Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fabulous Party Cakes - Classes

I'll be teaching Fabulous Party Cakes, a demo class, at Shermay's Cooking School on 8 May 2010 (Saturday), 9 May 2010 (Sunday), 22 May 2010 (Saturday) and 23 May 2010 (Sunday). For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email

If there's one thing I've observed many of the lovely ladies who attend my classes have in common, it's their devotion to their nearest and dearest. Really, why else bake a cake when you can buy a cake? It's a labour of love, and that's the long and short of it. I am always in awe of how these ladies manage to juggle work and family so graciously. They don't merely manage a household; they manage to find time and energy in their superhuman schedules to not just feed their families, but feed them handsomely. And to make time to bake on top of all that? Why, that's just the icing on the cake. Amazing grace, truly.

It is this coterie of very special people who inspired this particular class. Some are avid bakers. Some, weekend bakers. And yet others, don't bake as often as they would like to, life has a habit of getting in the way. All, however, make it a point to when there's an occasion to celebrate. From birthdays to anniversaries, there is nothing that says an occasion is special like cake lovingly crafted from scratch does. As they say, you can take the party out of a cake, but there's no taking the cake out of a party.

OK, I just made that last line up. Secretly, guiltily, sheepishly watching Jersey Shore has made the saying that is actually said a real truism. Half horrifying, half hilarious, 100% addictive - the very definition of morbidly fascinating. But I digress.

On the menu:

Peanut Butter Sandcastle Bundt A scrumptious and stunning cake peanut butter-lovers will absolutely swoon for. Replete with seashells and other fun-in-the-sun accents moulded from Peanut Butter Putty, an edible “clay” you can shape and manipulate the same way you would handle fondant or marzipan.

Lemon Honey Beehive Cake Big and beautiful, fragrant and moist, this honeyed number will set your next party abuzz!

PS: Yes, not terribly anatomically correct, no stingers and all. But having actually been stung before, the only way I can reconcile my phobia with my love of honey is to anthropomorphize!

Very Berry + Very Chocolatey Shortcake Baskets Chocolate shortcake baskets (using Valrhona Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate) holding a bounty of ripe, juicy macerated berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and/or blueberries can all work here)

can be as adorable as they are delectable.

Miniature Tiered Cakes Create a fabulous collection of decorated miniature tiered cakes based on the perfect yellow layer cake recipe.
I will have more details up soon on the bonus sections of the recipe pack (see here or here for a preview) covering the subject of miniature cakes - designs and techniques demonstrated at class will include a comprehensive selection from this material, with the extent depending on time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fishy business

In the name of the evolution of one's decompression therapy, I'll rather take a whirl through rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré anytime, anyday, over the Champs-Élysées. Sure, it dosen't hurt that this particular shop-till-you-drop stretch is a mere hop, skip and jump away from one of our favourite hotels in Place Vendôme (much to W's vexation, it is wedged right between the eye candy at 13, rue de la Paix and here).

Point is, however much you subscribe to the have-good-food-will-travel school of thought at dinner, lunch, pragmatically - if you're deep in the throes of therapy in the 1st/8th arrondissements - is a let's-see-what's-closest (ie.walking distance)-by-but-still worth-eating affair. I won't bother talking about the prix fixe menus you already know and are familiar with at joints like Les Ambassadeurs, Le Bristol, Le Cinq, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Ledoyen, and Taillevent (PS: Where this particular ilk in the hood is concerned, and in appropriate company with the appropriate leisurely frame of mind, we tend to spring for Carré Des Feuillants, Le Grand Vefour and Le Meurice).

In such time's a wastin' circumstance, I tend not to want to linger over a long lunch in some grand setting. I just want some place fun and informal. Gratifying without being too overwhelming (this is lunch afterall), conveniently located but not too much of a scene (Aside: If however in the mood for that sorta thing, the mid-day people-watching at Pinxo, Hôtel Costes and the basement in Colette are hard to beat).

So where to find this spot of fortifying yet fast sustenance, a tasty lil' respite to tide you over a potentially cardiovascular afternoon till a probable big and proper dinner? The obvious answer would be the countless excellent brasseries and bistros dotting the area - I am especially fond of Chez George, Aux Lyonnais, Le Mesturet, La Tour de Montlhéry (also known as Chez Denis), and Le Vaudeville. However, given my utter lack of self-control, I am apt to make a beeline for exactly the kind of hearty, robust, rib-sticking standbys on these menus that make one soporific as opposed to energized for the flurry of brisk activity that is shopping on these streets. Which is why I do my best to stay clear of them at lunch, obvious (and tempting) as the option may be.

So where on earth does one go then? I find myself turning time and again to the wine bar. I love Les Fines Gueles. No ordinary wine bar, you'll find they insist on using nothing but the very very very finest - from the Jean-Yves Bordier butter to the Joël Thiébault veg to the Hugo Desnoyer beef, the concept of compromise does not exist here. Me? I cannot get enough of the steak tartare made from exquisitely beefy Salers beef. To. Die. For. And in my books the perfect light-yet-reviving lunch. Equally charming, but with a greater New World wine focus, is Tim Johnston's Juvéniles. In contrast (in terms of scale and modernity), there's Lavinia, every wine geek's idea of a crazily-well-stocked perfectly-microclimate-controlled heaven. Head upstairs; whatever you've decided is worth imbibing at the cheery nook of a restaurant, it'll happily wash down the surprisingly satisfactory (and satisfying) menu options.

But to be really honest, if I'm feeling (a) extravagant and/or (b) virtuous (read: didn't swipe the plastic as often as anticipated that particular morning), I treat myself to Cafe Prunier. What better locale (at Place de la Madeleine) at which to celebrate with a flute of gorgeous vintage bubbly, a quenelle of whatever/whichever Aquitaine caviar Pierre Bergé deems fit (like this Yves covetable?) or the ever-reliably-excellent Tradition Prunier, and a plat of delectable Balik smoked salmon thinghies a recent score just up and off rue Boissy d'Anglais here or here warrants? (PS: If gallery-trawling in the Left Bank, I head for Petrossian instead for an equally astounding piscean experience).

* Salmon Rillettes, a luxurious potted fish pâté made of smoked salmon and poached fresh salmon, is divine with a hearty, rustic bread like soda bread. It's all part of the menu for The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Party, a demo class, on 24 April 2010 and 25 April 2010. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email

Friday, April 02, 2010

I dream of cream teas

We spent a few days in London in January and, as always, made it a point to revisit old favourites like St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields (which we actually prefer to the original Smithfield restaurant; the whole plates-to-share thingy makes for a much more fun, informal and varied experience) and Bentley's in Swallow Street, Richard Corrigan's super cosy, comforting, unpretentious, and all-round awesome oyster bar (we like sitting downstairs in the bustling bar, rather than upstairs, and trying to make tough menu calls. Bisque, prawn & egg mayo, dressed crab, fish pie, fish & chips, and of course oysters - trouble is, it's all staggeringly good. Decisions, decisions...).

And then there's afternoon tea - this, I (as opposed to we) tear about in constant pursuit of. If you're into wearing your Roger Vivier pilgrims and daintily nibbling them too, there's the Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley. For sheer ambience, I adore soaking up the grand European setting (impeccably restored by David Collins) of The Wolseley. But, for me, possibly the most all-round fabulous afternoon tea experience - in terms of the comestibles, the setting, the service, the works - turned out to be the one that was right under my nose, no tearing about required.

While W has had the pleasure of doing so on previous work trips, and had (perhaps to his everlasting regret) described to me in vivid detail the superlativeness of that pleasure, it was to be my first time ever staying at the legendary Claridge's. And what a treat it was. How excited was I? Much to W's bemusement, I couldn't stop talking about it - on the Eurostar ride from Gare du Nord to St Pancras, in the cab from the train station to Brook Street, all throughout our stay, on the long haul flight home, and then some. So much so I think he's secretly worried I have become so utterly spoilt by the superb service and perfection of it all - in an exceedingly old world, storybook kind of way - that I will henceforth have a new impossible benchmark against which to compare all other hotel experiences. I daresay his suspicions are not entirely unfounded.

But that's another post for another day; it'll be much along the lines of Eloise living it up at the Plaza, such was my childish glee. That aforementioned all-round fabulous afternoon tea experience?
It was to be found at the Art Deco foyer - I've had my share of good cream teas, and this is certainly one of the best afternoon teas in London. Beyond the fnger sandwiches, the scones, the tea-infused jelly, the clotted cream, the cakes and pastries, and the selection of tea (all unimpeachably excellent, it goes without saying), many other elements conspire to make this exemplar of the afternoon ritual truly memorable. The glamorous Dale Chihuly chandelier and flute of pink champagne certainly don't hurt.

Anyways, when I was coming up with this menu, I had in my mind rustling up a homestyle and hearty spread that was pretty old school, no faffing about. Whilst certainly nothing quite as elegant or grand as the foyer spread, it is nonetheless all about the luxury of pausing to indulge in afternoon tea.

The pièce de résistance, naturally, is the scone. Perfect scones need perfect accompaniments. The supplementary section of this recipe pack thus includes the recipes for:
Homemade “Clotted Cream” Thick, luscious clotted cream is a must-have accompaniment to scones. Not readily available here, here’s a scrumptious alternative homemade version.
Strawberry Rosewater Preserves Hauntingly perfumed and beautifully hued, these strawberry preserves belong in a special league of their own.

Passionfruit Curd Great for using to fill cakes, cookies and tarts,

this aromatic fruit curd is also spectacular served with scones or toast.

Confiture de Lait Caramelized milk jam, also known as dulce de leche or cajeta, is indulgent with scones or toast. Also great as a sauce for ice cream, or for using to fill cakes, cookies and tarts.
* I will be teaching The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Party, a demo class, on 10 April 2010 ,11 April 2010 , 24 April 2010 and 25 April 2010. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email