When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Kinako chiffon cake with red bean whipped cream December 17, 2009

This is shaping up to be a sucky Christmas.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been put on a low-carb, high-fibre, no-joy diet because I’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes — a (hopefully) temporary condition that afflicts pregnant women on the wrong side of 35. (Nawww, really? You always thought I was 28? Gee, thanks!)

I feel like blaming my husband Z for this. If he had appeared sooner in my life, I would’ve married him earlier, gotten pregnant younger, and not have to suffer this indignity of not being able to eat anything sweet for three excruciatingly long months.

Hello? I’m a baker! How do you expect me to live when I can’t eat my cakes? To make things worse, I still have one baking cookbook to review for the paper before I go on maternity leave. I have to test at least six recipes from it to see if it’s a worthy buy, and this is where I am convinced that the stars are all lined up against me. Because, for so long, I’ve been scouring the bookstores for an English-translated book on Japanese cakes but to no avail. And now that Keiko Ishida’s Okashi has landed on my lap, and I am paid to try out its recipes, I cannot bloody taste them!

Like when I made her delicious Japanese milk madeleines. I took a smidgen of a bite (about 20 molecules in my rough estimation), just enough to register that it was light, fluffy and buttery, then quickly shoved the rest aside before I gobble up the whole thing.

Or this chiffon cake you see before you. Made with kinako, or Japanese soybean powder, and covered with red bean whipped cream (both my favourite ingredients), it was one of the first recipes I wanted to try when I first laid eyes on this gorgeous book.

The cake turned out really well, although it could’ve risen taller (which my Pa, the chiffon-cake-guru Chris said could be because there wasn’t enough baking powder). But instead of using my God-given tastebuds to see just how moist and soft it was, I was like a blind foot reflexologist — tapping the sides of the cake to see how much it bounced back. Tragic but true.

But I knew the cake was a triumph because when I gave my mother a slice, she polished it off in 10 seconds flat. “So light and not too sweet,” she raved, before rattling off a list of friends she wanted to give the cake to. I managed to wrangle a minuscule piece to taste before the cake was whisked away forever. She was right. It was super light, and the heady kinako flavour was offset by the delicate, sweet frosting. So delicious, so cannot-be-eaten.

Don’t even dare ask me for the recipe. Go buy the book and leave me alone in my misery.