When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Welcome to my office September 6, 2010

Filed under: Cupcakes,Inane stuff — crummb @ 3:33 am

This is my new office. I started work a few weeks ago and it’s definitely not what I’m used to. While my previous employer was a monopolistic juggernaut that had thousands of drones chugging away at its engines every day, my new company is a tiny set-up — and its smallness hit me hard on my first day.

Like every no-name outfit out there with limited start-up capital, there is a helluva lot of Ikea furniture around here. There is only one cleaning lady, no IT support, no 24-hour phone assistance, not even air-con. In fact, I can bet you I’m gonna get paid in hand-written cheques.

The company is in the confectionery services sector, and I am one of only two employees. I am, in the grand Singaporean do-it-all tradition of bau geh liao, cover everything from design, production, marketing, promotions to delivery. The other employee goes by the name of Z, one of those irritating, bossy types who thinks he’s the smartest, funniest, best-looking one around — not unlike Ricky Gervais in The Office. But he only comes in in the evenings and on weekends so he’s got nothing on me.

The real bosses here are, of course, the company’s owners — a pair of sisters who are known throughout the industry as hard task-masters. Rumour has it that they have a huge appetite for success and will stop at nothing until they get a giant slice of the pie. They’ve been pretty cordial to me so far, full of smiles and good mornings when I walk pass their rooms every day. But I am not blindsided by such superficial pleasantries. I know that once shit hits the fan, I’m gonna be busy.

Let me tell you about the older one. She’s the sort of boss who gets excited over the slightest idea and needs to be briefed and debriefed all the time. But thankfully, she goes for self-improvement classes every morning, so that gives me time to deal with the real terror of the territory, the younger sister.

This fat, waddly one hasn’t said a word to me since Day 1. From outside her room, I often hear her screaming at the cleaning lady to do things faster, better, now, now, now. Seated on her high pedestal, she bangs her fists and demands up-to-the-minute updates on wet-market movements. Very soon, she’ll probably want me — as if I haven’t got enough to do already — to pick up her laundry. And then what? Wipe her butt?

Then, while everyone is slaving over her targets and deadlines, she slips off and takes long afternoon naps — right there in her room and in full view of everyone!

But I am soldiering on. There are several plus points about this job, such as the short commute and the 24-hour pantry that’s stocked with many things I like. And, if worse comes to worst, I will adopt this mantra that I have observed from working 15 years in a big company — which I believe applies to workplaces both big and small: There’s nothing that a bit of ass-kissing can’t fix.


Personal aside to readers: Of course, my home doesn’t really look like this. The total-unglam bottle sterilizer, milk formula tins, unsightly trash can, aprons and clearance-sale mugs were all shoved behind the counter before the shoot. The baby though, at least to me, is gorgeousness confirmed ūüôā


Baby cakes January 26, 2010

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 10:53 pm
Tags: ,

There were no words.

The first thing I ate after giving¬†birth to Kate on January 15 was a bar of Snickers.¬†It tasted so indescribably good, so¬†toe-curlingly¬†divine that¬†I seriously would’ve bitten off my husband Z’s head if he dared utter a word¬†to¬†interrupt.

I¬†had been¬†a gestational diabetic for three months and was making up for lost time. After the Snickers, I¬†scoffed down¬†Polar sugar rolls, curry puffs, sardine puffs, beancurd with syrup and¬†kueh pie tee in quick succession. Every time¬†the menu card came around, I made sure every beverage choice was either apple juice or sweetened soy milk, things I couldn’t even have a sip of pre-birth.

For three¬†long months, I was a grumpy, embittered old hag because I¬†couldn’t eat what I wanted.¬†It wasn’t until Kate was born that I realised it held a greater purpose.¬†After just three hours of labour and 15 minutes of pushing, she emerged¬†so¬†cute with chubby cheeks and a full head of hair — but with a deadly umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

Because of my gestational diabetes, Kate had to be induced one week early before she grows too big to be delivered naturally. I shudder to think what could’ve happened if I wasn’t diabetic and had waited for another week to full term. And no wonder I had such a fast labour, compared to the epic 10 hours it took for my first child, E, to arrive.

Every mother thinks her child is special. But there is something about Kate that makes her exceptionally so. She was born on the same date as¬†my mother on the Western calendar, and the same date as¬†Z’s mother on the Chinese calendar.¬†Perhaps a tribute to the women who came before her? And perhaps as a sign of her great appetite for life, she drinks twice the amount of milk prescribed as average by the doctor. This mama is gonna be chained to the breastpump for quite a long time to come ūüôā

I find myself¬†lapsing into fear when I think about what could’ve been. But Z has a far more positive take on things:¬†God¬†is in control, often turning what is bad into something miraculously¬†good. For that I am¬†in awe. Thank God. Praise You.¬†


C&HM’s wedding cupcakes December 15, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes,Wedding cakes — crummb @ 11:07 pm
Tags: , , , ,


I MADE 100 cupcakes for Clare’s wedding last month. For a former theatre critic who could articulate a theory for everything – from why certain men are commitment-phobes to why a salad works – she was amazingly straight-forward with her cupcakes. Her only three specifics to me were: banana, green tea and white chocolate.

But I don’t wanna go into how fun it was to pair the flavours to create three different combos (banana cake + caramel buttercream; brown sugar cake + green tea buttercream; orange cake + white chocolate frosting).

Or about how baking the cupcakes (at a turtle-paced 12 at a time) started five days before the big day, which led me to miss the karaoke hen night because my last batch of batter was still sitting on my counter, waiting for its turn in the oven. I had serious plans to belt S Club 7, folks.

Or about how, when I was decorating the cupcakes the night before the wedding, my vision of pretty buttercream wreaths draping across the brown sugar cakes was shattered because, simply put, my piping skills suck. So I had to improvise and do something much simpler, and let my hand-made sugarpaste roses be the anchorpiece.

Or especially about how I made the white chocolate frosting fives times before I got it right. Note to self: white chocolate turns into a rigid, solidified lump at high temperature very suddenly. Melt


What I really wanna talk about is how this was one wedding that had me beaming ear-to-ear all through the solemnisation and banquet, which saw our intrepid table deliver the now-legendary throat-scorching, wallpaper-peeling yum seng. (If you must know, I was the star yum-senger. Bookings welcome. Just e-mail me.)

Why? Because Clare and Hong Meng’s is a love story that defies anyone who dares lament, ‘There’s no one in the world for me.’

What are the chances of a bookworm with obscure taste in music meeting another bookworm with the same obscure taste in music? Add to that, both followers of Christ who share similar values in family, fun and food? Plenty, if you leave it to the matchmaker upstairs.

Over the years, I’d seen Clare going through relationship no-gos, braving singlehood like a champ,¬†and jetting off to Beijing for three years as a correspondent to satiate a cultural and intellectual wanderlust.

All the while, Hong Meng, someone she’s known from church,¬†was pretty much just waiting for her to touch down.

Sometimes, you can scour the world only to find¬†what you’re looking for right under your nose. I love it.


Chocolate mayo cupcakes with caramel buttercream August 1, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 12:46 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I JUST wrote about how I can’t stand chocolate in my previous post. So what am I doing making another chocolate cupcake? Because this one contains an ingredient that might make chocolate more tolerable – mayonnaise.

I love mayonnaise. I love anything that has it – sandwiches, potato salads, burgers, Japanese pizzas, California maki, mentaiko pasta, and now, maybe even chocolate cake.

I’ve seen mayonnaise being used to make chocolate cake in several different cookbooks. Apparently, they’re all adapted from a classic recipe by Hellman’s, a mayonnaise brand. Replacing butter in a recipe, mayonnaise supposedly offers an unrivalled moistness to a cake.

And it’s true. My cupcakes turned out really tender, moist and really black, like devil’s food cake. To my warped disappointment, there was no taste of mayonnaise at all. But its vinegar content nullified all the sugar, so what was left was just a taste of plain chocolate in a cupcake case.

Which was might as well. Because another highlight of this recipe is the caramel-butterscotch buttercream. And I love, love, love caramel and butterscotch. These recipes are taken from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, a gorgeous desserts book I’m reviewing for the newspaper. She highly recommended that this plain cake be paired with this frosting, presumably because the bland chocolate is given a heady boost by the fragrance of burnt brown sugar in the buttercream.

I must say, though, making the buttercream wasn’t a walk in the park. First, there was the making of caramel sauce, which required careful stirring of sugar syrup till it turns just the right shade of amber before you add cream. I left it boiling for a little too long, and when it cooled, I got not caramel, but toffee. (Thankfully, it could be turned back to caramel by just heating it with some water – but not before I flicked huge blobs of toffee, which I also love, into my mouth.)

Then, there was making the butterscotch buttercream, which involved whisking eggs and dark brown sugar over dangerously simmering water, sticking in a candy thermometer to see that it gets up to the right temperature, before transferring the mixture to my Kitchen Aid for more heavy-duty whisking.

But after butter was added and the watery mixture emulsified into a luxurious, glossy buttercream, it tasted glorious with this rich, mellow undertone. Mix in the caramel sauce, and it was heaven on your finger.


Milk chocolate peanut butter ganache June 16, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes,Cupcakes — crummb @ 10:18 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been dying to make this frosting since I came across it in Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book. She said: “Something downright magical happens when peanut butter and chocolate get together,” and she is absolutely right.

The saltiness of the peanut butter reins in the sweetness of chocolate. So what you get is a frosting that’s a little sweet and a little salty, and you’d be lapping up a few servings before you realise you’d better stop because it’s all going straight to your butt.

It’s so easy to make too. Just heat up thickened cream till boiling point, add peanut butter and salt, then pour it over milk chocolate droplets and stir. When combined, it takes on this shiny, silky consistency like translucent, golden caramel. It’s the new cream cheese frosting, if you ask me.


My Wedding Cake June 11, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes,Wedding cakes — crummb @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’m going to make a lot of strawberry shortcake and write all about it¬†in this blog because it is, hands down,¬†my favourite cake in the whole wide world.

As far as I’m concerned, chocolate fudge cake, tiramisu, brownies¬†– or whatever most people say is their ultimate confectionery sin – don’t even come close.

I love strawberry shortcake so much that I had it made into my wedding cake two years ago. And I asked the place that makes the very best, Tampopo Deli in Liang Court, to do it.

I first tasted their so-called Scoop Cake about a year before, and instantly swore that I would never write about it in my articles for the newspaper.

It was so good that I didn’t want hordes of readers going to order it and lowering its standards, or worst, have the pastry chef poached somewhere else where¬†she couldn’t be found or didn’t make the cake any more. Nope,¬†this find was mine.

It’s called Scoop Cake because it’s made in rectangular foil tubs where portions are scooped out and served.¬†Each¬†comes with two layers of incredibly soft vanilla sponge¬†cake that’s¬†smothered under this blanket of¬†toe-tingling, absolutely divine whipped cream. It is topped with juicy¬†chunks of strawberry and orange that – over the three years that I’ve had it – are always off-the-farm fresh.

When I told Tampopo’s owner Mr Takagi about my proposition, he said no problem, and promptly ushered out his pastry chef to discuss the details. Akemi,¬†the sweet-faced and super talented¬†chef who had¬†previously worked for the fabulous Provence bakery in Holland Village,¬†was so obliging it almost hurt.

I want the cake put inside cupcake cases. Hai! I want the same two layers of vanilla sponge and two layers of whipped cream. Hai! I also want the same strawberry and orange on top, with the same sprig on mint and silver dragees. Hai! Hai!

The only problem, she said, was that I would have to source for the cupcake cases and cupcake stand myself, since they don’t normally cater¬†to weddings. No problem, I said. It suited the exacting, detail-obsessed bridezilla in me just fine.

As it turned out, it took me¬†close to two months before I¬†found the cupcake case. Akemi said it’d have to have sturdy sides – not the usual fluted ones – to hold in the soft cream. I¬†combed through¬†just about every baking supplies store I knew, and even went on the Internet¬†to check out¬†overseas suppliers, before I settled on the one in these photos. It was actually a little too ubiquitous for me – many cafes¬†use¬†it for muffins – but for lack of other options, I took it.

When it came to the cupcake stand, there was no way I was gonna borrow one of those widely available, cheapo-looking acrylic ones (yes, I am a cupcake stand snob). Instead, I want the cupcakes to be placed on a towering four-tier cake dummy, just like the one I saw in Martha Stewart Weddings. So I asked the only person I knew who could make it for me, an executive pastry chef from a hotel.

The tiers were to be made of styrofoam, then covered¬†in white fondant. Before I¬†gave the chef the dimensions, I even cut out the exact sizes¬†of the four tiers¬†from newspaper just to make sure it looked right. It’s¬†gonna be one unusual, unforgettable cake, I thought smartly.

Well, it was unusual alright. It was so unusual that most of my wedding guests didn’t know it was the wedding cake. When I entered the reception hall where they were tucking into buffet after our church ceremony, the cakes were largely untouched and I had to¬†tell people to eat it.¬†Those who did couldn’t stop raving. My brother Pete ate four in a row. And to this day, it remains a mystery who took home the biggest tub on top of the cake. That one was supposed to be for me.

A few months ago, I was going through my wedding photos when I came across these same ones of the cake. I e-mailed them to Mr Takagi to thank him and Akemi for a job well done. Then, a few weeks later, I was walking pass Tampopo Deli when I saw the photos blown up to the size of movie posters and pasted on the shop window.

It’s funny. I had no hand in making the cake. But right then, as I stood in front of the shop, was one of the proudest moments of my life.



The Feeding Of The 130 June 4, 2008

Filed under: Cupcakes — crummb @ 6:56 pm
Tags: , ,

First up: These photos were not taken by husband Z. There was no artful styling nor meticulous framing because it was not the time nor the place for it. When a cake order threatens to become the mother of all cake disasters, the last thing you think about is photos for your blog.

I’d thought the hardest thing about making 130 cupcakes for my church’s kids camp was the baking. Oh hoho, how wrong was I. The baking did take an epic 10 hours (including the time I took to walk out to the petrol kiosk to get more eggs, and the time I sat on the loo to wrestle one of those agonising, face-scrunching, knee-buckling stomach aches). It took this long because I have only a domestic oven, and inside it only one wire rack. I had forgotten to order a second rack in time for my baking marathon, which meant that I had to bake the cupcakes at an excruciatingly slow pace of 12 at a time.

When I finished at 7.30pm, I had to shift all 130 with me to my parents’ because my apartment was about to be renovated so we’ve moved there for a few weeks. How do you pack 130 cupcakes in the most efficient way? By stacking them up in three nifty boxes, of course, and putting them in the car boot.

But when I unpacked them at my parents’, this was what I found:


Seven of them were completely damaged. In my previous post, I had made a chest-thumping declaration that I’ve found the softest, fluffiest cupcake recipe on earth. Quite obviously, I forgot about it soon after. Because only a sucker would stack the softest, fluffiest cupcakes on earth on top of one another – four levels high at that.

Not only were seven of them irreparably crushed, most of them had circular indents from the weight of cupcakes above. So what started out as perfectly level cupcakes ended up looking like poorly made, sunken fiascos. Thankfully, the buttercream swirls I was to pipe the following morning would cover the multitude of sins. I’d also made a few extra pieces so I could still meet the 130 quantity.

Next problem: How do you store 130 cupcakes in a single layer overnight, such that no lizard/rat/rodent can get to them? To illustrate its enormity, 130 cupcakes cover the entire surface area of a round table that seats six people. Well, I could put 40 of them under my mum’s biggest plastic food cover, and another 36 inside cardboard boxes. But what about the remaining 54?

I was about to start foaming at the mouth when Z, putting on his Sherlock cap, looked around and said simply: “Put them in the oven lah.” Yes! The two racks in my mum’s oven could accommodate all the rest. Sorted.

At this point, I would like to sidetrack and encourage all parents of under-achieving kids with this note: There is always hope. My Z failed his elementary math at O level, but look how well he’s turned out! What a problem-solving sleuth, this hero.

Anyway. The next morning, I woke up bright and early, excited to put the finishing swirls on the cupcakes before a guy from church comes to collect them at 2.30pm. Then, the window grille man called. His four workers, along with gigantic glass windows tailored for my six rooms, were waiting outside my apartment.

“What? I thought they’re coming tomorrow,” I cried.

“Oh, sorry. It’s today. They’re there now.”

My mind reeled. I have to open the door for them and keep an eye on them all day. Which means I have to pipe the cupcakes back in my apartment, right smack in the middle of renovation chaos.

So the cupcakes were stacked up again in the three boxes (really, there was no other way) and taken back with me to the apartment. I don’t blame one of the Malaysian workers for looking confused when the foreman told him the xiaojie (me) wants a free room to “make cake”. Trust me, I could choose a better time.

So as the workers tore down my windows and grilles outside, creating what resembled a Sahara-like sandstorm, I was in my guest-room piping cakes. It was a Charlie Kaufman moment right there.

A few more cupcakes were damaged enroute, so I could produce only 127 in the end. After the church guy collected them and left, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and looked out my windowless windows. I can so not bake cupcakes for a long, long time.