies the cake from Squirrels-n-Sweets and the frosting from Bowen Close of Honest Cooking.

Click Here to Print This Recipe. 

Yield:  24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/4 cup brewed Thai tea (1 cup reserved for basting)
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
Frosting:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Toppings:
  • Sparkling sugar
  • Dried sliced mango

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake tins.

Pour 1 1/4 cup of cooled tea, egg whites, vanilla, and anise in a small bowl and whisk until blended. In a large bowl, whisk cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat 1 1/2 sticks of butter until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture in thirds, beating at a medium speed and scraping bowl between additions. Add tea mixture, half at a time, beating at a medium speed and scraping bowl between additions. Beat at medium-high for 2-3 minutes until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Fill cupcake liners until 3/4 full. Bake 17-19 minutes.

Cool for 5 minutes in tins and transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, pierce tops of cupcakes with fork and baste with extra tea using a silicone brush.

For the buttercream: In an electric stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Pour in condensed milk and mix on low. Add the powdered sugar, half at a time, mixing on low and scraping bowl with each addition. Add vanilla and beat on high until smooth. Frost cupcakes and top with sparkling sugar and dried sliced mango.

Note: If you want to pipe the buttercream, add additional powdered sugar to thicken the frosting.

 

DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM HONG KONG TO BANGKOK: 1,099 miles

Phuket & Pina Colada Cupcakes

Two weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Phuket with dear friends. It was a great respite from the busy city touring I’d done in Hong Kong and Bangkok and the perfect way to end a trip to Southeast Asia.

We stayed in a villa at our resort — two bedrooms and bathrooms, kitchen, living room, deck,

and private infinity pool with a view of the Andaman Sea.

We spent mornings at our pool, afternoons at the beach,

and evenings enjoying cocktails, delicious Thai Food, and one another’s company. It was stunningly beautiful and completely relaxing.

And what could be better than spending a weekend in paradise in a resort villa? Having room service deliver pina coladas to the private pool at your resort villa!

So when a stressful work week had me reminiscing about vacation, the thought of Pina Colada Cupcakes seemed like the perfect way to honor our time in Phuket.

The recipe is modified from others for pineapple coconut cake and coconut cream cheese frosting.

Yield: 18 Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. rum
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup cream of coconut
  • 1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple, strained, juice reserved
 
Toppings:
  • maraschino cherries
  • pineapple wedges
  • toasted coconut
Instructions:
 
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cupcake pans with liners.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, beat butter and brown sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then add rum and cream of coconut. Mix until combined. Add dry ingredients, half at a time, mixing and scraping bowl between additions. Once flour is incorporated, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in crushed pineapple.
Use an ice-cream scoop to fill cupcake pans with batter until each is 3/4 full. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean (25-30 minutes). Remove and cool for 10 minutes. Pierce top of cupcakes with a fork and, using silicone brush, soak tops with reserved pineapple juice. Cool another 10 minutes, brush again, then cool completely.
Once the cake has cooled completely, pipe coconut cream cheese frosting onto each cupcake and garnish.
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
 
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) butter, at room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
  • 4 cups powdered confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rum 
Instructions:
 
In a stand mixer, blend butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and blend until well combined, about 30 seconds. Add vanilla extract, coconut extract, and powdered sugar (1 cup at a time) and blend on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed and beat until it begins to get fluffy.
 
Add rum. Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
 
Garnish:
Garnish edges with toasted coconut.
Skewer a pineapple chunk and maraschino cherry and insert into frosted cupcake.
DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM BANGKOK TO PHUKET: 512 miles
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