When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Whipped Cream Layer Cake November 20, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 4:39 pm
Tags: , , , ,


OKAY, it’s confirmed. I’m a cakezilla. And I knew when I started having violent thoughts about Nick Malgieri.

This guy is a revered American baking expert who had written books called How To Bake, Perfect Cakes, and Perfect Pastry. With titles as audacious as these, you’d expect his recipes to be  workable, yes?

Well, no! This is what happened.

My boss asked me to review his latest book, The Modern Baker, for the newspaper. And I was bordering on delirious when I scanned the contents and came across this recipe – Whipped Cream Layer Cake. Regulars to this blog would know by now how much I love whipped cream. And this cake has another ingredient that stirs my loins – caramel. Whipped cream and caramel in one cake! It’s like Christmas every day!

The cake itself went really well. Whipped cream is used in place of butter to provide tenderness and it emerged from the oven firm yet moist. But trouble brewed when I tried making caramel, which is to be whipped into the frosting.

The recipe says 1/2 cup of sugar to 1 teaspoon of water. Mix it up and heat it until it caramelises. Problem is, there’s too little water so instead of caramelising, it crystallised and turned back into coarse sugar.

But this cannot be. We’re talking about Nick Malgieri – graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, pastry chef of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, winner of numerous James Beard Foundation awards, named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America by Chocolatier magazine, and 1996 inductee into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. How can Nick Malgieri be wrong?

So I tried again. And again. Five times I heated the sugar and water and five times I got the same blood-boiling result. 

With steam shooting out of my ears, I turned to another cookbook for a proper caramel recipe. I whipped up the frosting, covered the cake, and it tasted absolutely divine.

But still I was mad. While washing up, wild thoughts ran amok:

Call yourself an award-winning cookbook author? Can’t even make bloody caramel!

Charge US$35 for that cookbook? Use summa that to hire a recipe tester!

Look at all these sugar I’m throwing away. Those sugar canes died for nothing!

Don’t let me meet you in person, Mr Malgieri, or I’m gonna smear all that rock sugar on your bearded face. Take that for James BEARD!

Husband-photographer Z came home and told me about his day at work. Mmph, I responded. He told me a joke. Mmph, I attempted a laugh. My baby daughter could have launched into a Riverdance routine, executed a 2-half somersault in pike position and a perfect landing, and I would’ve just said, Mmph. I was that grumpy.

I am cakezilla. Hear me roar.


P/S: On a completely separate note, can somebody please drop a comment about how gorgeous this photo looks? I mean, it is pretty damn good, right? I think husband-photographer Z did a great job. But hardly anyone ever paid any attention to his photos. And he is sad. Every time I check in for stats and comments, he’d go, “No one say anything about my photo?” I’d look at him in silence,  he’d look back, and we’d hear crickets chirping from a faraway distance.

C’mon guys, show him some lerv.


22 Responses to “Whipped Cream Layer Cake”

  1. DO Says:

    the pictures on this site look really good all the time! I think i’ve refrained myself from lunging at the pictures on my screen, quite a few times actually..

  2. Sharon Says:

    actually, i hadn’t even read your posting and was already lured in by the very nice photo of the very nice cake. shame about the results though. but yes, that P/S bit is unnecessary. It’s a darn good photo, Photographer Husband Z.

  3. Sharon Says:

    oh.. i meant results like the failed caramel in rock-sugared bearded Malgieri’s recipe. and that’s a darn good photo!

  4. Ah Pei Says:

    Gosh.. we are living in the world of complains & super lack of compliments thats why ! Cos your website is of cos nothing to complain about ! Hee. But please let your husband know he did a super great job, have always like the pictures as much as i like your words !! Didn’t comment the other time on your post where you make your girl a cake. The pic of your girl & you hiding below is FABULOUS !

  5. Hana Says:

    hello! thought i’ll drop a note after not being able to think anything else but cake – Z takes amazing photos, all very nicely composed to show your cakes off 🙂

    love the one of the wedding cake & blurred couple, and the cheeky one of your girl and you! hope all’s been good with you.

  6. chris Says:

    Z, your photos very power, and I mean that.

    Ms Cakezilla, I am bemused by your MSM (Malgieri Sucrose Malfunction)…I have often melted sugar with barely any water at all to make caramel? Yes, even when the water evaporates and the sludgy white mess turns back into sugar granules, which almost always happens, you just have to keep going. (And don’t stir.) Over medium heat, the bottom layer of recrystallised sugar will eventually melt – you can tell when the top crusty layer starts sliding about – and that’s when you swirl the pan. And then caramel will happen.
    I once saw Gary Rhodes blast a mound of completely dry sugar in a nonstick pan over high heat, and he got it melting in under 5 minutes!

  7. Midori Says:

    You’re so funny! And Z has an uncanny eye for colour combinations (bright turquoise and the yellow of that cake). His photos look like they are taken at that magical happy hour around 4pm, when it’s hot, and you’re preparing to fix yourself a tall cold drink and doze off in the sunny balcony.

  8. Stef Says:

    Hi Pau Lin…I completely agree with Chris,had that happen to me once and I went into semi-shock before sheer determination (or ass-headed stubborness!) kicked in and I just kept the heat going,no stirring…and then caramel happened after a minute or so,swirling/shaking the pan to dissolve the sugar had me a wonderfully golden result. It can go from golden to an angry dark brown in seconds though,so be careful!

  9. crummb Says:

    hi everyone,
    BIG HUGS to you for your kinds words. once Z recovers from my shocking lack of shame in soliciting for compliments, he will come on and thank you too.

    chris and stef: WHAT? you mean i may have maligned Nick Malgieri? But but but, I did make caramel once with absolutely no water at all and it turned out fine. but for some reason, with just 1 teaspoon of water, it turned to coarse sugar, and even after leaving it on the heat for some time, it still didn’t budge. maybe i shoulda waited a bit longer. but seriously, i am so traumatised by this that i don’t wanna try anymore.

    still, the thought of having maligned that poor man is gnawing at me now. what if he ever reads this?

    *stony silence*

    *crickets chirping*

    die la.

    • sugahmommy Says:

      Hi Pau Lin

      I am a real fan of your blog. But I also ADORE Nick Malgieri. And because of that I feel compelled to inform you that you have definitely maligned the poor man!! It is not uncommon for sugar to seize up when caramelising, you just have to, as you friends have pointed out, soldier on and continue heating, and it will all eventually melt beautifully. David Leibovitz has a very instructive post on caramel here:
      He also explains the difference between dry and wet methods of caramelising. Hope this helps!

      • crummb Says:

        thank you sugahmommy! i shall read it and, if proven wrong, send Nick Malgieri a million red roses 🙂

  10. Stef Says:

    the water encourages crystallisation my dear lady…try one more time…pretty please!?

    it takes a fair amount of time for the melting to commence again,just remember the rule of no stirring…


  11. Z Says:

    hur hur..thanks…
    i try to get the photos right cos my meals depend on it.

  12. daphnechan00 Says:

    Helloo?? nice photos as ALWAYS !! And he knows it !

  13. sooch Says:

    Z, I’m sure you’ve not been left begging for your meals since you opened shop, which is evidence enough that your client is pretty pleased with your skills! I mean, for a Cakezilla like her to deem your photos complimentary enough to be put on her very nice blog speaks VOLUMES, doncha think? I wish I had my triple P (personal professional photographer) lor. My husband tries, bless the dear man, but…. can I send him to you for lessons? 🙂
    Ms Crummb, I hope you’ve since recovered from the anger + regret! What to do now? Quickly go make some caramel a la Malgieri, have raving success with it, and write about how pleased you are!

  14. Nick Malgieri Says:

    Aiyoh, why you diss me until lidat? *cry*

  15. crummb Says:

    very funny, chris. but for a second i almost broke out in cold sweat.. ;p

  16. Peh Says:

    The KNN Great Firewall of China somehow blocks this site (I think your cakes and the pics must be damn bloody subversive lah), so I rarely have a chance to come on these days. But before they lock me up for accessing a banned site, great pics Z!! Well done. 🙂

  17. spots Says:

    Hi, i love the photo and your post made me giggle too! Ya, all these glamorous cookbooks–doesn’t mean the recipes will work one! Sometimes, the paperback periplus recipes work better! Or just google can already! 🙂 By the way, I attended Clare’s wedding over the weekend, and she mentioned that u were the one who baked those cupcakes! They were SUPER GOOD (and I don’t normally like cupcakes) 🙂 Keep it up whoot!!!

  18. crummb Says:

    Mr Peh! for risking life and limb just to drop me a line, name me any cake and i will make it for you next time you’re in town. it’s a promise 🙂

    spots: wow, you were at the wedding?! were we introduced? glad you like the cupcakes. they were made with a lot of love (and sweat).

  19. Gackter Says:

    Fantastic photo! It made me stray in from google image search.

  20. Virginia Moran Says:

    I stumbled upon your blog looking at chocolate / orange marble cake photos. I thought your cake looked the best. And so do the other cakes! It’s inspiring.

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