When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

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.


Galette des Rois February 26, 2009

galette-loLike, what happened? How did I manage to make a pastry that grew tumours?

This is supposed to be a Galette des Rois, an almond-cream-filled pastry the French traditionally eat around Christmas. Taken from Young Mo Kim’s A Collection Of Fine Baking, this recipe had me making the puff pastry by hand to achieve a monumental 144 layers. But after the absolute torment I went through, I couldn’t care less how many layers it had. I just wanted to run away and never see it again.

I’ll spare you the details (like how the dough was so rubbery, trying to roll it out was harder than getting my husband Z to change the bedsheets).

galette-cu-lo1Because the highlight of this experience was how, after popping it in the oven for 5 minutes, the butter in the dough melted and gathered into a pool on the baking tray – thereafter  frying the pastry.

Then, after another 10 minutes, the almond filling followed suit, growing, bubbling, mutating into three menacing globs – like unwanted, out-of-control appendages. In fact, if aliens were taking over Earth, I’ll call Will Smith and tell him that ground-zero is the oven in my kitchen.

Even more infuriating, the damn thing refused to be cooked. After baking for one whole hour, only the outer layers were turned a crisp golden yellow. The inside remained disgustingly gummy. Then again, it didn’t matter either way because the texture was so hard I could barely cut through it.

It may not look it in the photo (left, because my Z is a wizard with his lenses), but this thing nearly took out a tooth.

I felt like whipping out my mobile and putting it next to the baking tray. I want this E.T. to phone and go home.


Green Tea Chiffon Cake February 17, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes,Disaster cakes — crummb @ 2:26 pm
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Go ahead, laugh at my chiffon cake. Say that it looks like an Egyptian pyramid that’s been chopped off and pried open for easier access to King Tut. Because once you’ve had a taste of this cake – complete with that  glob of unmixed egg white on the inside *see it?* – you’re not gonna be laughing, but crying from sheer joy and admiration. It tasted that good.

Okay, so it’s a little on the wet side. After all, it was underbaked by about 15 minutes. But when I inserted a skewer into the centre, it came out clean what. And when I touched the surface, it bounced back… (okay, maybe not bounce back hard enough.)

But still I’d say this fine specimen of structural collapse is a triumph for my first attempt at chiffon cakes. The texture was springy and soft, it wasn’t too sweet, and it had just the right whiff of smoky green tea.

This recipe is taken from Korean pastry chef Young Mo Kim’s cookbook A Collection Of Fine Baking. Its delicate, beautiful taste just adds to my case that I should just forget about angmoh recipe books – what with their diabetes-inducing sweetness and overall unreliability – and just go with Asian cookbooks for the rest of my life.

To be doubly sure, I actually made this cake a second time to see how much better it’d be if it were given its full baking time. Result? Just perfect.

But I didn’t take a picture of it though. It looked like any other perfectly made chiffon cake. This undercooked specimen, in all its downtrodden glory, looks a lot more interesting. No?

P/S: Message me if you want the recipe. I’m too lazy to type it out now. Zzzzzz.


Cupid’s Strawberry Cake with cream cheese buttercream January 22, 2009

Filed under: Disaster cakes — crummb @ 10:42 am
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DO NOT attempt to adjust your computer screen. This cake is really as bad as it looks.

Ever since I started this blog last May, I have – only half-jokingly too – tried to project myself as some baking wunderkind on the cusp of conquering the confectionery world. But at the start of this new year, I thought, what the heck, I’m gonna be honest. I’m gonna post photos of ALL the stuff that comes out of my oven – the good, the bad, and the damn ugly, starting with this cataclysmic wreck of a cake.

I mean, no matter how much I improve my piping skills or perfect the art of chocolate tempering, I’m never going to approach the greatness of the incomparable Cannelle et Vanille or Tartelette. The stuff they make is just outta this world. Who am I to upset their reign over the baking blogosphere?

So I’ve decided to be a master of another category of blogs – the kind that shows you the out-takes and bloopers from baking.  If I keep making cakes as disastrous as this one, I’ll be the almighty ruler of this realm.

Anyway, this recipe is taken from Flo Braker’s new book, Baking For All Occasions. Let me say first that even if it had turned out looking like the pretty photo in the book, I still wouldn’t eat it because it was so unbearably sweet, it was murder.

The cake layers were already too sweet. And still you gotta slather on two layers of fruit jam, plus another filling and all-over coating of  cream cheese buttercream. It’s might as well that the cake bombed. At least I didn’t have to eat it.

So what went wrong? My memory is a little fuzzy now, but I think it had something to do with my not waiting for the buttercream mixture to cool completely before whipping in the cream cheese. So what started out as a  thick, spreadable concoction suddenly turned into sad, watery puddle.

It was a joke trying to spread the thing on the cake. Imagine painting your wall with water. It got even funnier when I placed a layer of cake on top of the cream cheese puddle. The cake literally went “splat” and the cream cheese dribbled down the sides, taking along with it my pretty, carefully arranged strawberry slices.

It was so bad, it’s good.

Allow me, then, to lyricise the cruel beauty of this accidental creation: Such contrast between furry crumb and shiny liquid. Such juxtaposition of hard-edged cake and free-flowing buttercream. Such DRAMA made possible using just flour, butter, sugar and cream!

This, my friends, is art!


Caramel crumb bars December 10, 2008

Filed under: Cookies,Disaster cakes — crummb @ 12:49 am
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BEFORE you think I’m still on a rampage against Nick Malgieri, let me say right now that I had actually planned an ending to this post. And it reads: “You’re forgiven, Mr Malgieri.”

See, I’m reviewing his latest cookbook The Modern Baker for the newspaper and I can’t possibly shred it to smithereens just because his caramel recipe was a dud (read drama here). Maybe that recipe was the only blip in an otherwise faultless tome of culinary mastery and genius.

So to be fair, I decided to try another recipe from the book. And to up his chances for salvation, I chose a cookie recipe because, unlike cakes, cookies are pretty much fail-proof. I also chose to make Caramel Crumb Bars because I love caramel, and its success would obliterate all hard feelings (and hard sugar on my saucepan) I have towards the man after my previous caramel outing with him.

I would wax poetic about how buttery the cookie base was, how creamy the caramel on top, and how crispy the crumble bits sprinkled all over. Then, I would declare with big-hearted, seam-busting goodwill, “You’re forgiven, Mr Malgieri.”

Erm, it is not to be.

First, his recipe called for too little flour to be rubbed into the dough to make the crumble. Second, his instructions for caramel (yes, again!) was suspect. The butter, condensed milk, brown sugar and vanilla concoction has to be heated over an extremely low flame. No warning was given so my caramel burnt and sprouted unsightly brown specks. Furthermore, his 30-minute baking time was way too short. The cookie base emerged undercooked and I had to pop them back in for another 20. By the time the base was cooked, the caramel was hard and gluey. I flossed really hard that night.

It pains my heart, Mr Malgieri. But you leave me no choice:

Crummb 3, Malgieri 0