I hope I’m not betraying my own culture when I say that the number of Thai desserts which I don’t care for far exceeds the number of those I like. For one thing, as much as I like coconut, I can only take so much of the let’s-float-some-fruits-or-tubers-in-coconut-milk-sweetened-with-palm-sugar-and-call-it-dessert stuff. Though I do not by any means hate candied taro roots, bananas in coconut cream, or sweet black bean “soup” or others that fall into the aforementioned category of dessert, there are other Thai sweets on which I’d rather spend my daily caloric allowance.
One of them is Kleeb Lamduan shortbread cookies. I love them so.
In the old days, these melt-in-your-mouth sablé-esque cookies were made with lard. Yep. Lard. (Before butter became widely available and before plant-based lipids became the standard cooking fats, Thai cooks had in the pantry a vat of rendered pork fat with bits and pieces of crunchy lardon.) The result was mildly-sweet cookies with a hint of a, not necessarily porky, but savory element. And if you’re one of those who appreciate the delicious combination of salty and sweet in desserts, you know what I’m talking about.
Kleeb Lamduan (officially “klip lamduan“) is named so, because they are made to resemble lamduan flowers which have a unique and beautiful three-petal formation. Purist Thai bakers may very well see my four-petal design as punishable by death, but I’m willing to take the sword. I can’t do pretty food.
The thing is — traditionally, you create the blossoms by first forming the dough into one-inch balls, cutting each ball into thirds, then joining the tips of the three wedges together to form a 3-petal flower. I know it’s not exactly heart surgery, but I’m too lazy to cut each ball into thirds. I don’t have that kind of mental focus and dexterity. So instead I cut each ball into quarters. That’s easier. Two cuts down the middle — twice.
I also messed with another tradition.
As is the case with many Thai baked sweets, Kleeb Lamduan cookies are made without added edible scents such as vanilla extract. Instead, these cookies are placed in an airtight container, such as a lidded glass jar, along with an aromatic candle made specifically for dessert-making. The candle is lit and placed in the jar. The lid is then closed to snuff out the candle and trap the aromatic smoke inside the jar. The cookies then absorb and take on the aroma of the smoke.
However, Thai scented dessert candles can be hard to find, so I’ve been using Middle Eastern rose water (ماء ورد) which serves as a very nice substitute. (Alternatively, you can use jasmine extract.)
The other departure from tradition is the choice of flour. The traditional recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but I use cake flour here. This is something I have learned from François Payard: cake flour is best when it comes to sablé-type baked goods.
- 150 grams cake flour
- 76 grams powdered sugar
- One pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon rose extract or vanilla extract
- Enough melted lard or mild-flavored vegetable oil or melted butter to create a smooth dough (approximately 6-7 fluid ounces)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
- Slowly add your fat of choice into the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until the mixture forms a ball with some dry flour on the sides of the bowl. At this point, use your hands to gently mix the dough. You want a smooth dough that is not too wet or sticky and not so dry that it cracks and crumbles when you tear off a piece and try to make a ball out of it.
- Once a smooth ball is achieved, cover the bowl with a tea towel and let rest 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile prepare one large cookie sheet by lining it with a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Form the dough into one-inch balls. For each one-inch ball, make a ¼-inch ball — that’s your stamen.
- Cut each one-inch ball into quarters. With your index finger and thumb, pinch and shape each wedge to form clean, crisp edges. Arrange four wedges on the prepared cookie sheet, conjoining and slightly overlapping the tips of the “petal.” With the tip of your pinkie or the wide end of a chopstick, lightly press the overlapped petal tips to “glue” them together and form a well into which the “stamen” will go. Lightly press a ¼ inch-ball into the well. Repeat. You should have about 15 flowers. Be sure to leave about one inch space between them on the cookie sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes. The cookies are done even though they’re not golden browned. (You get more brown color if you use melted butter, slightly darker color if you use lard, and very pale color if you use vegetable oil.)
- Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet before transferring them onto a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.