When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Easy cream puffs March 25, 2009

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 4:59 pm
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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
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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 🙂


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.


Smoked salmon and fennel quiche September 25, 2008

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 12:38 am
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FINALLY! I got my camera fixed this week and I am liberated. I’m no longer at the mercy of my husband Z, whose extremely business-unsavvy Z Photo Studio opens only once a week for two measly hours. Now, I can bake as many cakes as I like and take my own photos (and wear out his PhotoShop!). But most exciting of all, I can now take photos of the various steps in the baking process, much like Smitten Kitchen!

Zann introduced me to this cooking blog and I became an instant fan. The blogger posts photos of her cooking process and they are absolutely pixel-sharp and delicious-looking. I’m thinking that she must have professional lights installed over her cooker and dining table – because her pix are always so gorgeously lit. Maybe she’s got a husband who’s always around to hold her wooden spoon or pour in her batter while she focuses her camera – I donno. Maybe she’s got three hands. But I know for sure that she must have a hell of a water bill.

When I shot the making of this dish, taken from Dean Brettschneider’s Global Baker, I was washing my hands every few minutes every time I had to pick up the camera. It’s a bit of a drag – but hey, anything to get more hits and achieve web domination.

Ready to be dazzled? Click here


Green tea cream puff September 18, 2008

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 9:49 am
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YEARS from now, when I am old and grey, I will remember the green tea cream puffs I made yesterday (taken from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot) as the first thing that did it.

By “it”, I mean feeding my husband Z something that finally makes him sit up and shout across the hallway, “Wah! Very good!”. By “it”, I mean packing 12 cream puffs in a container the next morning for his office tea-time and see him exclaim, “All these for meee?” Then, when he reaches the office, in case I forgot, he reminds me by texting: “Very yum!”

I’m not saying this lightly. These cream puffs are a milestone. Revolutionary. Epoch-making.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of their achievement, you have to understand: Z doesn’t like desserts. He doesn’t even like to eat. After I’ve made a cake and am piling superlatives on it, he could take a bite, look me straight in the eye and say, “It’s okay lah.”

If he were native American, his name would be “Rains On Your Parade”.

For more of Z’s unfathomable dietary leanings, go here. Or read the following conversation we had in the car:

Me: (Gazing out the window) I wanna eat expensive food. I miss all that stuff I used to review.

Z: Can lah, we go eat. Once a month.

Me: You? It’d be wasted on you. I’d rather go with Jenny, or Chris.

Z: No, no, no Jenny. No Chris. Eat with me. You have to educate me what.

Me: I’m talking about really fine food leh. Like this martini-glass thing I had at Iggy’s: cauliflower mousse at the bottom, Japanese uni in the middle and shiso jelly on top. Two mouthfuls and it’s gone. (Translation for non-Singaporean readers: Iggy’s serves modern European food with strong Japanese influences, rated top 100 in the world by Restaurant magazine)

Z: How much?

Me: $150 for lunch set.

Z: Whaaat?

Me: But it’s got five or six courses. It’s considered reasonable.

Z: Okay lah. Then we eat somewhere at $70 per head. Reasonable?

Me: Hmmm… yeee-ah… That’s like Da Paolo without wine… (Translation: Da Paolo is a mid-upper Italian chain that serves freshly made pasta in beige-soaked, designer surrounds)

Z: Seventy bucks and it’s without wine?! Sh**. It’s just carbonara man.

Me: So? Are we eating or not?

Z: I’m just thinking about the bike parts I can buy with $70.

Me: Fine food is like that what.

Z: I’d rather eat chup chye png. (Translation: A $3 plate of rice with choice of three dishes)

Me: Chiak sai lah. (Translation: Eat my waste matter, why don’t you.)


Peaches and cream tart August 5, 2008

Filed under: Pastry — crummb @ 12:35 pm
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WE’VE been married for over two years now and it still shocks me just how incompatible my husband Z and I are with regards to food.

I love to eat. He doesn’t.

Food makes me happy. He just wants to get it over and done with.

I like roti prata kosong. He must have his with egg.

I like my pasta tomato-based. He hates pasta, but if coerced, goes for carbonara.

I can finish an entire durian by myself. A mere whiff gives him a headache.

I think it’s offensive to add Maggi chilli sauce over fried rice. He thinks it’s haute cuisine.

Recently, he stunned me when he said, “I don’t like tarts.”

What? How can anyone not like tarts? What’s not to like? I love tarts. I love how, when you take a bite, your tongue twirls around the creamy filling and your teeth hits an occasional crack of pastry. I love how it’s gooey and crusty at the same time. If it’s a fruit tart, even better. I love how the fruit adds mushiness to the whole shebang.

When I first saw this recipe in Allysa Torey’s More From Magnolia, I wanted to make it straight away. It has all the great stuff that I love – sugar cookie crust, filling made of cream cheese and heavy cream, and peaches. The recipes calls for fresh peaches, which is seasonal (I wanna make it now!) so I substituted them with canned ones. Besides, I don’t care too much for fresh peaches. I unashamedly declare that I’m a huge fan of canned peaches and other sugar-loaded, chemically modified fruits (especially lychees, longans, and – right on top of my list – rambutans stuffed with pineapple! Is anybody with me?)

Anyway, this tart was a breeze to make. And when I took my first bite, the crust was so light, crumbly and unbelievably good that I could enter it in some competition. The filling, though, was a little too cream-cheesy for me. It was so rich it kinda left skid marks on the way down my throat. (But my mum thought it was perfect). Still, a good attempt, I thought.

Dutiful wife that I am, I broke off one chunk and offered it to Z, who was messing around on his laptop as usual. He swooped it up in one mouthful, paused, pause some more, then scrunched up his shoulders like he was half tickled, half doing the electric boogaloo.

“No good?” I asked.

“I don’t like peaches.”

What? He doesn’t like peaches too? Good grief. This relationship is probably surviving on good looks and humour alone. It sure ain’t the food, man.