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From Mind to Table: The Making of a Cake

Sara Deseran | December 5, 2014 | Story Ingredient

Reprinted with permission from

Every parent has hopes and dreams that they project onto their children, which is why my son Moss and I have been catching up with PBS’s “The Mind of a Chef.” Unlike my 13 year old Silas, Moss, 9, has demonstrated a real interest in cooking and I’m trying to cultivate this. (I gave up watching America’s Best Dance Crew years ago; sadly, there are no future b-boys in this house.)

We’re still on season one wherein David Chang slurps up a lot of ramen noodles in Japan as well as interviews chefs (like the biggies—Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne, René Redzepi) about their mind-to-table process. The word process in this case needs some italics so you can feel its chefly aura. Overall, it’s pretty geeky stuff.

The process that I’ve gone through watching this show has lead me to realize that, one, David Chang is a smart dude. And two, I gravitate towards chefs who have a lightness of heart about their cooking more than I do the self-serious ones genuflecting in front of spear of wild-foraged asparagus. It’s also come to pass that I’m a sucker. Moss convinced me to buy him a mini whipped cream charger so that he can try to make Ferran Adrià’s famous microwave cake (though Chang’s puffed egg is cool too). I now have a box full of nitrous cartridges if anyone wants to party.

The show is a good reminder that no matter how innovative one may be, culinary geniuses are usually inspired by someone else’s good idea. And this culinary evolution—minus the genius, perhaps—even plays out at restaurants that will never be receiving a San Pellegrino Award.

Recently, we decided that that we needed another dessert at Chino and I volunteered to come up with something. So, channeling the chef mind, I started thinking about Asian flavors (things like lychee, black sesame, red bean, ginger), then got the creative juices flowing by perusing the menus of other restaurants that I admire—starting with David Chang’s group. There on Ssäm Bar‘s menu is a Thai tea pie. A little Googling unveiled that Thai tea includes, amongst other spices and a bit of food coloring, star anise and cardamom, and of course, tea and condensed milk. This got me thinking about my favorite spice cake recipe ever, which is the Fresh Ginger Cake by David Leibovitz, the hilarious Paris-based pastry chef and food blogger I want to be when I grow up.

A few tweaks to the cake (out with the cinnamon and in with ground star anise and cardamom) and I had the basis of Thai tea in cake form. Then I went to the awesome Thai/Mexican market on 16th Street called Casa Thai and bought some Panthi-brand Thai tea mix and steeped it briefly in warm coconut milk, condensed milk, and butter. This sauce alone turns out to be as addictive as crack, but poured over a moist, spicy cake, it find itself complete. At the restaurant, we top the whole thing with gently whipped cream, which has the effect of lightening it up.

So now you know my process. Introducing Chino’s Thai Tea Cake. Come and get it at the restaurant. And if you want to make it at home, go right ahead. Like most good recipes, I can hardly take all the credit it for it...

Check out the recipe at

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