You can take the girl out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the gateau out of the girl


(Black Forest Gateau with cherry chocolate jelly)

In a past or future life, I’d like to imagine myself as an accomplished writer. Someone who is proficient in conjuring up fact or fantasy. We don’t have any writers in the family (and I’m sure you won’t hear many Asian parents bemoaning that fact). Right now, I am happy to attempt to convey my emotions through the things I bake.

Fantasy : We approached the cottage built entirely from gingerbread. An old woman beckoned to us from the front window. Come inside, my dears, I have DSLR cameras you can use to take pictures of the house with.

Fact : A few weeks ago, I advanced another year in my life. It’s nauseating how cliched we become as we get older. Kids these days? I believe I have been known to use that phrase several times, without a trace of irony.

I don’t usually bother to celebrate my birthday in any big way. Vaguely in the same month, my family will congregate at a restaurant for dinner, and the boy will get me a gift. This year, I also decided to quietly bake myself a cake.


Fantasy : She refused the glossy red apple the old woman offered her. Sorry, but I’m a locavore who only eats biodynamic and organic these days, she said.

Fact : It’s been a long time since I last made a Black Forest cake, and an even longer time since I’d eaten one. For many years, it was my favourite childhood cake. Every year I would request it from the same cake shop, for my birthday. One year, mom talked me into picking a fruit flan, for the sake of trying something different. It turned out to be quite a disappointing birthday. I suspect I even spent five years learning German in high school just so I could say Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte with conviction.

Somewhere along the way however, this cake fell out of favour (or flavour). But I got to thinking about it again, as one does any childhood memory, the further you travel away from being aged 9 or even 19.

My version is composed of a chocolate cake doused with cherry syrup, topped with cherry brandy mousse, bitter dark chocolate mousse, cherries and pools of chocolate sauce. Cubes of Kirsch flavoured chocolate jellies and dehydrated chocolate cake crumbs add a juicy, boozy burst and chocolate crunch respectively.

The chocolate sponge component is from Heston’s ultimate Black Forest cake recipe, which appears in his Fat Duck cookbook. I had initial reservations about the sponge, until I tasted it after letting it cool for an hour or two. Amazingly moist and moreish.


Fantasy : Once overtime and union fees had been negotiated, the mice happily went to work, piecing together the dress that she was to wear to the ball.

Fact : I searched every drawer in the house for a small candle to fix on top of the cake before cutting into it, but it appears I don’t own any; just the emergency supersized candles with 4 – 5 wicks.

Tasting this cake, and blushing from the Kirsch, I was reminded of so many things. Sometimes revisting a favourite food is like meeting an old friend again. Your friendship may have fallen to the wayside and things might’ve been said along the way, but there’s no denying the history and the good times you’ve shared.

I wish I could relive those times, but the truth is, as good as the times were, they also involved mock cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate vermicelli. Those weren’t the glory days.

This cake reminds me of being 9. That greedy little 9 year old with a bowl haircut, and a penchant for fried foods and cake. Why do we suffer from so much nostalgia as we get older? I’m telling you, being 9 isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when you can’t even choose your own cake. I prefer to raise my fork in celebration of the now, and to future things. To the friends I continue to meet along the way, and the boy who has hung around for the past 12 – 13 and not-really-counting years. Here’s to many more years of discovery and re-discovery, and if every now and then I encounter a Black Forest cake in my travels, I’ll be sure to say hello to it.

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A week of baking vegan


(Silken Chocolate Mousse Cake)

Since my last post, I have been much busier. A little too busy to blog regularly, even though the weekend baking pursuits have continued to produce some interesting things I wish I had more time to share.

I’m taking time out from my regular butter-fests, to write about something a little different today : margarine. The reason being that I recently spent a week baking vegan. Not because I’ve run out of money for butter or grown tired of my leather shoes, but because what seems like eons ago, Hannah sent me a copy of her cookbook. In case you weren’t already a fan, Hannah Kaminsky is the voice behind BitterSweet (a blog I love and visit frequently) and the author of My Sweet Vegan.

I may be fairly inconsistent in my road towards a healthier lifestyle, but vegan baking is not something I often considered gravitating towards. Like most non-vegans, I’ve long held the view that this style of baking meant being prepared to search for hard-to-get (and often more expensive) ingredients such as vegan “sour cream”, brown rice syrup and soy creamer, or willing to make odd substitutions such as applesauce and bananas to replace butter in a recipe, or use tofu in a cheesecake.


(Hazelnut Orange Biscotti)

Rather unexpectedly then, my favourite recipe from My Sweet Vegan turned out to be a Silken Chocolate Mousse Cake (pictured above), which had a fantastic gluten-free, no-bake base, and a luscious, rich and flavoursome chocolate mousse featuring silken tofu as one of the main ingredients. Also high on my list of favourites, was the Orange Hazelnut Biscotti which featured items you’d find in most typical pantries.

The only recipe that I would not make again, of the handful that I tried, was the Black Bottom Blondies (not pictured), because I didn’t like the texture of the blondies, even though the brownie component was really delicious.

Apart from the blondie, the recipes I tried from the book were met with considerable praise from my taste-testers (all of whom were non-vegans). There were some detractors for the chocolate mousse cake who did not like the consistency of the tofu in the mousse, but you know what they say about pleasing some people some of the time..


(Crumb-topped Brownie)

After much use of margarine, soy milk and soy yogurt, I can safely say that Hannah’s book was a pleasure to bake from. In fact, I even have a renewed respect for Hannah’s talent and her passion for what she believes in.

My Sweet Vegan makes for an excellent introductory guide for those who aren’t vegan but like to try something different, or for those who already have margarine in their kitchen, and would like to expand their vegan repertoire. Refer to it when you’re feeling virtuous, or if you’re making a treat for a vegan friend. Either way, it’s a bit of a sweet win-win situation (especially when you end up with something like Sesame Chews. Who cares if it’s vegan when it’s this delicious!).


(Sesame Chews)

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And sous it is..

-When is the part-time thing happening?, this sous chef asked.

I told him I had to wait until the end of the month to hear back from the powers above.

-You must feel special. They’ve never done anything like that for anyone before.

Yeah, special, I said, rolling my eyes.

I respect this sous chef a lot. He cares about the job he does, and in this very stressful environment, he does it extremely well. He treats everyone in the kitchen fairly, and is very level headed, despite the impossible number of coffees that he drinks and cigarettes he smokes. He buys Gatorade for the boys, and watermelon for me. Away from work, he also has twin baby girls and probably the world’s most understanding wife. How he juggles all this, is, really beyond me.

To tell you the truth, the one thing I really feel is maybe a bit guilty. Guilty that I can feel the tiredness scratching the back of my eyes. The loop of the blue striped apron hangs like a noose around the neck. Call it a derivative of Stockholm syndrome or whatever, but I still love my job, and can’t imagine ever doing anything else. Probably my one big problem is that I’m not good at the whole juggling thing.

This week, I will be mostly :

1 Listening to Heart by Stars
2 Reading The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
3 Missing the boy, who flies to Vegas soon, “for work”

Last week, I finished reading a book. The first one in ages. I realised a long time ago, that one of the sad things about growing up is that I no longer have time to lounge around all Summer, sucking down chocolate Paddle Pops, surrounded by a sky-high stack of books. It was through many youthful (and pallid) years of avoiding the hot sun and the tyrannies of a sandy beach, that I discovered Hunter S. Thompson’s letters, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (ironic, isn’t it) stories.

In fact, these days, I kind of wonder what the 14 year old version of me, would think of myself now. Would I be disappointed to discover that I’m not that veterinarian or forensic scientist?

I think the 32 year old me will probably say to the 14 year old : Listen, the first thing you need to know, is that Chad Allen is never going to reply to your fan letter, and not just because it turns out that he’s gay. Secondly, life, is going to be nothing like you expected it to be. Disappointingly to your parents, you will not have “Dr.” in front of your name, nor will you sport a fancy ring on your finger or 2.5 kids at your hip.

No, it’s actually going to be even better. You will go to University and even though you will end up doing nothing related to your resulting degree, you will relish the experience. You will make friends there that you still count as some of your closest to this day. In your first year, you will also get your first computer account and through it you will meet even more new people, including one guy who will start out as a friend and eventually turn into someone who means so much more to you.

Today, he will come home from work and you will have soy glazed pork with slaw and potato fritters, followed by a frozen chocolate mousse cake. Whatever happens after that, and the day after, doesn’t matter, because it will be just as wonderful and unexpected as the days have been so far.

So, breathe, relax. It’ll turn out okay. Although, maybe you might want to learn how to juggle a little bit..

(Frozen chocolate mousse cake : chocolate sauce, sour cherries (compote and sorbet), peanut butter powder, peanut and banana tuille)

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