When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Easy cream puffs March 25, 2009

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 4:59 pm
Tags: ,


The other day, I was at the Malay stall in my office canteen when I saw something that made me snigger in the way movie villains do — with eyes squinted to a slit as I smiled a slow, evil smile.

But first, a bit of background. This Malay stall has been the reason that I’m known to be a bit of a weirdo in my workplace: I actually quite like the canteen food. Every lunchtime, my colleagues would dive across the road to eat at the foodcourt or coffeeshop opposite, or hop into a cab towards a nearby shopping mall — basically to flee in terror of the culinary offerings on our 7th floor. But not me.

I love the nasi padang at the Malay stall. I love its yummy sambal goreng, beef rendang, potato wedges with ikan bilis, sambal sotong, stir-fried green beans, tahu goreng, and a mee rebus that just can’t be beat. In fact, I credit my daughter E’s ruddy birthweight of 3.66kg to this sumptuous Malay spread, which I ate practically every day when I was pregnant with her.

That’s not all. Every day at around 3pm, the super illustrious stall pours forth a whole different spread for tea time: curry puff, roti john, kueh kueh, hamburgers, samosas, just to name a few. In my mind, the cooks behind this stall are virtual geniuses. Everything they make is just pure gold — until, that is, the day when I cracked that villainous smile.

The stall had just served up cream puffs. And there, on the counter, was a platter of puffs that should be more accurately described as “poofs”. Instead of looking perky and round, they were so flat they looked like they got sat on by an elephant.

Now, I’m not normally the sort who would dance all over other people’s shortcomings. But I had just recently come out of a grand, ego-bruising series of baking disasters, and seeing how even this stellar food stall could create such comical duds not only brought me some relief, I felt downright victorious.

Okay, one of the secrets to making good puffs is using bread flour because, according to Shirley Corriher’s BakeWise, its higher protein content creates a better puff that won’t collapse. This recipe for cream puffs, which I found in a Hong Kong cookbook called Everyday Treats, turned out really well and, yup, it uses bread flour.

But you can bet I won’t share this secret with the Malay stall. Sometimes, you gotta keep things down in order to feel up. *Evil smile*

Click here for recipe


A not-so Happy Birthday March 11, 2009


I could lie and say that the above is a fancy update of roti prata, but I won’t. In truth, it’s a no good piece-of-crap choux pastry I ended up making for my husband Z’s birthday last month.

Ever heard of Paris-Brest? It’s a French pastry in a shape of a wheel that was created in 1891 to celebrate some historic bike race from Paris to Brest. So how come my wheel looked like it ran over a bed of nails and emerged flatter than Gwyneth Paltrow?

I got the recipe from Young Mo Kim’s A Fine Collection Of Baking (yes, that book again, which I’m seriously thinking of burning and sending the ashes back to Korea). In the book, the wheel is perfectly round, puffed up, cut in half and filled with whipped cream, whole bananas and a hazelnut praline mousse. Sounds like heaven right?

Well, I never got to taste the divine combo because I didn’t go as far as peeling the bananas. Before I could even start work on the filling, the blurdy pastry broke into three segments while rising in the oven. Not only that, it rose so unevenly it looked like a miniature roller coaster. Then when I took it out, it fell dead flat.

What’s even more tragic, I made this damn thing three times — using choux recipes from Young Mo Kim, Martha Stewart and Pichet Ong — and they all failed. Nope, practice didn’t make perfect, folks.

So I thought, maybe choux pastry cannot sustain such a long, continuous structure – the most it could go is short logs like eclairs. So I used the leftover batter to make eclairs (which was actually Z’s original choice as his birthday treat).


Check out the end result above. Pretty nice, eh? The pastry remained puffed up, the chocolate topping was rich and glossy. Woulda been perfect if you didn’t actually have to bite into it. See below.

eclair-cu-loThe pastry cream inside — recipe taken from the until-now very reliable BakeWise by Shirley Corriher — was so stiff I couldn’t pipe it into the puffs. For the sake of photography and some semblance to a real eclair, I had to spread it onto the cavity like it was a jam.

Still, I was down but not out. Z was to have a belated birthday party last weekend so I had one more chance to redeem myself. So I decided to make something totally fool-proof, and nothing is more so than an English trifle.

bottomlayer-loFirst, you make a sponge cake (I used the fail-proof recipe by my beloved Chef Alex Goh), cut it into cubes and line a glass dish.


Then, you cut up strawberries and canned peaches and jam-pack them on top.

Next, you spoon over a layer of custard but, sorry, I don’t have a photo to show it. I was too traumatised to take any photos when my custard REFUSED, and I mean, absolutely SAID NO to setting. I think I used the wrong recipe. I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s creme anglaise, which might have been a custard sauce that wasn’t supposed to set. Desperate, I added gelatin — twice — and still it was completely liquid. Never mind, I poured it into the dish anyway and hoped that the final topping of whipped cream would obscure it.

No such luck. The whipping cream conspired with the custard to utterly humiliate me because it, too, refused to set properly. By the time we blew out the candle, the cream melted into a disastrous puddle that looked like this.

Photo taken by me

Cake soup, anyone?

Remember, all this played out in front of about 10 guests — a few of whom read this blog and had been under the illusion that I can bake. If I weren’t so well brought up by my parents, I would’ve locked myself up in my room and refused to come out.

Z wolfed down a spoonful and said “Quite nice, what.” But it didn’t comfort me. This is a man who eats fried rice with Maggi chilli sauce — hardly an arbiter of good taste. I just wanted to wail.

The next morning, I was still smarting from the debacle as we headed out for lunch with my family. As it turned out, my brother suggested that we eat at Tampopo, the birthplace of my favourite strawberry shortcake — which I consider the best in the world. I was quite willing to abstain from this treat on this sad occasion. But my sis-in-law innocently ordered a portion for me.

So there it stood, in front of me, like a cosmic taunt. The sponge cake was miraculously soft, the strawberries were glisteningly fresh, and the whipped cream was thick, glossy, spongy and perfectly set.

Utterly defeated, I dug in. The pain was exquisite.



P/S: Z wants me to put on record that the ugly photos of the English trifle were all taken by me. He’s got a rep to protect wor.


Pear Tart March 4, 2009

Filed under: Inane stuff,Pastry — crummb @ 9:54 pm
Tags: ,


Something very disturbing is happening. The other day, I had nothing to blog about and mused aloud to my husband Z that I might stop blogging altogether.

He didn’t toss back his usual tart reply, which used to always sound something like, “Wow? Really? And I get back my wife?”.  Instead, his eyes were the size of saucers. A look of genuine alarm spread across his face as he gasped: “Har? Why?”

“Cos I’ve run out of things to say,” I said.

Then, with lips almost a-quivering, he launched into a list of reasons why I shouldn’t quit this blog, because he had spent $X buying the reflector, the flash, the zoom lens and whatever else to shoot my cakes.

“But you can use them for your other photography stuff what,” I retorted, unmoved.

Then he blurted out the REAL reason why I shouldn’t end this blog. “Because your blog is my blog!” he cried.

pear-tart-cu-lo1Oh really. Is that so?  No wonder he’s been so annoying lately. Every time he’s shot my cakes, he would sit in front of his computer for absolute ages, tweaking the resolution, the tone, the contrast and what-have-you (for example, this so-so-tasting pear tart, taken from Young Mo Kim’s A Fine Collection Of Baking). Then, when I am already half-way into dreamland in bed, he’d suddenly shout, “How about this?” And I would have to pry open my eyes, wrench myself out of bed and look at his photo.

“No difference to the other one what,” I’d say, bleary-eyed, and plonk myself back to bed.

Right when I’m just inches away from re-entering snooze-topia, he’d suddenly command again, “How about this?” And this could go on several times a night.

He doesn’t leave me alone in the day either. He would call me from work just to find out if my latest post received any comments — about his photos. On other days, he would announce quite brazenly that he intends to spend the afternoon checking out the competition in other food blogs. And by the time he’s through, “they’re toast”.

My husband, whom I married because he is one cool, laid-back, peace-loving dude, has suddenly turned into a competitive, pixel-picking monster. I started having terrifying visions that very soon, I’ll be hand-cuffed to my kitchen counter as he forces me to bake every day so that he’d have something to shoot and post on my blog.

The horror!

But this morning, as he drove me to work, he came up with a new reason why I shouldn’t stop this blog.

“Because it’s your hobby, it makes you happy, and it has given you new friends,” he said.

He’s probably just sayin’ it. But I’m sold 🙂