When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Smoked salmon and fennel quiche September 25, 2008

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 12:38 am
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FINALLY! I got my camera fixed this week and I am liberated. I’m no longer at the mercy of my husband Z, whose extremely business-unsavvy Z Photo Studio opens only once a week for two measly hours. Now, I can bake as many cakes as I like and take my own photos (and wear out his PhotoShop!). But most exciting of all, I can now take photos of the various steps in the baking process, much like Smitten Kitchen!

Zann introduced me to this cooking blog and I became an instant fan. The blogger posts photos of her cooking process and they are absolutely pixel-sharp and delicious-looking. I’m thinking that she must have professional lights installed over her cooker and dining table – because her pix are always so gorgeously lit. Maybe she’s got a husband who’s always around to hold her wooden spoon or pour in her batter while she focuses her camera – I donno. Maybe she’s got three hands. But I know for sure that she must have a hell of a water bill.

When I shot the making of this dish, taken from Dean Brettschneider’s Global Baker, I was washing my hands every few minutes every time I had to pick up the camera. It’s a bit of a drag – but hey, anything to get more hits and achieve web domination.

Ready to be dazzled? Click here


Green tea cream puff September 18, 2008

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 9:49 am
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YEARS from now, when I am old and grey, I will remember the green tea cream puffs I made yesterday (taken from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot) as the first thing that did it.

By “it”, I mean feeding my husband Z something that finally makes him sit up and shout across the hallway, “Wah! Very good!”. By “it”, I mean packing 12 cream puffs in a container the next morning for his office tea-time and see him exclaim, “All these for meee?” Then, when he reaches the office, in case I forgot, he reminds me by texting: “Very yum!”

I’m not saying this lightly. These cream puffs are a milestone. Revolutionary. Epoch-making.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of their achievement, you have to understand: Z doesn’t like desserts. He doesn’t even like to eat. After I’ve made a cake and am piling superlatives on it, he could take a bite, look me straight in the eye and say, “It’s okay lah.”

If he were native American, his name would be “Rains On Your Parade”.

For more of Z’s unfathomable dietary leanings, go here. Or read the following conversation we had in the car:

Me: (Gazing out the window) I wanna eat expensive food. I miss all that stuff I used to review.

Z: Can lah, we go eat. Once a month.

Me: You? It’d be wasted on you. I’d rather go with Jenny, or Chris.

Z: No, no, no Jenny. No Chris. Eat with me. You have to educate me what.

Me: I’m talking about really fine food leh. Like this martini-glass thing I had at Iggy’s: cauliflower mousse at the bottom, Japanese uni in the middle and shiso jelly on top. Two mouthfuls and it’s gone. (Translation for non-Singaporean readers: Iggy’s serves modern European food with strong Japanese influences, rated top 100 in the world by Restaurant magazine)

Z: How much?

Me: $150 for lunch set.

Z: Whaaat?

Me: But it’s got five or six courses. It’s considered reasonable.

Z: Okay lah. Then we eat somewhere at $70 per head. Reasonable?

Me: Hmmm… yeee-ah… That’s like Da Paolo without wine… (Translation: Da Paolo is a mid-upper Italian chain that serves freshly made pasta in beige-soaked, designer surrounds)

Z: Seventy bucks and it’s without wine?! Sh**. It’s just carbonara man.

Me: So? Are we eating or not?

Z: I’m just thinking about the bike parts I can buy with $70.

Me: Fine food is like that what.

Z: I’d rather eat chup chye png. (Translation: A $3 plate of rice with choice of three dishes)

Me: Chiak sai lah. (Translation: Eat my waste matter, why don’t you.)


Banana Caramel Cake September 11, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 2:24 pm
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AFTER that catastrophic brush with banana cake in my last entry, you’d think that I’ve sworn off bananas for life, yah? You’d expect me to ban the fruit from my kitchen, withhold it from my 10-month-old baby even though it’s her favourite, and forbid anyone to utter those three damned syllables in my presence, yes?

Well, no!

For my next cake, I’d gone right ahead to make another banana cake, this time from the hallowed recipe troves of Martha Stewart.

I had to review her Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for work and, after a quick skim, I thought, Hoi! how come no one told me about this? The baking compendium has recipes and photos that look so unspeakably gorgeous I could lick the pages. It’s the only cookbook I’ve ever come across that made me wanna make every single one of its recipes. Yes, even blueberry muffins – and I hate muffins.

I couldn’t wait to make her banana cake because this recipe is (a) frosted with whipped cream, and y’all know I’ll eat a toy tractor if it comes with whipped cream; and (b) filled with bananas cooked in caramel, which is unusual.

Making the various components took an entire afternoon, but when it was ready, it rocked. The whipped cream, made deeper and more stable by an addition of mascapone cheese, cut through the richness of the cake. And the mushy banana filling gave an added texture to the overall taste. After one bite, I moaned and thought, This is not just cake. This is dessert.

I was not alone in my adulation. My mum loved the cake. Even my husband Z, who pretty much doesn’t enjoy food full-stop, said it was “very good”.

So, Martha, allow me to express my newfound devotion to you. I don’t care how your TV shows are so darn boring, how you should really lighten up about cutlery placements, or how, beneath that very proper The Hamptons exterior, you are – according to that unauthorised biography – really a sex fiend.

I salute you because you helped me overcome a rabid fear of banana cakes. You are, as you often say, a ver-rry Good Thing.


Banana cake with white chocolate and cream cheese frosting September 4, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 3:17 pm
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Good morning, boys and girls. For today’s lesson in confectionery arts 101, I shall expound on this very important principle: DO NOT bake when you are in a hurry.

Take a look at Exhibit A. It is a standard two-layer banana cake filled and coated with cream cheese and white chocolate frosting. It looks perfectly fine, yes? All that soft-focus camera angling even makes it cookbook-worthy, yes? But no. It could have been much better.

Look closely at the cake layers. Each one could’ve been at least 1cm taller, had the baker – a certain Ms Crummb – bothered to wait until the butter had softened properly before creaming it with sugar. See how the cake texture looks horribly compacted and dense? It would’ve been avoided if Ms Crummb had remembered to take the buttermilk out of the fridge and let it to come down to room temperature. Room temperature! It is essential that liquids like milk, buttermilk, sour cream and the like be at room temperature when they are added to a cake batter. This is a basic cake-making principle.

Now, I quizzed Ms Crummb about the cake’s texture as I noticed a rather hard, plasticky sheen on the smaller slice. And lo! She admitted that she had taken the cake out of the fridge just moments before she frosted it. So it was still unpalatably chilled at the time of photography. Now, I don’t want to go into the importance of realism in cake photography, since I’ve already covered that a few lectures ago. But let me stress at least this: Your cakes must be completely consumable even at the photoshoot! Do not lie to your audience by skimping on butter or sugar or presenting it at some odd temperature. Unlike ads for KFC and Pizza Hut where dry ice and hairspray are used with mindless abandon, every bit of fakery shows up in cakes!

I managed to get to the bottom of Ms Crummb’s lacklustre effort. Between sniffles and sobs, she confessed that she had made the cake in a hurry. She said she had only one hour to bake this cake because her 10-month-old was awake, her babysitting mother couldn’t stop the baby from crawling all over the walls, and she had to get everything done before her husband/photographer got home from work. Her husband, she cried, is a very busy man. He can only set aside one night a week, and only two hours each time, to shoot her cakes. Which was why she didn’t have time to thaw the butter, the buttermilk and the cake. She had to do everything chop-chop.

Well. That would explain why the frosting was slapped on in such a sloppy, haphazard manner, wouldn’t it? Look at how messy the strokes are. They look like wet cement dabbed on by a  construction worker who has a broken wrist and a blindfold on.

Boys and girls, cake-making is an art! It requires time, care and your full attention! Did Da Vinci rush through Mona Lisa so he could attend to the Sunday roast? Did Rodin take breaks from sculpting The Thinker so he could do some leisurely loin-cloth weaving? No! They were fully and unwaveringly committed to the cause!

So if you don’t have the time, don’t bake at all! Or you’d end up with this monstrosity of a cake.

Tomorrow, I’ll expect all of you to hand in your essays on sifting mechanics. I will punish latecomers by force-feeding them a piece of this cake.

Okay, class dismissed.