When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

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.


Whipped Cream Layer Cake November 20, 2008

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