First published on March 11, 2009
I could lie and say that the above is a fancy update of roti prata, but I won’t. In truth, it’s a no good piece-of-crap choux pastry I ended up making for my husband Z’s birthday last month.
Ever heard of Paris-Brest? It’s a French pastry in a shape of a wheel that was created in 1891 to celebrate some historic bike race from Paris to Brest. So how come my wheel looked like it ran over a bed of nails and emerged flatter than Gwyneth Paltrow?
I got the recipe from Young Mo Kim’s A Fine Collection Of Baking. In the book, the wheel is perfectly round, puffed up, cut in half and filled with whipped cream, whole bananas and a hazelnut praline mousse. Sounds like heaven right?
Well, I never got to taste the divine combo because I didn’t go as far as peeling the bananas. Before I could even start work on the filling, the bloody pastry broke into three segments while rising in the oven. Then when I took it out, it fell dead flat.
What’s even more tragic, I made this damn thing three times — using choux recipes from Young Mo Kim, Martha Stewart and Pichet Ong — and they all failed. Nope, practice didn’t make perfect, folks.
So I thought, maybe choux pastry cannot sustain such a long, continuous structure – the most it could go is short logs like eclairs. So I used the leftover batter to make eclairs .
Check out the end result above. Pretty nice, eh? The pastry remained puffed up, the chocolate topping was rich and glossy. Woulda been perfect if you didn’t actually have to eat it. See below.
The pastry cream inside — recipe taken from the until-now very reliable BakeWise by Shirley Corriher — was so stiff it couldn't be piped into the puffs. For the sake of photography and some semblance to a real eclair, I had to spread it onto the cavity like it was a jam.
Still, I was down but not out. Z was to have a belated birthday party last weekend so I had one more chance to redeem myself. So I decided to make something totally fool-proof, and nothing is more so than an English trifle.
First, you make a simple sponge cake, cut it into cubes and line a glass dish.
Then, you cut up strawberries and canned peaches and jam-pack them on top.
Next, you spoon over a layer of custard but, sorry, I don’t have a photo to show it. I was too traumatised to take any photos when my custard refused, and I mean, absolutely SAID NO to setting. I think I used a wrong recipe. I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s creme anglaise, which might have been a custard sauce that wasn’t supposed to set. Desperate, I added gelatin — twice — and still it was completely liquid. Never mind, I poured it in anyway and hoped that the final topping of whipped cream would obscure it.
No such luck. The whipping cream conspired with the custard to utterly humiliate me because it, too, refused to set properly. By the time we blew out the candle, the cream melted into a disastrous puddle that looked like this.
Cake soup, anyone?
Remember, all this played out in front of about 10 guests — a few of whom read this blog and had been under the illusion that I can bake. If I weren’t so well brought up by my parents, I would’ve locked myself up in my room and refused to come out.
Z wolfed down a spoonful and said “Quite nice, what.” But it didn’t comfort me. This is a man who eats fried rice with Maggi chilli sauce — hardly an arbiter of gastronomy. I just wanted to wail.
The next morning, I was still smarting from the debacle as we headed out for lunch with my family. As it turned out, my brother suggested that we eat at Tampopo, the birthplace of my favourite strawberry shortcake — which I consider the best in the world. I was quite willing to abstain from this treat on this sad occasion. But my sis-in-law innocently ordered a portion for me.
So there it stood, in front of me, like a cosmic taunt. The sponge cake was miraculously soft, the strawberries were glisteningly fresh, and the whipped cream was thick, glossy, spongy and perfectly set.
Utterly defeated, I dug in. The pain was exquisite.
Thank you for sharing this totally relatable story it’s encouraging to see every baker has had their moments 😆💜
Thank you for sharing – so utterly honest AND inspiring!