When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

The ultimate chocolate cake January 27, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes,Birthday cakes — crummb @ 11:46 pm


I read in a cookbook that some American auntie has this saying: “A sad cake is a happy cake.”

Say what?

Like how an ugly cake is also a beautiful cake? Or a sunken mess is also a risen sponge? These Americans are crazy.

But I take back my words. Now I fully understand what she meant after I made this cake, taken from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers In Baking.

It was meant to be the Salty And Sweet Cake, their signature item in their funky New York bakery. But, I tell you, their recipe for the salty caramel frosting was a complete farce.  Already, I wanted to kick Nick Malgieri’s rotund behind for making me make rock sugar instead of caramel a few weeks ago (read diatribe here). What should I do to these two jokers who told me to make caramel by heating the sugar up to the Hades-like 350 deg Fahrenheit? The caramel was so burnt it smelled of putrified rodents. It’s supposed to be Salty and Sweet, dudes, not Rabid and Radioactive!

But I’m relinquishing my right to shove the vile sludge down their throats: They are saved by their recipe for the chocolate cake layers. I’m not a fan of chocolate, but even I totally swooned when I sank my teeth into the cake. It was moist, it was tender, it was super chocolatey. It was possibly the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made.

But here’s the “sad cake is a happy cake” part. The three layers have to be baked individually, and while each rises to a grand 1-1/2 inches, it sinks by 1/2 inch with 10 minutes to go before it is done.

They emerge with slight ridges around the sides. But still, stacked together, they make a tall, delicious cake with a slight bounce. There was no salty caramel frosting so I piled on some leftover buttercream from the freezer. It worked just as well.

I cut a slice for myself and gave the rest to my husband to share with his colleagues in the office. I am proud to report that, ahem, the cake was a bona fide hit.

Don’t believe me? Read comments below.  (C’mon, people of Discovery Inc, show me some love!)


(Or no more cake for you.)

Click here for recipe


Cupid’s Strawberry Cake with cream cheese buttercream January 22, 2009

Filed under: Disaster cakes — crummb @ 10:42 am
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DO NOT attempt to adjust your computer screen. This cake is really as bad as it looks.

Ever since I started this blog last May, I have – only half-jokingly too – tried to project myself as some baking wunderkind on the cusp of conquering the confectionery world. But at the start of this new year, I thought, what the heck, I’m gonna be honest. I’m gonna post photos of ALL the stuff that comes out of my oven – the good, the bad, and the damn ugly, starting with this cataclysmic wreck of a cake.

I mean, no matter how much I improve my piping skills or perfect the art of chocolate tempering, I’m never going to approach the greatness of the incomparable Cannelle et Vanille or Tartelette. The stuff they make is just outta this world. Who am I to upset their reign over the baking blogosphere?

So I’ve decided to be a master of another category of blogs – the kind that shows you the out-takes and bloopers from baking.  If I keep making cakes as disastrous as this one, I’ll be the almighty ruler of this realm.

Anyway, this recipe is taken from Flo Braker’s new book, Baking For All Occasions. Let me say first that even if it had turned out looking like the pretty photo in the book, I still wouldn’t eat it because it was so unbearably sweet, it was murder.

The cake layers were already too sweet. And still you gotta slather on two layers of fruit jam, plus another filling and all-over coating of  cream cheese buttercream. It’s might as well that the cake bombed. At least I didn’t have to eat it.

So what went wrong? My memory is a little fuzzy now, but I think it had something to do with my not waiting for the buttercream mixture to cool completely before whipping in the cream cheese. So what started out as a  thick, spreadable concoction suddenly turned into sad, watery puddle.

It was a joke trying to spread the thing on the cake. Imagine painting your wall with water. It got even funnier when I placed a layer of cake on top of the cream cheese puddle. The cake literally went “splat” and the cream cheese dribbled down the sides, taking along with it my pretty, carefully arranged strawberry slices.

It was so bad, it’s good.

Allow me, then, to lyricise the cruel beauty of this accidental creation: Such contrast between furry crumb and shiny liquid. Such juxtaposition of hard-edged cake and free-flowing buttercream. Such DRAMA made possible using just flour, butter, sugar and cream!

This, my friends, is art!


Milk Chocolate Malt Ball Cake January 14, 2009


HERE’S a question for all you bakers out there. Who do you blame when a cake turns out badly?

The cookbook author? For having the balls to charge $60 for a book that contains a dud recipe?

The shopkeeper? Because, you know, how could she run out of 65g eggs?! Using 55g eggs will adversely affect your batter’s proportion! Doesn’t she know?

Your oven? Because the thermometer is wonky, and you’re too cheapskate to buy a digital thermometer?

Or yourself? For not being careful because you just had a tiff with your husband and you see his face in the batter and you end up overbeating it?

Or your husband? Because, ditto?

I couldn’t decide whom to blame when I made this cake, taken from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s funky new book, Baked: New Frontiers In Baking. It was a cake I had to make because it contains one of my favourite ingredients, malt (Horlicks, that is. I swore off whisky long ago after it made me hug a toilet bowl for one whole night).

Check out the end product above. Looks pretty good on the outside, yes? Well, wait till I show you a photo of it with a slice cut out. The bottom half of each of the three malt cake layers were completely gummy. (I didn’t have the courage to publish that pic, folks. Alas, my skin is thin.)

Gumminess, in my book, is the second most horrifying thing to see in a cake. It ranks just behind a beautifully risen cake sinking the second you open the oven door. (And, perhaps, watching someone at a party wolf down the last slice of strawberry shortcake from Tampopo Deli).

A quick search on the Net revealed that the gumminess was most possibly due to underbaking. But how could it be? The cakes were pulling away from the sides of the pan when I took them out. Shrinkage is a sure sign that a cake is cooked. Right? Riiiiight? (As you can see, friends, just reliving this is hurting me real bad).

So I can’t blame myself. But I can’t blame the authors either. Maybe the cakes really were underbaked?

I had measured the ingredients and followed the instructions carefully, and my husband wasn’t home during the making of this cake. So I can’t blame them either.

*Thunder clap…* Life is hell when you got no one to blame!!!

But if there’s one good thing about this cake, it is the milk chocolate frosting. Oooo yeah. Dare I say it is the best chocolate coating I’ve ever tasted? It is a typical ganache (chocolate and cream) but with chunks of butter whipped in. So the texture is way smoother and silkier than regular ganache. It was absolutely yumm-meh.

Let’s just dwell on that and not think about the debacle that lies within. Mmmmm… I’m feeling better already.


The great American pound cake January 7, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 5:54 pm
Tags: , ,

american-pound-cake-loIf there’s one thing I’ve learnt ever since I started this baking thing, it’s this: One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Or shall I say, One man’s perfect pound cake is another man’s putrid pound cake.

Shirley O. Corriher’s latest cookbook BakeWise, which I reviewed last month for the newspaper, opened with this tantalising tale: She reckons she has developed a recipe for the ultimate American pound cake.

Yeah, right. Just about every cookbook I own has a recipe for a “perfect pound cake”. So what. But what sets Corriher’s apart is that she adapted hers from four other perfect pound cake recipes.

She found that recipes taken from a relative, her step-daughter’s friend’s mother, and two from professional bakers – who all proclaim their recipe is “the best” – are essentially the same! Is your heart beating faster now? Mine sure did.

They all have 3 cups flour, about 3 cups sugar, 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups fat, 5 or 6 eggs, under a teaspoon of leavening, 2 to 3 teaspoons flavouring, and 1 cup liquid. Each recipe uses a different liquid – sour cream, buttermilk, heavy cream, milk.

So what happened was, she tweaked the recipe here and there – like substituting some butter with veg shortening, substituting some flour with potato starch, adding a bit of canola oil, egg yolks, and whipped cream – to create this suped-up, super-charged pound cake that’s ultra sweet and moist.

Is your jaw on the floor yet? Are you convulsing at the thought of finally sinking your teeth into the ultimate pound cake? Crawling out the door to get a copy of this book?

Well, of course I had to give this recipe a try. And my verdict? It’s okay only lah.

First, Corriher has a notoriously sweet tooth so one bite of this cake could send you straight to NKF (National Kidney Foundation). And, true, it is quite moist. But still, it doesn’t quite hit the spot for me. If this is the great American pound cake, I ain’t going to America. 

My perfect pound cake is one that has big holes in it. It glistens from an unearthly amount of butter added in, it’s not too sweet, and it springs back when I bite.

In short, my perfect pound is the one I grew up eating, brought home by mum from some ching-cheong bakery in the neighbourhood market. Don’t need no fancy-schmantzy canola oil or whipped cream.

I recently had a taste of it when my colleague Pat made her signature butter cake and gave me a slice at work. Believe you me, I begged her for the recipe even if it meant organising the dreaded office party for her for the next 10 years. 

The tragic thing is, even she can’t get it right all the time – something about not creaming it too long or the texture will be dense. Well, I’ve tried the recipe three times – by varying oven temperature and amount of baking powder – and they all bombed.

But one day, world, I’m gonna get there. And then I’m gonna call it the great Singapore pound cake.