When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

The Best Chocolate Cupcake May 31, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 5:21 pm
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CALL off the sniffer dogs, the search is over. I have finally found the ultimate recipe for chocolate cupcakes, and I am delirious.

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to consolidate my core “menu” by finding the best recipes for the four basics: sponge cake, chocolate cake, vanilla cupcake and chocolate cupcake.

This week, I cranked up my search for chocolate cupcakes because I’ve been asked to make 130 of them for my church’s kids camp next week. The recipe I’ve been using so far is good, but I wanted something really mind-blowing. I’m not shy to say this: I want to be the most popular auntie in church.

So I looked through my cookbooks and came across a recipe for “Chocolate Chiffon Cupcakes” by a very famous culinary school in the US. Any recipe coming off a famous name like that would be a winner right? So I sent En En off to my parents’ for the afternoon so I could concentrate on this trial.

It turned out to be a complete waste of time. Were the cupcakes like chiffon? Leather, more like. The cakes were so dense and compacted, I tipped them straight into the bin without passing Go. Defeated, I flopped into bed and sank into emergency mode. Who can I beg for a really good recipe?

Suddenly, I thought of my sister-in-law S, who had e-mailed me a vanilla cupcake recipe a few weeks ago. It was taken off a cookbook written by a famous bakery in New York, and it rocked. Soft and fluffy inside, it was the best vanilla cupcake I’ve made so far. So I sent S a quick e-mail, asking if the book had a chocolate version.

The next day, an e-mail from S arrived, complete with the recipe and this line: “I’ve tried this and it’s better than the vanilla one”. Oohh, it’s enough to weaken the knees. The next time En En and husband Z were out of the house, I sprang into action.

This recipe called for the simple creaming method, with melted chocolate and buttermilk added in later. When the cakes were baked and taken out of the oven, I touched the surface – and almost wept with joy. It had this amazing softness, like the insides of freshly baked white bread. So what if its pockmarked surface looked like Gordon Ramsay’s face? When I sank my teeth into it, it was so miraculously tender and light, I swooned.

What a milestone in my baking career, I thought. The cupcakes must be photographed, but Z Photo Studio opens only once a week (because the owner is so “busy” – see previous post). Then Z, seeing how jubilant I was for finding the recipe – he heard the words “world domination” come up a few times – he relented and shot the photo earlier this morning.

One down. Three more to go.


Devil’s Food Cake May 28, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 10:16 pm
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I’VE deliberately kept my recent posts very brief because my husband Z, a former TV promo producer who is used to writing in only short, chop-socky phrases, said my first entry was too long.

Well, enroute to the office toilet today, I bumped into a colleague (Hello, XY!) who said my baking travails – especially that first entry about the friggin’ fondant – was “riveting”. Riveting! See? What do TV producers know?

So, to those who appreciate the long written form (and those who relish the gory details of my kitchen tribulations), this one’s for you.

I am currently on a hunt for the best chocolate cake recipe ever. The one I’ve been using has served me well, but I’m looking for something even more moist and springy – dare I say, close to that fabled Lana texture.

I was drawn to Tish Boyle’s Deeply Dark Devil’s Food Cake because she promises that it’d be (a) moist and (b) tall, able to be cut into two or three layers. But halfway through making the batter, I knew I had a goner on my hands.

I had previously tried recipes that required adding lots of water. And invariably, the cakes turned out dense and rubber-sole-like. This recipe required 1 and 1/3 cups of water, so the final batter was diluted and runny, like the consistency used to make pancakes.

Down-trodden, I dumped the cake tin in the oven. But what came out after 55 minutes was not something I’d expected. Firstly, Boyle wasn’t kidding about the Deeply Dark part. It was the blackest dem cake I have ever made. It looked like it was covered in soot. But then secondly, it was moist! And soft! And it melted in my mouth!

At 1.5 inches, it wasn’t as tall as I’d like it to be. I must have overmixed something. But never mind, next time I’ll just use a smaller tin, ha. But while delicious and all, it’s still not the texture I’m looking for, so the search continues.

Then, it was Z’s turn to be perplexed by the cake. It was so dark he wasn’t sure how to light it. As I babysat En En in our air-conditioned bedroom, he sweated over what colour plates to use, where to position his light stands, how to get rid of shadows, etc, in the dining room. Eventually, the photo he took is… not the one above.

The lighting was too harsh, he said. It looked perfectly fine to me. But Z is the sort who is as fussy about where shadows fall as I am about apostrophes. “You’re only as good as your last photo”, he opines, and there was no way he was gonna let me post it.

“Let’s reshoot,” I suggested gingerly, desperate to have a photo accompany this post. I mean, what’s a cake blog without photos? It’d be like Playboy without photos.

“Can’t lah, busy,” he said, lest I forget that he is a full-time employee, weekend mountain-biker, Sunday church-goer, father to a seven-month-old baby, and husband to a demanding, cake-obsessed wife.

“I’ll just touch it up,” he offered. And I was happy.

So here you have it, the photo courtesy of Mr Photoshop. Ain’t it a Black Beauty?


Green Tea Pound Cake May 26, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 9:44 pm
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I LOVE it when cakes turn out well on the very first try, as it says a lot about the recipe. This green tea pound cake recipe by Nick Malgieri really works. The taste of green tea melds perfectly with butter, and it is moist, tender and – very important to Asian tastebuds – not too sweet.

It may have something to do with the fact that the eggs yolks were separated from the whites, which is quite unusual for pound cakes.

I’m so pleased with the result that I’ve asked Z to angle this photo like the one in Malgieri’s book. Some people call it copying, I call it flattery.

(Actually, Z says he likes this one better.)

(I kinda agree.)


The Perfect Blend May 23, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 11:25 pm
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I’m one of those people who absolutely abhors coffee. Don’t tell me to take a sip and appreciate how woody, nutty or spicy it is. To me, it’s just bitter and leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

(I nearly decided not to buy several top-name baking cookbooks because they contained sections under “Coffee Cakes”. Took me a while to realise they’re just cakes made to go with tea or coffee. Duh.)

But I love this buttercream, which has coffee in it. Why? Because it comes in the form of a liqueur, butofcos! Anything with a bit of alcohol is always good, yes? I read somewhere that orange and coffee flavours go really well together. And the buttercream on this cupcake, which has orange zest and Kahlua, makes me feel like I’m eating a cocktail.

Bottoms up.


Even Better Than The Real Thing May 22, 2008

Filed under: Birthday cakes — crummb @ 1:27 am
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STRIPES, babies, buttons – I thought I had exhausted the whole chocolate-cake-with-fondant-cut-outs design. But then D wanted a birthday cake for her mum and sis (who share the same birthday) and showed me a website with a chocolate cake with cute, retro circles on it. She wanted me to copy it and have the circles in ivory and rose.

And whaddya know. In my humblestest opinion, I think my version kicked the original’s ass (C’mon D, back me up here. Just click on Comments. See it? Good).


The True Love Cupcake May 20, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 11:28 pm
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IT WAS very clear to me that my husband Z (who, by the way, is the designated photographer of this blog) and I are meant to be the day I wanted this cupcake photographed.

Finally, I’d found a modelling fondant recipe that wouldn’t melt at room temperature, and was able to make roses and leaves out of it. The cupcake, consisting of chocolate almond cake topped with mousseline buttercream, was ready for its close-up.

Without my knowledge, Z went to Ikea over lunchtime and bought a table runner, little saucers in various colours and napkins to style the shoot, as well as various coloured lightbulbs, a light stand, huge boards and wax paper to set up a little home studio in our dining room. And, he took more than an hour of careful positioning of this and that before he got this shot.

“We’re so right for each other, darleeeng,” I said, eyelashes a-fluttering.

“Why?” he grunted.

“Because we pursue our hobbies together.”

“You mean because I pursue your hobby.”

And that’s why I married him. He is always so right.


Say It Ain’t Sew May 19, 2008

Filed under: Birthday cakes — crummb @ 11:16 pm
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I had grand intentions for S’s birthday cake. It was to be a two-tier chocolate ganache cake with pink and aqua fondant buttons attached to the sides. She is, after all, co-owner du jour of Swirl, a gorgeous boutique of very pretty clothes.

But I was lazy and decided not to cut off the dome of the upper tier. And the whole cake ended up looking like some sad, inverted, asymmetrical mushroom. I had no choice but to chuck the top tier and present just the bottom one – a small, 7-inch cake – to S the next day.

As if it wasn’t bad enough, the buttons melted in my car as I drove to the office. But S, ever appreciative S, was still thrilled by it. If my lurve is happy, I’m happy.