I only recently learned about the closing of hallowed Bangkok institution Le Bouchon a couple of weeks ago, and like any unexpected (if hopefully temporary!) passing, the news gave me some unexpected feels. It was hardly Bangkok’s best French restaurant — no eatery where cockroaches are free to roam the walls could ever claim that crown. It was more about what Le Bouchon embodied to its expats: a charming seediness with a wink and a nod but not at alarming The Serpent levels; decent food, reliably made, give or take an overly gamey lamb shack or two; and just a little whiff of danger in a setting where the scariest thing most likely to happen is the aforementioned cockroach on the wall. Le Bouchon evoked a younger, mildly disreputable Bangkok, wearing a cocked hat and riding a motorcycle. Alas, the Bangkok of today wears Dockers, takes Tru Niagen and listens to meditative music on Youtube to get his blood pressure down.
Le Bouchon was a “sowing your wild oats” kind of place, where possibility beckoned from every corner if you didn’t look too deeply into the crevices. I remember the last time I went there vividly because it was an obvious attempt by three middle-aged friends whose lives had drifted apart to reanimate some semblance of our youth. We had the lamb shanks with the white beans again. It didn’t taste that good or that bad, but that wasn’t the point. It tasted exactly the same.
These butter buns also claim a pivotal niche in most Thais’ lives — not the “sowing wild oats” part, but from the part way before, when you could still eat pillowy sweets after school and feel comforted instead of guilty. This is from the navy-and-white school uniform, pigtails and black mary-janes part of life. It’s the part of life that holds the most power, if not the most allure, because it’s when those synaptic connections to food and security are first formed.
Everyone thinks of Pathum Cake when they see fresh butter buns (kanom pang nuey sot) but always skim over the part where this is a foreign recipe. Different variations are baked throughout Bangkok (and the world, no doubt), but the one that our helper Pravee makes is based on a recipe from Turkey, of all places. Wherever this recipe originally hailed from, only one thing really matters: everyone, even my super-Thai mother, enjoys it.
Fresh butter buns (makes about 8-10 buns)
- 400 g bread flour
- 100 g cake flour
- 25 g powdered milk
- 125 g sugar
- 2 tsp yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 180 ml milk
- 150 ml water
- 50 g whipped cream
- 1 egg
- 1/2 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- Mix all dry ingredients (flour, powdered milk, sugar, yeast and salt) in a bowl.
- Mix all wet ingredients (milk, water, whipped cream and egg) into a different bowl.
- Gradually and carefully fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until dough is formed.
- Take one handful of dough at a time, roll flat into circles of about 10.5 cm circumference, and add 1/2 Tbsp butter and 1/2 Tbsp powdered sugar into center of each circle. Wrap up like a parcel and form a round ball with butter and sugar in the middle. Set into a lightly greased baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough and cover buns with a wet towel.
- Allow to rest for 45 minutes on the countertop, covered.
- Brush rested buns with glaze made of one beaten egg yolk.
- Combine 150 ml warm milk and 50 g melted butter and pour over buns right before inserting into oven, preheated to 180 degrees Celsius (150 if your oven runs hot like ours does).
- Let bake for 10-20 minutes.
- Before serving, cover with more powdered sugar shaken over buns with a strainer or sieve.
- Eat hot from the oven.