A cake is a cake is a cake.

Sous-Bois: mousse au cassis, bavarois au Kirsch, biscuit jaconde, confiture de cassis
Sous-Bois: mousse au cassis, bavarois au Kirsch, biscuit jaconde, confiture de cassis

In one of Will Smith’s celebrated films, The Pursuit of Happyness, there was this line that I could recall:

“I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”

Amidst an ongoing debate on the pervasive ‘paper chase’ in my country, I thought it was apt to revisit this quote. The socio-cultural sentiment, that qualifications are sieves which separate the successful from the rest, has affected me personally. I am stuck in business school, when I’d rather be in the kitchen. While I am encouraged that there is such debate, it is equally difficult to conceive any imminent change in perspectives. One step at a time, but we must also consider how we relate success to happiness. This is an age-old concern, yet we are still so blind.

Rat race or paper chase, is happiness its attainable goal? Or are we doomed to Sisyphus’ fate in an absurd pursuit, in which we must imagine ourselves happy? Who is Sisyphus anyway? Why does he have such a difficult name to pronounce?

In seeking these answers, let’s not neglect the obvious fact that Sisyphus didn’t have any cake while we do. Because if we can’t have happiness, we can have cake. Let us eat cake.

Last summer, my pursuit has brought me to Tokyo. I didn’t know much about Japanese pâtissiers; I only had chez Hidemi Sugino on my ‘must-visit’ list, thanks to his fame in the blogosphere. By little coincidence, I stayed two blocks away from his unassuming shop. On my third day in Tokyo, I decided to join the queue only 15 minutes before opening. This indifference was duly punished as the signature cake – ‘ambroisie’, was snapped up by those who came even earlier. Disheartened, but unbeaten, I chose four other petits gâteaux to share between my Dad and I. Three days later, I made another visit, only to miss the signature again, but two other cakes made up for that.

All in all, I tasted six cakes out of the 20 over that were charmingly displayed on the cake counter. (You see, I always had a thing for cake counters.) Each of the six has its own merits, but I was particularly inspired by the Framboisier. No photos were allowed, so words will have to suffice. Simply put, this layered cake accentuates our love for raspberries. Alternating layers of buttercream and jaconde offer soft and creamy textures on the palate, while the centre slice of jelly and garnishing raspberries present the refreshing and tangy aspect of this red midsummer gem. A layer of craquelin which sits atop the cake provides a crunchy distinction. With its shades and hues of red, and perfect layering, this cake grabs glances and robs hearts. As a whole, there is contrast, balance, and elegance, notwithstanding the fact that all elements comprise raspberries. Such is a dessert in which the ingredient humbles the chef, and the chef does justice to the ingredient.

The rest of the cakes were delights too. Amber Noix was a classic combination of chocolate, caramel and walnuts. Sous-Bois­ made another berry heaven. Tartelette au caramel passion, a bountiful tart of nuts and dried fruits wallowing in a smooth and rich passionfruit caramel, complemented by a quenelle of vaporous crème Chantilly. Charme was griottes, enough said, and Geometrin had an interesting, enlightening pairing of grapefruit and mint. Perhaps they weren’t all mind-blowing, but in chez Sugino I realized how simplicity doesn’t preclude ingenuity. After all, it takes most skill to execute the basics well beyond perfection.

On my first visit, Chef Sugino walked into the salon de thé from the kitchen. The gray hues of his hair suggested a certain frailty, at the same time an evidence of his dedication in decades. In his chef jacket, apron and clogs too, he glanced across the room in all modesty. He approached two boys accompanied by their mother for an afternoon treat, and they traded some words. I was too far away to hear anything, nor could I understand. Yet from the humble grin Chef Sugino revealed as he returned to the kitchen, I could imagine that to be his happiness, if not, close enough.

04 | The audacity to love.

Monet

There is no better day than 14 February to write about love. It’s the 15th today, but for the people who work in the F&B industry, we can’t be really that calculative about special occasions. For the uninitiated, Roodelia has a vague proclivity for expositions of grandiose themes of human life. Dreams. Altruism. Consciousness. Certainly, some publication on this romantic concept is due.

Surely too, some readers would have an immediate objection that Valentine’s isn’t all about romance. It could be familial or platonic love! The handful of cynics who boycott the celebration on grounds of its dubious association with commerciality have now a bigger bone to pick, now that chocolatiers and florists are extending their scope of marketing activities beyond the romantically involved to the ‘platonically’ involved – everyone, except hermits. Yet there are even more absurd opposition. A school in Connecticut banned the exchange of candy in honor of its healthy eating initiative this year. Three years ago, a ban on this celebration was enforced in a Russian city, Belgorod, on claims that it undermines the moral fabric of society. A day in honour of an indispensable aspect of life has been marked to be too commercial, too unhealthy, and too immoral. One can hardly imagine how deprived the naysayers have been to drive them to such absurdity.

Governments can ban celebrations, but never can they reach into the hearts of the beloved and the lovers to institute a policy against love itself. I may have made an overly optimistic assertion. Consider how Room 101 tore apart the love between Winston and Julia in the Orwellian dystopia. That is a chilling depiction, but it hints at the fragility of what one could consider to be one of the noblest trait of our nature. Love manifests itself as the primary motivation of the greatest acts of sacrifice in history and/or religion, yet when turned sour, it also inspired the most sinister crimes in reality and drama. What, exactly, is love?

In true Roodelian fashion, heading down the winding path of evolutionary theories to answer this Socratic demand for definitions would be expected. Bond-pair theories, societal cohesion, and some psychological exploration. Hang on a second… surely one doesn’t need a definition to know what love is!

What’s the point of all these roundabout-bush-beating?

Cakes, of course! We don’t need any reasons to have cakes! Admittedly, they can be too fragile, too commercial, too unhealthy, or too immoral, but we still enjoy them all the same. Perhaps with some audacity. Last Saturday, after a visit to some traditional bakeries in Singapore, I made my way down to The Audacious Cakery. An apt venture in the heart of Everton Park, the patisserie brings a refreshing option to the food scene. I tried the Monet, as pictured, which combined orange flavours with champagne and Cointreau, well-balanced with tips of acidity from raspberries and redcurrants. The only thing I have against the cake would be the numerous seeds from the berries. Maybe it’s just my sour relationship with seeds; it’s personal. When I was done with that, I decided to have another cake, which was a duet between sesame and matcha. I’ve always liked the idea of using the flavour in pastries, but I’ve not found a proper way to do it. The cake, Faith, incorporated that flavor as a sponge and mousse, but it wasn’t quite agreeable because of the ‘dehydrating’ effect of matcha. Nevertheless, the patisserie makes a great addition to my list of dessert places to try, and it is heartening that more of such places are coming up in Singapore, alongside the wave of cafés specializing in coffee. Speaking of which, the patisserie’s cakes deserve much better coffee to go with. That improvement will surely bring me back again to try the other cakes and tarts, although I’ll have to save up for that!

The Audacious Cakery
2 Everton Park #01-61
Singapore 081002
T: 6223 3047
http://theaudaciouscakery.com/

Cake Framboise et Thé Matcha

004 Cake Framboise et Thé Matcha

From time to time, a simple dessert can hit the right spot. Some, like the Opéra, take laborious effort and time to piece together, while others only require a little more than mixing the ingredients together and baking in the oven. I may be over-simplifying, but it’s a matter of relativity. Yet, simplicity does not excuse one from demanding creativity and skill. In fact, sometimes, the simplest of things necessitates the greatest of ingenuity.

It is always difficult to choose something from a pâtisserie, especially when most pastry chefs are more than eager to display their culinary prowess with an eye-dazzling array of pastries that line their glass cabinets. My rule of thumb: when in a dilemma, choose something with raspberries. I’m more of a “fruit person” than a “chocolate person”, and the raspberry has just the right taste over any other berry on my palate. That said, this time round, I knew what I wanted from La Pâtisserie des Rêves along Rue du Bac – the Grand Cru, which will come in the next post.

The more elaborate pâtisseries were illustriously presented on a podium in the middle of the boutique. Each of them were encased in a glass jar-like capsule (not that I liked it though,) with a description printed in readable, large print. On the contrary, the viennoiseries and the rest were tucked at a corner, somewhat un-appetizingly  Having made a decision beforehand, I briefly glanced over the other capsules, and ordered a Grand Cru at the counter to take away. The sales-lady smiled and walked into the kitchen to get my order, and that left me exploring the boutique’s less-attractive corners. I found this, the Cake Framboise et Thé Matcha, sitting on a plate at a corner. It didn’t come across as strikingly beautiful of course, but I was intrigued to find something that married two favorite flavors of mine. It’s a simple cake; it was relatively cheap and so I succumbed to temptation.

A few weeks ago, I had to bake a traditional Cake aux Fruits at school. Previously, I’ve heard that some people have experienced the problem of having the cut fruits sinking to the bottom of the batter. Instead of having the colorful gems evenly dispersed throughout the pound cake, the fruits cluster in the lower half, to much disappointment. A chef from the school says this from time to time, “there are no problems – only solutions.” The solution we were taught, was to pre-mix the macerated fruits with some flour, which helps to suspend them in the batter. It turned out well for us.

It’s a different story for raspberries, however. Left uncut, the way they are best enjoyed, the berries are too heavy, and they will sink. Are pound cakes and raspberries destined to be incompatible? Apparently the chef at La Pâtisserie des Rêves didn’t think so, and came up with a slightly ingenious answer – cover the barren top half with matcha. It might be an accident, but so be it. The photo can be deceiving; the matcha powder isn’t incorporated into the batter, it is only sprinkled on the cut surface. So there we have, a blissful marriage between two uncommon partners. I thought they complemented each other well. It was a partnership of the freshness of the berries and the subtle flavor of matcha. The juicy berries made up for the dry matcha powder, while the excess acidity was neutralized.

“Awesome!” I exclaimed (silently, of course).

On second thought, and perhaps after a few more bites, an underlying discord disturbed me. The unusual combination was ingenious, it had potential, but it lacked some sort of “synergy.” With partial knowledge of music, I would say, these two flavors belong to different family of chords. Played together, they sounded good but wait, something’s wrong, sort of. There was a “twang” in their harmony; it didn’t work out that well after all… But I wasn’t disappointed; it was a good match; it was delicious. The cake was moist, the sides weren’t burnt and rock-hard. Simple is good. The flavors were great too, I enjoyed it, but it’s not a perfect “happily-ever-after” ending. Hopefully, one day someone would bring together a perfect ensemble of  raspberries and matcha. Till then, I’ll have them separately.