When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Caramel crumb bars December 10, 2008

Filed under: Cookies,Disaster cakes — crummb @ 12:49 am
Tags: , , ,


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


Whipped Cream Layer Cake November 20, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 4:39 pm
Tags: , , , ,


OKAY, it’s confirmed. I’m a cakezilla. And I knew when I started having violent thoughts about Nick Malgieri.

This guy is a revered American baking expert who had written books called How To Bake, Perfect Cakes, and Perfect Pastry. With titles as audacious as these, you’d expect his recipes to be  workable, yes?

Well, no! This is what happened.

My boss asked me to review his latest book, The Modern Baker, for the newspaper. And I was bordering on delirious when I scanned the contents and came across this recipe – Whipped Cream Layer Cake. Regulars to this blog would know by now how much I love whipped cream. And this cake has another ingredient that stirs my loins – caramel. Whipped cream and caramel in one cake! It’s like Christmas every day!

The cake itself went really well. Whipped cream is used in place of butter to provide tenderness and it emerged from the oven firm yet moist. But trouble brewed when I tried making caramel, which is to be whipped into the frosting.

The recipe says 1/2 cup of sugar to 1 teaspoon of water. Mix it up and heat it until it caramelises. Problem is, there’s too little water so instead of caramelising, it crystallised and turned back into coarse sugar.

But this cannot be. We’re talking about Nick Malgieri – graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, pastry chef of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, winner of numerous James Beard Foundation awards, named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America by Chocolatier magazine, and 1996 inductee into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. How can Nick Malgieri be wrong?

So I tried again. And again. Five times I heated the sugar and water and five times I got the same blood-boiling result. 

With steam shooting out of my ears, I turned to another cookbook for a proper caramel recipe. I whipped up the frosting, covered the cake, and it tasted absolutely divine.

But still I was mad. While washing up, wild thoughts ran amok:

Call yourself an award-winning cookbook author? Can’t even make bloody caramel!

Charge US$35 for that cookbook? Use summa that to hire a recipe tester!

Look at all these sugar I’m throwing away. Those sugar canes died for nothing!

Don’t let me meet you in person, Mr Malgieri, or I’m gonna smear all that rock sugar on your bearded face. Take that for James BEARD!

Husband-photographer Z came home and told me about his day at work. Mmph, I responded. He told me a joke. Mmph, I attempted a laugh. My baby daughter could have launched into a Riverdance routine, executed a 2-half somersault in pike position and a perfect landing, and I would’ve just said, Mmph. I was that grumpy.

I am cakezilla. Hear me roar.


P/S: On a completely separate note, can somebody please drop a comment about how gorgeous this photo looks? I mean, it is pretty damn good, right? I think husband-photographer Z did a great job. But hardly anyone ever paid any attention to his photos. And he is sad. Every time I check in for stats and comments, he’d go, “No one say anything about my photo?” I’d look at him in silence,  he’d look back, and we’d hear crickets chirping from a faraway distance.

C’mon guys, show him some lerv.


Banana Caramel Cake September 11, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 2:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

AFTER that catastrophic brush with banana cake in my last entry, you’d think that I’ve sworn off bananas for life, yah? You’d expect me to ban the fruit from my kitchen, withhold it from my 10-month-old baby even though it’s her favourite, and forbid anyone to utter those three damned syllables in my presence, yes?

Well, no!

For my next cake, I’d gone right ahead to make another banana cake, this time from the hallowed recipe troves of Martha Stewart.

I had to review her Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for work and, after a quick skim, I thought, Hoi! how come no one told me about this? The baking compendium has recipes and photos that look so unspeakably gorgeous I could lick the pages. It’s the only cookbook I’ve ever come across that made me wanna make every single one of its recipes. Yes, even blueberry muffins – and I hate muffins.

I couldn’t wait to make her banana cake because this recipe is (a) frosted with whipped cream, and y’all know I’ll eat a toy tractor if it comes with whipped cream; and (b) filled with bananas cooked in caramel, which is unusual.

Making the various components took an entire afternoon, but when it was ready, it rocked. The whipped cream, made deeper and more stable by an addition of mascapone cheese, cut through the richness of the cake. And the mushy banana filling gave an added texture to the overall taste. After one bite, I moaned and thought, This is not just cake. This is dessert.

I was not alone in my adulation. My mum loved the cake. Even my husband Z, who pretty much doesn’t enjoy food full-stop, said it was “very good”.

So, Martha, allow me to express my newfound devotion to you. I don’t care how your TV shows are so darn boring, how you should really lighten up about cutlery placements, or how, beneath that very proper The Hamptons exterior, you are – according to that unauthorised biography – really a sex fiend.

I salute you because you helped me overcome a rabid fear of banana cakes. You are, as you often say, a ver-rry Good Thing.


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.