Sweet little egg-foam sponge cakes with meringue topping. Very light and delicate! Comes together quickly and is super easy to eat.
This dessert seems familiar and modern, perhaps a homespun version of fancy Japanese patisserie, but it’s a centuries-old treat: muskot are referenced in a Thai court poem from the first quarter of the 19th century. A recipe for this is in a little vintage Thai cookbook that’s been in my family for years, Thai Foods from Thai Literature (book 1) by Vandee Na Songkhla (1984). This year I finally read the recipe text with the intent to make something and chose these sponge cakelets topped with meringue topping.
As historical recipe writing usually involves certain ambiguities, the actual recipe I’ve made and shared with you is a slightly tweaked modernisation. I’ve included a translation of the source recipe at the end of this post so you can see why.
The photo from my vintage cookbook shows shallow-looking cakes with soft pastel meringue piled on top, with instructions for optional shredded coconut included in the recipe. Contemporary muskot cakes are tall, baked in paper cases, have pretty colours marbled on top of prettily piped meringue, and are almost always sprinkled with colourful shredded coconut. I’ll include instructions for the shredded coconut, but I’ll be honest: I prefer them with just meringue. It isn’t really worth the trouble unless you really love fresh coconut. I haven’t tried it with desiccated coconut, but you could…
What I’ve retained from the original is baking the cakes in oiled moulds (coconut oil gives it a wonderful fragrance) and completely tinting the meringue rather than marbling the colour on top. It’s a bit more time-consuming but I prefer it. These cupcakes look charmingly kitsch with their pastel hues. You can leave out the colours, but where’s the fun in that?
Makes 10 small cakes. Store in airtight container lined with paper (bottoms get sticky), refrigerated, for 1 – 2 days.
50g (approx 1/3 cup) plain flour or cake flour
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk (white is used in meringue topping)
50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp any flavouring you like (I used 1/4 tsp each of vanilla and almond)
Coconut oil, vegetable oil, or butter for greasing moulds, if you’re not using cupcake cases
coconut topping, if desired:
About 25g (1/4 cup, packed) grated fresh coconut (see note below), or 2 tbsp desiccated coconut. You don’t need much at all.
Food colouring as desired
1 egg white (use yolk for cake batter)
Pinch of salt
50g (1/4 cup) granulated or icing sugar
1/2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/8 tsp vanilla extract or other desired flavouring
Food colouring as desired
Preheat oven to 150 degrees C (325 degrees F). Thoroughly grease 10 cups out of a 12-cup standard cupcake tin with your chosen fat, or line with paper cases. I strongly recommend coconut oil–it gives each cake the lovely nutty fragrance a lot of traditional Thai sweets have.
For the cake batter, put 1 egg + 1 egg yolk into a mixing bowl, beat with an electric mixer for about 1 minute until pale and foamy, then add 50g sugar and pinch of salt. Beat until increased in volume and you have an airy mixture that leaves thick ribbony trails which dissolve gently, another 30 seconds – 1 minute. (You don’t want to beat it as thoroughly as an actual genoise sponge or it’ll be too dry.)
Sift in all the flour, add your desired flavourings, and fold until just combined. You should have a smooth, thick, yet airy cake batter.
Divide batter amongst the prepared 10 wells of the cupcake tin, filling each one halfway. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until well-risen and tops are pale yellow. (You can get on with the coconut topping while the cakes bake, but only make the meringue topping once everything’s cooked.)
Remove tin from oven and allow to cool for just a couple of minutes; the cakes should shrink from the edge. Quickly turn them out; it’s most efficient to invert the cupcake tin onto a similar-sized baking tray, gently easing out clingy ones with a butter or palette knife. Arrange cakes on the baking tray and get on with the topping.
If you want the grated coconut topping, divide grated coconut among as many bowls as desired colours. Dilute a few drops of your chosen food colours with a drop of water. Dab the colouring onto the coconut and toss with a fork or your fingers. Set aside. (Diluting the colours a bit helps them blend with the coconut more evenly.)
For the meringue topping, in a mixing bowl with an electric whisk, whip the egg whites with the salt and lime or lemon juice until pale, foamy, and approaching soft peaks. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating well between additions until mixture reaches stiff peaks. You should have a good strong meringue. (If you’re using a stand mixer I think you can be less cautious about this and whip everything at once.)
Divide meringue between small bowls and mix with desired food colouring. I divided mine into 4: pink, blue, purple (all using 3 – 6 drops of mediocre own-brand food colouring), and one that stayed white. Don’t be afraid to really fold in the colour evenly–the meringue can take a beating. Dollop spoonfuls of meringue on top of each cupcake in whatever way you like. Sprinkle with the tinted coconut, if using.
Finish the cakes by returning them to the oven for 3 – 5 minutes until meringue topping is dry. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes on the tray, then carefully remove cakes to a rack, gently loosening bottoms with a spatula. Cool completely before inhaling.
Note on fresh coconut – I am assuming you:
A) Don’t want to deal with assaulting a whole coconut
B) Cannot pop down to the shop or market to buy freshly grated coconut meat.
So: you can get 100g packs of fresh coconut pieces in various supermarkets, they’re sold as snacking portions. Thinly pare the brown skin from each chunk and grate; it’s much easier and higher yield to do it this way. Use this raw grated coconut on the same day; it goes very nasty if you store it overnight.
Research: Thai Foods from Thai Literature book 1 by Vandee Na SongKhla (1984)
I’m putting the research down here because I know that “Ever since childhood…” is a sentence that makes people’s attention spans curl up and die. I was obsessed with this vintage Thai cookbook in my childhood; I wasn’t very interested in actually making and eating the food, I visually gorged on them like sculptures in a gallery or a stim video on instagram: satisfying colours and textures.
The food photography is really just something else, although the actual presentation of many dishes is basically the same today. But everything else–the colours of those rich yet powdery backdrops! The flat lighting that renders real food into strange dreamlike illustrations! It’s so unlike the style you find today, with its emphasis on natural lighting throwing beautiful shadows and highlights on luscious spreads with ingredients all over the table being eaten by perfectly moisturised hands, or clean minimalist plates with one (1) perfect drizzle.
Original recipe is roughly translated by me below:
1/5 kg [200g] white [mature] coconut meat, made into coconut milk and simmered to yield 1/4 cup coconut oil [Thai version says “2 khit”; khit = 100g]
1 cup white granulated sugar
3 [cups or actual eggs; original Thai language recipe and its accompanying translation somehow has both of these amounts listed!] chicken’s eggs (use both yolks and whites)
2 cups cake flour
2 – 3 egg whites for decorating the top
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 cup finely ground sugar [icing sugar]
Food colouring in pink, pale blue, green, and yellow
- Beat eggs until increased in volume and gradually add sugar, mixing until fluffy
- Add the flour to the beaten eggs, raking [folding] and stirring in one direction only until combined. Don’t stir too heavily or your cakes will sink.
- Brush the moulds with coconut oil. Heat the moulds until hot and ladle the cake batter into them until each is one 3/4 full.
- Put moulds into oven with heat on both top and bottom. Use a gentle heat, a temperature approximately 250 – 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Check if the cakes are very light brown on top, about 15 – 20 minutes. Once cooked, quickly remove from the moulds (if you leave them to cool umoulded then it’s more difficult to get them out).
- Beat the egg whites until foamy, add the icing sugar gradually and beat until stiff peaks. Divide mixture, adding different colours to each portion. Spoon the coloured meringue onto the cakes and return them to the oven for 3 – 5 minutes or until very lightly browned.
- If you wish to have these with mature coconut, you ought to grate the coconut coarsely and sprinkle it on top of the meringue-topped cakes. Then you can bake until toasted and light brown on top.
More Research: Okay, but… muskot? Muscat??
Yes, the name of these cakes is a bit curious; it’s usually transliterated as “Muscat” or “Mascat” but is written and pronounced “muss-gawt”. Every single new piece of information throws up more questions. For example: it is apparently named after the capital of Oman. I’ve spent a good few hours looking up so many gorgeous examples of specific Omani and much broader Arab cuisine, completely unable to find an explicit link.
Another example: the explanations I have found tend to pair muskot’s purported history with another popular Thai sweet, alua (ขนมอาลัว). Alua are little candies made out of sweetened coconut-flour roux that’s piped into shape and sun dried or gently baked until the outside is crisp and the inside is firm and gummy. The common explanation is that alua and muskot are amongst the Portuguese-influenced sweets introduced or invented by Maria Guyomar de Pinha (Thao Thong Kip Mar ท้าวทองกีบม้า) in C18th Ayutthaya. While it’s pretty clear how muskot, with its similarities to pão de ló, could have been part of Guyomar’s egg-rich baking repertoire, alua’s inclusion seems odd. But then, consider Macanese alua (also spelled aluwa or aluar), which may have arrived in Macau via the Portuguese who enjoyed Persian-style halva via Kolkata or perhaps simply imported. Either way, it was adapted by Macanese cooks using local ingredients and is an integral part of nativity displays.
Also, according to this Sarakadee article on the cuisine of Muslim communities in Bangkok’s Khlong Bang Luang, the original form of alua is a sweet called “harua”, which should be eaten wrapped in flat rice pancake called ludee (perhaps a Thai version of luchi?). As you might have guessed, this is also known as halva or halwa, and of course there’s a type of halva called muscat or muscoth halwa, little squares of sweetened coconut milk and wheat flour paste that’s been cooked and left to set.
You see? So much information, but how do we connect the dots? None of this actually explains why these sponge cakes are called muscat, how we got from “Muscat” to “muskot”, and if there is any connection between muscoth halwa and muskot cakes. If anyone has theories and information, I’m listening.
Why has this blog been dead for 2 whole years??????
Well, I started going outside properly! I’ve been doing art qualifications and getting distinctions in them, going to more queer events, trying to have friends. This is the summer before I start my second BA in Fine Art at City & Guilds.
I like baking for my classmates and tutors, so I think you’ll find some simple cookie recipes quite soon.