When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Mini layer cakes December 31, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes,Inane stuff — crummb @ 5:16 pm
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Phoon Huat & Company (Pte) Ltd
231A Pandan Loop
Singapore 128419

Dear Sir,

Re: Urgent enrolment into the Wilton Method Cake Decorating Course

I am writing to make an urgent request. Can I be slotted into your Discover Cake Decorating (Course 1) class scheduled in March?

I was very disappointed to learn from your staff that the class is fully booked, and I have to wait to be informed about the next class. But I cannot afford to wait. I need to take the class AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Let me explain.

I am an avid baker who writes a cake blog at As you will see on the site, I have not made any cakes with elaborate piping work because, frankly, I don’t know how to. Whenever a cake called for buttercream decoration, I always adopted the “dab-and-fake-it” method. This involves using a spatula and dabbing on buttercream in a random manner to achieve a casual, free-flowing effect.

It is a look that is popularised by many cookbooks today, and it has even earned me a few nice comments from my readers. But deep down in my heart of hearts, I know I am a fake. I can’t do the basketweave or the fleur de lis. I don’t even know how to pipe a ruffle. Not even a damn leaf.

To illustrate my predicament, I have attached a photo of three mini layer cakes I made recently. For the first, I utilised the ‘dab-and-fake-it’ method which, as you can see, I’ve perfected to an artform. For the second, I attempted a more complicated style that required greater upper-arm dexterity – by pulling the spatula upwards to create even, vertical stripes. The result was okay, though not spectacular.

For the third, I decided to bravely confront my demons. I took out my piping tip #16 and created a shell border on top of the cake. But instead of looking like neatly graduating swirls, they resembled the rounded behinds of a bunch of gorillas bending over side by side.

It was such an eye-sore that my husband, who takes the photographs on my blog, relegated the cake right to the back of the picture, where the circle of shiny posteriors could be obscured by soft focus.

As you can see, my piping skills are in URGENT need of improvement. Only you, by immediately putting me in your class, can take me out of this deep, dark abyss. My reputation, my conscience, my very sanity!, are now in your hands.

I await your good news.

Yours most sincerely,



P/S: Happy new year, everyone! Thanks for dropping by this past year 🙂


Say no to child pornography and prostitution: Eat cake! December 25, 2008



I’VE been dying to announce this for a while and now it’s finally time:

I’ve made a bit of money from the sale of my cakes. As of now, I’ve collected a grand total of $860 and it’s all going to charity. YAAAY!

The idea came about a few months back when friends started asking me to make this cake or that for birthdays and stuff. Frankly, I got lazy and dragged my feet because a profit of $10 or $20 really wasn’t worth the effort. I gotta drive out to get the ingredients, spend time away from my baby as I bake, and – the most vomitous of all – do the washing up.

But, from a divine confluence of triggers – like reading about horrific child-kidnapping stories in the news, watching the heartbreaking The Kite Runner, and gazing at my baby’s face nightly as she sleeps – I felt I want to really do something about the scum-of-the-earth who exploit children in prostitution and pornography.

But I’m just a part-time copy-editor and mother of one who loves to bake. What can I do? Well, okay, I’m gonna bake. Even if it’s just for $10, knowing that it’ll do something to stop this evil scourge makes any form of kitchen drudgery worthwhile.

The money from my cakes will go directly to two non-profit organisations that work towards these causes. They are:

ECPAT (End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). Founded in 1990 and based in Bangkok, ECPAT is a global network of organisations that works on various levels – local, national, international – to eliminate all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children. It now has more than 80 groups in over 70 countries. Through awareness and education, ECPAT works with governments, law enforcement, the technology industry and other NGOs to report and respond to such crimes. It helps develop laws to protect children and have aftercare programmes to rehabilitate victims.

INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION, a Washington-based human rights agency that operates in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Founded on the Christian call to “Seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17), its investigators partner with local police to carry out rescue missions to free victims from slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of oppression. In particular, it has field offices in Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and India where their focus is releasing children from trafficking, forced prostitution and pornography. Not only do they have aftercare professionals who help rebuild the victims’ lives, their lawyers also fight to put their perpetrators in jail. Yeah, you go!

If you order a cake from me, I will donate the profits to these two organisations. As a little nudge to give generously, I will ask that you pay whatever amount you wish (But if you’re stingy, I’ll kick your ass).

Do give me lots of notice though. I have only Mondays and Tuesdays to bake so I always have to plan early.

For the record, the $860 I collected came from the following ‘child crusaders’:

– Daphne Chan (chocolate mayonnaise cupcakes, chocolate ganache birthday cakes)

– Yong Siew Fern (oatmeal birthday cookies)

– My mum, on behalf of Hakka Methodist Church (buttercream cakes, banana and raisin cakes)

– Jessica & Han Ee (3-tier wedding cake)

– Charmayne & Alvin (3-tier wedding cake)

– Clare & Hong Meng (wedding cupcakes)

Thanks for partnering me in saving innocent children: Eat my cake! 🙂


C&HM’s wedding cupcakes December 15, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes,Wedding cakes — crummb @ 11:07 pm
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I MADE 100 cupcakes for Clare’s wedding last month. For a former theatre critic who could articulate a theory for everything – from why certain men are commitment-phobes to why a salad works – she was amazingly straight-forward with her cupcakes. Her only three specifics to me were: banana, green tea and white chocolate.

But I don’t wanna go into how fun it was to pair the flavours to create three different combos (banana cake + caramel buttercream; brown sugar cake + green tea buttercream; orange cake + white chocolate frosting).

Or about how baking the cupcakes (at a turtle-paced 12 at a time) started five days before the big day, which led me to miss the karaoke hen night because my last batch of batter was still sitting on my counter, waiting for its turn in the oven. I had serious plans to belt S Club 7, folks.

Or about how, when I was decorating the cupcakes the night before the wedding, my vision of pretty buttercream wreaths draping across the brown sugar cakes was shattered because, simply put, my piping skills suck. So I had to improvise and do something much simpler, and let my hand-made sugarpaste roses be the anchorpiece.

Or especially about how I made the white chocolate frosting fives times before I got it right. Note to self: white chocolate turns into a rigid, solidified lump at high temperature very suddenly. Melt


What I really wanna talk about is how this was one wedding that had me beaming ear-to-ear all through the solemnisation and banquet, which saw our intrepid table deliver the now-legendary throat-scorching, wallpaper-peeling yum seng. (If you must know, I was the star yum-senger. Bookings welcome. Just e-mail me.)

Why? Because Clare and Hong Meng’s is a love story that defies anyone who dares lament, ‘There’s no one in the world for me.’

What are the chances of a bookworm with obscure taste in music meeting another bookworm with the same obscure taste in music? Add to that, both followers of Christ who share similar values in family, fun and food? Plenty, if you leave it to the matchmaker upstairs.

Over the years, I’d seen Clare going through relationship no-gos, braving singlehood like a champ, and jetting off to Beijing for three years as a correspondent to satiate a cultural and intellectual wanderlust.

All the while, Hong Meng, someone she’s known from church, was pretty much just waiting for her to touch down.

Sometimes, you can scour the world only to find what you’re looking for right under your nose. I love it.


Caramel crumb bars December 10, 2008

Filed under: Cookies,Disaster cakes — crummb @ 12:49 am
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BEFORE you think I’m still on a rampage against Nick Malgieri, let me say right now that I had actually planned an ending to this post. And it reads: “You’re forgiven, Mr Malgieri.”

See, I’m reviewing his latest cookbook The Modern Baker for the newspaper and I can’t possibly shred it to smithereens just because his caramel recipe was a dud (read drama here). Maybe that recipe was the only blip in an otherwise faultless tome of culinary mastery and genius.

So to be fair, I decided to try another recipe from the book. And to up his chances for salvation, I chose a cookie recipe because, unlike cakes, cookies are pretty much fail-proof. I also chose to make Caramel Crumb Bars because I love caramel, and its success would obliterate all hard feelings (and hard sugar on my saucepan) I have towards the man after my previous caramel outing with him.

I would wax poetic about how buttery the cookie base was, how creamy the caramel on top, and how crispy the crumble bits sprinkled all over. Then, I would declare with big-hearted, seam-busting goodwill, “You’re forgiven, Mr Malgieri.”

Erm, it is not to be.

First, his recipe called for too little flour to be rubbed into the dough to make the crumble. Second, his instructions for caramel (yes, again!) was suspect. The butter, condensed milk, brown sugar and vanilla concoction has to be heated over an extremely low flame. No warning was given so my caramel burnt and sprouted unsightly brown specks. Furthermore, his 30-minute baking time was way too short. The cookie base emerged undercooked and I had to pop them back in for another 20. By the time the base was cooked, the caramel was hard and gluey. I flossed really hard that night.

It pains my heart, Mr Malgieri. But you leave me no choice:

Crummb 3, Malgieri 0


Hard candy December 3, 2008

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 11:16 am


Alright. Persuaded by Stef, a reader who is sweet enough to have dropped a few comments in the past (I lerv comments!), I have decided to give Nick Malgieri and his %$#!@*@!!! caramel recipe another go.

So I mixed 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of water, plonked it on the heat and DID NOT STIR. As it did the last five times I tried this, the damn thing crystallised into a layer of lumpy rock sugar. But I stood firm, I DID NOT STIR. After the sun went down (okay, I exaggerate, but it was a looong time), finally some bits of the sugar started melting. But it melted unevenly, and by the time all of it turned to liquid, some parts had turned a dark, scary brown. When it was safe to finally give it a good swirl, the overall colour was a dark amber (see pic).

Yes, I succeeded in making a sugar syrup alright, but the colour was too dark, and the flavour a little too burnt. 

So. Does this mean that I have maligned Mr Malgieri? No! If stirring is strictly prohibited during this process, why didn’t he say so in the book?  Plus! Between this gruelling method and say, just about any other caramel recipe known to man, I’d go for the latter. Why? Because I’m no sucker for pain! I wanna make my caramel and not have a few years chopped off my lifespan!

Therefore, I rest my case. Mr Malgieri is guilty of gross indecency for inflicting such abject pain to me, not to mention the hundreds of sugar canes whose lives were wasted on failed experiments.


Crummb 2, Malgieri 0