When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Blueberry cheesecake March 14, 2010

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 11:27 pm
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I’m beginning to wonder if E is really my daughter.

The other day, I gave her a bit of this truly awesome blueberry cheesecake. She twirled it around in her a mouth for a bit, looked nonchalant, and went straight back to watching TV. Like, what?! How can my very own flesh and blood not love cheesecake? What’s worse, I found out today that she has an aversion to all tomato-based food. Give her anything with the tangy taste of tomato and she’ll spit it out. This child is not mine! I demand a maternity test!

Thankfully, my friends have kids. And Ollie, who is 2-1/2 and a self-proclaimed “cake monster”, loved this cheesecake. He and his mamma M came by recently for a playdate with E, but he ended up more entranced by my oven offerings. After polishing off a big slice of this cheesecake, he asked for more – Oliver Twist indeed!

The kid has good taste. This Japanese-style cheesecake is wonderfully light and not too sweet. Instead of being smothered by a blanket of gooey blueberries, it has just a layer of the fruit tucked above the crust. A topping of sour cream offsets the sweetness.

My little fan Ollie is set to come back for more. Since we’re making their playdates a regular thing every Thursday, I’m gonna bake something for him each time. Those of my friends – that includes you, ST subs! – who wanna swing by for dessert are welcome every Thursday around lunch. After all, I love anyone who loves me. Or, at least, loves my cakes.


(Adapted from Keiko Ishida’s Okashi)

65g Digestive biscuits, crushed

25g unsalted butter, melted

220g cream cheese, at room temperature

50g castor sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

80g canned blueberries, drained and lightly pat dry

130g sour cream

20g icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 170 deg C. Lightly grease a 15-cm round cake pan with a removable base.

2. Combine biscuit crumbs with melted butter and press it down onto the base of the pan. Place pan in fridge to set.

3. Beat cream cheese, sugar, egg yolks, whipping cream and vanilla together until smooth (make sure cream cheese is well-softened at room temperature or you’ll get yucky little lumps),

4. Spread blueberries over the biscuit base, pour cream cheese mixture over it and bake for about 30 minutes (check from 20 minutes onwards) until surface is firm and springy to the touch.

5. Take out the pan and increase oven to 200 deg C. Combine sour cream and icing sugar, then heat mixture in microwave oven until it becomes smooth and liquidy. Pour over baked cheesecake and bake for about 2 minutes for sour cream layer to set.

6. Cool cake pan on a wire rack. Cover with cling film and chill in fridge overnight. Run a knife along the edge of the cheesecake to unmold.


Guilt-free Chocolate Chiffon Cake March 1, 2010

My husband Z turned 33 last week. When I asked him what cake he wanted as a present, he said a chocolate cake that’s “not too rich”. Ever heard of a chocolate cake that wasn’t rich? I haven’t. It’s like asking for steak without meat.

But that’s what you get when you suddenly find yourself with a health-conscious, iron-pumping husband in the house. It all started when a few of his b-boy friends dropped by a few weeks ago. Believe it or not, Z was a founding member of Radikal Forze, a pioneering breakdancing crew that started when hip-hop first took root in Singapore 10 years ago. He and his posse of breakers used to spin holes into the dancefloor in Zouk, sporting oversized jerseys and baseball caps way before it became standard attire for teenage boys everywhere.

He quit the group after two years but a few of the members carried on. F, who is now group frontman and one of the most respected b-boys in Asia, came by our house with three others for a visit. Because they pretty much make a living out of breaking, they have bodies as tight as pitbulls and, as Z described, rare muscle groups that were last seen on Brad Pitt in The Fight Club.

“Imagine if I’d continued with them,” Z said after they left, regaling me with tales of their conquests of overseas competitions and easy girls. And, as if to make up for the lost years, he started lifting weights every night, huffing and puffing in front of the bedroom mirror. In between sets, he would turn to me with triumphant shouts of “Bam!”

I’d ignore him, but inside, I found this recapturing of a former life a bit unsettling. Blame it on my postpartum hormones, but I began to wonder, could Z be regretting the life he chose when he married me? After all, I met him when he was only 26 and about to leave for London for an unscripted life of adventure. I was a greenie to his world of clubbing and all-night raves, an older woman with “Baggage” written all over my forehead. And yet, to borrow an expression from Beyonce, he liked it enough to put a ring on it.

He cancelled London and all of its freewheeling possibilities. Now, seven years later, he is leading a far less glamorous life with me, changing diapers and coaxing our kid in an Elmo voice to finish her food.

“What do you think would have happened if you went to London?” I asked him the other day.

“I’d become a rock star,” he said.

“No, seriously,” I said.

“I’d probably end up dead,” he said. Okay, that was a bit morbid. But I took it that he prefers the life he has now. There are no regrets.

So anyway, about the cake. I actually found a recipe that met his odd request – a guilt-free chocolate chiffon cake taken from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. Because it contained no butter, it carried only 110mg of cholesterol. Moist and light as air, it was absolutely delicious taken with some mascarpone whipped cream. Z has been wolfing down big slabs of it every night after his workouts, pleased as punch about this healthy birthday present.

But the cake is really just a red herring. Z has often grumbled about how I always make fun of him in my blog. So this year, my real birthday present to him is this rare public declaration of affection. Happy birthday, Ah Chut. You’re my hero and I’m glad you took the detour.


Sugar Underload January 7, 2010

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 10:44 pm

This is what I made for Christmas:

Trifle with strawberries, peaches and an avalanche of mascarpone cream…

Creamy cheesecake topped with chocolate ganache and chopped Snickers…

Rice crispies bars with gooey peanut butter and chocolate ganache…

And finally, petite cheesecakes made with condensed milk on a crust of digestive biscuits.

Don’t ask me what was going through my head. But there I was, 9 months pregnant, and the night before Christmas, I was whipping up a tornado in my kitchen making all these things that I cannot eat.

I was definitely (over)compensating for the fact that I had gestational diabetes. Or I was trying to make my friends, whom the cakes were intended for on Christmas Day, really fat so I won’t be the only Michelin Man post-delivery.

Either way, I cannot say enough how much I’m looking forward to popping next weekend, when I can go back to eating like a normal pig again. I have already decided. The first thing I’m gonna plunge my teeth into, right there in the delivery suite when the doc is sewing me back up, is a bar of Snickers.


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.


Cheesecake pops November 18, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 3:51 pm
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finished sprinkle 3I admit. When I first learnt I was pregnant earlier this year, I sent a few upward missives that went: “Lord, please give me a son this time round.” My firstborn E is a girl, so out of the purely selfish reason of wanting one of each, I wanted my second to be a boy.

Just think of it. I will have a daughter to dress up and bake pretty cakes with, and husband Z will have a son to skateboard with and do all those smelly things that boys do. And at first, all signs suggested that we would enjoy this idyllic, life-insurance ad configuration.

My aunt, who has a track record of accurately predicting the sex of a foetus by using some mystical formula involving the mother’s age, month of conception, etc, swore it was a boy. We have friends who “just have a feeling” that it was a boy. Even the wonton noodles auntie in my office canteen, with just one glance at my front-tilting bump, was sure of it too.

Then we found out the baby is actually a girl. And, wow, nothing prepared me for the tide of disappointment verging on disapproval that followed when we broke the news. My aunt, looking like she had just bitten into something rotten, told me I should “bok” (gamble) again and hopefully hit jackpot the third time round. When I told the wonton noodles auntie that I actually quite like having another girl, she said, with her back turned towards me: “As long as you’re happy lorhh. It’s okay lorhhhh.”

Everywhere I turned, people above the age of 45 would console me, saying “It’s okay lah. These days, boys and girls are all the same”. But, funny huh? If boys and girls are really the same, you never hear anyone saying this when you’re expecting a boy.

I, for one, have totally embraced and am loving the fact that I’ll be having two girls. First, you save lots of money by recycling the clothes. Second, if our new baby is anything like her older sister, we will have a pair of mild-mannered, well-behaved, neat and tidy kids who will not turn our home into a crime scene on a daily basis.

Third, and on to the real point of this post, I will have twice the opportunity to make the cutest, prettiest cakes all year round.

I mean, check out these adorable cheesecake pops I made as goodie bag takeaways for E’s birthday party two weeks ago. Would a birthday boy have appreciated the heart-shaped sprinkles or the pastel-coloured non-pareils? I don’t think so. When he becomes a teenager, he will look back on the birthday photos and accuse me of instilling in him an unmanly penchant for pink and polka dots.

If I had a son, every special occasion cake I make will have to factor in boy colours and emblems. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think a cake shaped like a blue tractor looks all that appetising. A dinosaur cake? Sure, I can make one. Just don’t make me eat it.

But with two girls, I will have at least two birthday cakes to make a year, festooned with flowers, flounces, ruffles in all manner of lemon-yellows and rosebud pinks. Already, I am having soul-lifting visions of my two girls in cute little aprons, helping me in the kitchen with the whipping, kneading and washing. What absolute bliss.

Having said all this, I’ll wait till I pop in January before I celebrate. Imagine the back-paddling I’ll have to do if the ultrasound scans turn out all wrong.



Earl Grey Pound Cake October 26, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 10:24 pm
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earl grey butter cake lo

Ever since I started this blog over a year ago, I’ve received lovely comments about how my posts are down-to-earth, unpretentious and self-deprecating.

Well, this is not one of those posts.

Today, I’m going to brag about what an utter genius I am for coming up with this most astounding of butter cakes, the Earl Grey Pound Cake. And get this: I didn’t just follow a recipe from some book that I bought or am reviewing, like I usually do. I pretty much made up this recipe myself.

Okay, so I adapted it from a new cookbook that’s out in the stores. But unlike many sneaky food bloggers out there who adopt published recipes as their own by changing something really small, like the amount of sugar, I changed a lot of this recipe, awright?

Having read Shirley O. Corriher’s BakeWise, I have become so clever that I knew, at one glance, that the stated 1/8 tsp of baking powder is way not enough. So I upped it. I also did away with ingredients A and B, because the cake would be too sweet with them. I also cancelled ingredient C and D because I wanted a finer texture, and I dropped ingredient E because it would overpower the Earl Grey tea flavour.

Please, hold your applause. I’m not done yet.

Last but not least, I increased the butter and cut the sugar so it had the perfect balance that’s super-buttery and not too sweet. And, ta-da, what did I get? A butter cake that is so tender, so moist and fragrant, I believe this is the thing that’s gonna make me my first million.

Call me smug, but I’ve been dreaming about opening a bakery that specialises in all variations of this stupendous butter cake – orange, lemon, green tea, five-spice, you name it – and cake-worshippers from all over the country would descend upon me to beg for a small slice. Like the institutional Lana Cakes shop in Bukit Timah, I would only need to open four days a week to support my two kids through school and my husband through full-time skate-boarding.

And, like Lana bakery (I’ve been allowed inside its bowels before! One of the better privileges of being a food writer), I would have a little air-conditioned room tucked way at the back where I mix my batter and keep my secret ingredient away from view.

Yes, friends, this recipe has a secret ingredient, one that keeps the cake so incredibly moist even after a few days. But I’m not telling. Many of you have asked for recipes in my previous posts, and in the spirit of fraternal goodwill and generosity towards all baker-kind, I have happily obliged. But not this one, folks. This one is mine.

Go ahead. Beg, plead, or appeal to my soft, vulnerable 6-months-pregnant heart for my classified recipe. But I will only have three words for you – Get cher own.

This mamma’s not budging.


Pineapple and coconut crunch cake April 9, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 2:06 pm
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Dear all, since the last time I wrote about cake decorating, my piping skills still suck so bad it could frighten small children. But! *cymbal clash!* I have found a solution to my dismal handicap. And it’s really quite simple.

Don’t know how to pipe? Don’t pipe!

There are other types of cakes in this world that don’t need buttercream rosettes to look good. And, as in the case of this cake, they can even taste better.

Tired of Western cookbooks that don’t work, I’ve been turning to Asian titles for a change. One of the first cookbooks that landed on my desk when I was a food writer was Asian High Tea Favourites by Malaysian author Betty Saw. I remember making her Chocolate Crinkle cookies that came out smelling and tasting like Famous Amos (no joke). So surely her cakes wouldn’t be too far off.

Mysteriously named Surprise Cake, this cake is basically butter cake covered with a moan-inducing topping of minced pineapple, dessicated coconut and crushed cornflakes. Yeah yeah, so it uses canned pineapple, which is loaded with sugar, preservatives and other life-threatening stuff. But I love how it’s so Malaysian/Singaporean/Thai. I mean, South-east Asia is serious about their fake fruit. I can’t think of another region in the world (oh, okay, there’s also China) that has entire industries that peel, deseed, sweeten and basically falsify fruits like longans and lychees to resemble flawless fishballs.

(I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, the best thing about Chinese wedding banquets was dessert – I’d wolf down the canned longans in double-quick time and leave the pukey almond jelly untouched.)

Consider the mutated marvel called stuffed rambutans. How on earth do they remove the seed and present the flesh as if the seed never happened? As if such technical wizardry isn’t impressive enough, they then proceed to stuff them with delicious chunks of pineapple. I love!

So anyway. When you bite into this cake, there is the expected moistness and softness of the butter cake. But then, there’s also a crunch of cornflakes here, and bits of coconut and pineapple there. If pina coladas are to be reborn as cake, this is it.

Click here for recipe