When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

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.


14 Responses to “Milk Chocolate Malt Ball Cake”

  1. Cookie Says:

    oh, c’mon blame the atrocious angmoh bakers! You and I are the most diligent bakers in Singapore, JB and some say Batam, ain’t we?

  2. crummb Says:

    you guddit, sis! one day we will rule the world 🙂

  3. Ah Pei Says:

    Hi Crummb !
    Your cake still look so delicious despite you saying its not !
    I’m a fan of your blog !!

    By the way, any good books to recommend if i want to better understand baking ingredients ? Not so much on recipes but more of to understand the nature of baking ingredients or process. Pleeeeaaassseee help. hee.

    Currently there’s a 30% borders email discount coupon out there circulating plus 10% additional for members. Valid till 22 jan, so if you have any books you wish to buy, just let me know !! I’m Daphne friend so i can pass to her if you get any books !! My office is just next to Borders, can go any day !

    Cheers !
    Ah Pei

  4. crummb Says:

    hello ah pei!

    thanks for your kinds words 🙂
    borders discount: oooh!!! sounds fab! lemme think if there’s a book i wanna buy. then i pass the message on via Daphne? thanks for the offer, sweets!

    as for a book to recommend, i would say Shirley O. Corriher’s BakeWise. i reviewed it recently and it really made me understand baking ingredients a WHOLE LOT MORE! here’s what i wrote in ST. but warning: it’s not a very good-looking book. the photos are so bad it’s hilarious!

    By Shirley O. Corriher
    2008/Scribner/532 pages/Hardcover/$68.82/Books

    It’s hard to believe that in this age of publishing, photographs this comical can still be found in a cookbook.
    There aren’t many in this scholarly tome, but where there are, they are so poorly framed or closely cropped that you suspect the photographer – or the book editor – was seriously inebriated on the job.
    But if beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, it can certainly be found in the text. This is, bar none, the most comprehensive book I’ve ever read about the chemistry of baking.
    Shirley O. Corriher, a research biochemist and hardcore foodie, writes this book like a mystery novel. She sets out to solve the all-time great baking mysteries – like what makes a cake tough in texture, what makes a cookie crumble – and inserts over 200 recipes to back up her findings.
    Through her clearly and simply written theories, you learn how to spot a bad recipe and how to tweak it so that a cake is more moist/dry, a pastry is more flaky/bready and a cookie more soft/crumbly – whichever texture you prefer.
    I’ve never felt this smart after reading a cookbook.
    But be warned: Corriher has a severe sweet tooth so the sugar measurements in many of her recipes need to be toned down. In fact, even after I had cut down the sugar in her Whipped Cream Pound Cake and the Magnificent Moist Golden Cake (moist indeed, if a little dense), the cakes were still a tad too sweet.
    Ironically, the one question she fails to address is: “How much sugar can you reduce before it starts to affect texture?”
    Still, to any baker who wants to better navigate the big, and sometimes baffling, world of baking, this is a must-read.

  5. Ah Pei Says:

    Wow !! Thank you for your advise !! Woo Hoooo !! going to borders after work today then ! Can’t wait to get my hands on that book ! Hope they have it !

    Oh yes !! If you got any request for books, you can let daphne know. No worries !

    Thank you once again,
    Ah Pei

  6. Stef Says:

    oh no!
    nothing’s worse than a kueh cake. I modified Nigella’s Malteser choc cake (also has Horlicks in it but I added more) recently so if you exchange your ganache recipe,I’ll trade it with the modified cake! heehee… Will drop you a PM in FB…
    (hmmm…acronyms acronyms..)

  7. crummb Says:

    ok on! send it ovvvah!! 🙂

  8. Ratatouille Says:

    that exterior looked great. send some over if u can’t bear with the gumminess.

  9. tellaure Says:

    i bash myself up endlessly when the baking fails … and then head out to the supermarket to get more supplies so i can try it again … only to fail again!!! ARGHHHHHHHH.

    the chocolate coating looks incredible though. shiny and smooth. yum. stop posting pictures like this and not sharing the recipe!

    i really have to try that cake at tampopo deli. you constantly harping on it is making me REALLLLY interested. -looks at the ever expanding waistline- damn.

  10. crummb Says:

    ratatouille: i know it must be a crime in some parts of the world, but i actually threw away the damn cake after a few days! it was just sitting in the fridge – all gummy and disgusting – i couldn’t eat it.. no, not even with the divine chocolate frosting. but hey, here’s the recipe if you ever wanna make it yourself 🙂

    tellaure: and i thought i’m the only idiot who keeps revisiting the same damn recipe and failing! we should start a support group!
    tampopo deli – i went last week and – GASP! – they raised the price to $6 for a slice of the Scoop Cake! ooooh but it was soooooo gooooood….
    anyway here’s the recipe babe. enjoy! 🙂

    Milk Chocolate Frosting
    (taken from Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito’s Baked)

    8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
    8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
    1-1/2 heavy cream
    2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1-inch pieces

    Place both chocolates into a bowl. In a saucepan, bring cream and corn syrup to a boil, then pour immediately over the chocolate. Let stand for 2-3 minutes, then stir until mixture is completely smooth. Cool to room temperature. The beat in butter pieces using whisk attachment on medium speed. Frosting should be smooth and silky. Chill to spreadable consistency.

    • tina Says:

      how did you get the chocolate so smooth and glossy and so dark? is it the bittersweet chocolate that gives it the dark color and shine from the corn syrup? I made martha stewart dark chocolate frosting but it was so soft and did not hold up as well

  11. Sooch Says:

    Hey Crummb! Am catching up with your blog after a really busy period (while in the middle of waiting for the microscope to finish taking pictures. Shhhh!!!).
    About the question that Corriher doesn’t answer– a teacher once told me cakes need at least 20% sugar (I assume that’s baker’s percentage, ie 20% of flour weight?) or texture is affected. I haven’t tested it myself tho. Wanna do us all a favour and test it? 🙂
    Your latest post about the disaster cake really cracks me up! Yeah we’ve all been there haven’t we? So good to comfort each other with sob stories! I once made a wedding cake that didn’t survive the journey. There. Bet I made you feel tons better! It’s a nightmare I’ll never forget.

  12. crummb Says:

    hello soochie! welcome back! i missed you, hee.

    20% seems very low actually! i’m surprised that a cake can take such low amounts of sugar to even taste decent.

    as for disaster cakes – yah, i feel much better now. i hope i NEVER fail to deliver a wedding cake. it will be my ultimate nightmare!!! so what happened? are you still friends with your friend?

  13. smooch Says:

    Hahahaha!!! Yes that was the most dreaded question on my mind that fateful day, after I almost fainted at the sight of the cake at the premises. The tiers slid off… lay like the aftermath of an earthquake, richter scale 10. Only the top tier survived. My wonderful, wonderful, friend with truly the character of Jesus forgave me without shedding a single tear over her cake, and bravely cut her single small tier. Even now the recollection send chills down my spine (or is it the cold night air these days?). I didn’t know enough then to realize that you never, ever drive a stacked cake around without staking all the tiers, even if there are no hills and mountains where you’re going.

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