Baking is not really my cup of tea, or is it?

Posted: July 4, 2010 in Food, Nostalgia

I adore the smell of freshly baked cakes and breads. Yes, I do! I REALLY, do! Don’t we all?  But…. yes, BUT………if only I could bake!

Western cakes are light-years away from Asian (Chinese, in particular) cakes. “Asian” cakes are mostly steamed and not baked.  This probably explained why I don’t bake 😉 

Have you ever tried the Chinese carrot cake?  It is not what you think….

Nope, I did NOT bake this.  Sorry, folks!

Chinese carrot cake has no orange carrots, no eggs, no cinnamon powder, no sugar, no pecans or walnuts and definitely no cream cheese frosting!

And better still, listen to this, Chinese carrot cake is not sweet but savoury!! The ‘carrots’ in a Chinese carrot cake recipe are white carrots (grated turnip or radish or daikon) with key ingredients of chopped lapcheong (Chinese sausages), dried shrimps, shallots, shiitake mushrooms, spring onions, rice flour, water, salt and white pepper.

See the glaring differences? 

I can make these anytime, but these weren’t mine, either….  😦

But it was the metamorphosed version of the Chinese carrot cake which bewitched us kids since time immemorial. It’s called Chai tow kway   Lo bak go or char kway (pan fried Turnip cake). My all-time favourite!  Less boring than the initial version 😉

Et Voilà!  

My mum baked but the types of “western” cakes she baked were quite limited with a few exceptions, of course ( remember the “Kek Pasir Rubuh” I mentioned on my post, Birthday Treat(s)….sequel?).

Without a doubt, the pound cake was THE most popular and THE most versatile of all cakes I remembered eating when I was a child.

The very same ingredients used in a pound cake were transformed into marble cake, chocolate cake, banana cake, fruit cake, lemon cake.  You named it… At home, cakes were only baked on birthdays and Christmases.

I prefer cooking to baking because, baking, to me, is TOO rigid! You have to be really precise with the quantities of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and what not!  Cooking gives me more freedom and flexibility.  I can come up with something, anything, from what I have in my larder. A little bit of spices, a handful of fresh herbs, et voilà! Try doing that with baking and a big, fat flopped blop transpires before your eyes! No kidding!

That’s what happened to me!

Winter 1995.

I was toying with the idea of surprising my other half on his birthday. What better way to treat my DH than to surprise him with a birthday cake!  Did you hear that?  A cake!!

The only recipe book on desserts I found on our book shelf at the time was a Dutch edition, Bakken het hele jaar (All year-round Baking).  I flipped through the pages, 478 in all.  Beautiful, Gorgeous, Stunning, Delightful, Colourful (noticed the capital letters?) pictures. Yes, there were glossy pictures of the finished products after each recipe.

Darn! The cakes and desserts all looked scrumptious. And hey presto, right before my very eyes was a cake I wanted to make. Page 237 it was.

This one.

Easy peasy. I thought.

I followed the recipe to a tee.  I was convinced that everything should turn out OKAY.  In went the dough in the oven.  My kitchen smelled heavenly, like it should be.  Then my timer buzzed to signal the end of baking time.  I took out the cake from the oven. Looked alright to me.  I placed the cake on a cooling rack before spreading the strawberry jam.

YIKES!  I could NOT roll the cake back up!  It was really hard, but not brittle.  The texture was leatherlike, and yet not pliable.

What did I do wrong? Beats me, really!

I cut a piece from the cake.  It was chewy. Oh no!

There was simply no way that piece of leather shit could be redeemed. 

It was my maiden journey to the world of baking and I failed.  I did what I had to do at that moment.  I freaked out and threw the cake in the bin! Yep, in the garbage can!

What would you have done if you were me?

Well, of course, I did tell my DH about my kitchen blunder. LOL!  It is the thought that counts, he said.  How sweet! 😀

From then on, I never attempted such a “feat” or did I?

This episode became part of my nightmare. Let’s say I was the butt of the joke, but, you know, in a tongue-in-cheek manner?

Here’s what happened.

I received a Christmas gift from a colleague in 2005, signed “Santa(rina) Anonymous”.  Our Christmas tradition at work was that we exchanged gifts with another colleague by picking a name via drawing lots. That year, my Santa(rina) gave me a mould for making Speculaas cookies complete with a recipe.

Honestly speaking, I was not at all thrilled with the gift.  Everyone else had tea light candle holders or a box of chocolates, or a bottle of wine and I got that bloody speculaas mould! The mould remained idle in my kitchen pantry for a good one year when I received yet another gift at our Christmas lunch in 2006.  Guess what?  I got a bag of the Speculaas mix!! Memang celaka sial. Soi kao mai soi. LOL!

I’m far from being a pâtissier. But…. hang on, there was a recipe printed at the back of the packet of flour. It was so elementary and effortless, at least I thought so.

Four months later (Apr 2007), I surprised my colleagues with the finished product as part of my birthday treat to them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the long awaited Speculaas cookies!!!!  Damn it, I forgot to take a picture of the original cookies I made , but these ones looked almost exactly like the batches I made, except that I had made  mine with griddled pattern on the cookies by using a fork.  I did NOT use the speculaas mould.  It was useless.  It actually retarded my work pace, and making me less creative that way. 

By the way, anyone can make these cookies.  Believe you me, these ones were made by the then 9 year old Belgian girl. I happened to stumble upon her blog.  Here goes…

Slowly but surely, I unfolded the journey of making cakes, tarts and pastries, but more as a passive browser 😀

Until, one day, I craved for a cake that could only be found back home in Malaysia.  We used to call this cake the Beehive cake.

I googled high and low on the net in search of the Beehive cake.  There were loads of pictures and recipes on Beehive cake, but that’s not the cake I knew or wanted to bake.

Why of course, it was the Honeycomb Cake, or specifically, the Malaysian Honeycomb Cake I had been searching for all that time!  Bingo! That’s it. That’s the cake I wanted to make and I DID!!!

You can find the recipe on Malaysian Honeycomb Cake recipe comes from Jo’s Deli Bakery

Or better still, watch the step-by-step instruction on video (  That’s how I made mine 😉

And by the way, happy trying! 😀


  1. LM says:

    Thanks for posting the youtube. You’re right, it’s so much easier to follow ‘cos I’m a very visual person. LoL! Your Malaysian Honeycomb cake looks great. I’lll definitely give it a go… Thanks again, LM

  2. Dada says:


    The chai tow kway should be char kway…chai tow is long beans actually. love reading ur post, always looking forward to it. perhaps bila mom and I ada di, che can bake the speculas for us… 🙂



  3. Nasifriet says:

    Thanks LM. I hope you get to try to make the cake! Let me know the outcome.. 😉


  4. Nasifriet says:

    Da, you’re right. The chinese translation of radish is “luobo”, so it should be lo bak go or as you said, better known in our hometown as char kway. Thanks for the heads up. I’ve strikedthrough the word chai tow kway and replaced that with lo bak go or char kway 😀

    Yep, will try to find time with your request. Maybe will make more for u to bring back home later 😉

    Hugs xxx

  5. Hey, I’m so glad you didn’t give up on baking. As they say, practice makes perfect.

    I’m impressed that you attempted the honeycomb cake. Though the instructions are simple, the caramel making is not for the faint of heart. Congrats to you.

    Thanks for the linkback!

  6. Nasifriet says:

    You’re right abt the honeycomb cake. The caramel making part needs a bit of patience and “tactics” and it’s a piece of cake all the way 😀 ………!

  7. Sharon says:

    Oh the honeycomb cake looks soooo good! I miss that cake, ate a lot of it in Malaysia. That’s hilarious about the swiss roll though! Did you ever figure out what went wrong? I rolled it up when it was still warm so it was ok. But the bottom half was leathery like you said. And it was really flat considering I doubled Jess’s portions. Your story made me laugh ;). I have yet to make Asian cakes, so I think I’ll be coming to you for ideas for that haha.

  8. Nasifriet says:

    My swiss roll was a total disaster. I don’t think I have the guts to make it (again), unless I have a visual step-by-step guide to baking this cake. LOL! Mine could not even roll. It was leathery hard (I think it has sth to do with the corn flour), but it smelled heavenly…. 😉

    There you see, my honeycomb cake turned very well after watching the youtube. Hahhaha.. You should try this. You could add the juice of the pandan for flavour. I will try it the next time, but I guess the colour will not be very brown then…

  9. PlumLeaf says:

    Hi, just found your blog through your reply re: Swiss Roll Bombe.
    That’s the thing about swiss rolls. Always look so easy. Few ingredients, short method, yet one of the trickier things to bake (in my opinion). Chiffons I can do (had few failures too along the way) swiss rolls? Nope. *Sigh…..

  10. Nasifriet says:

    Hi Plum Leaf,
    Thanks for passing by my blog. I have had a quick browse thru’ yours and I think I can have some ideas from you re baking 😉 Would love to learn how to make buns!!

    I have still to re-visit making the swiss roll. I don’t think I have the nerve to do that just yet after what had happened to my swiss roll 😦 S.O.S……. anyone????

  11. PlumLeaf says:

    Hi Nasifriet! Love baking. That sweet waft of cake that is turning brown at the edges of the tin whilst baking in the oven; with that wonderful toasty taste yet soft and moist centre is certainly alluring! & Its the BEST bit of the cake eaten the same day! (The edges I mean – it’s my favourite bit!)

    I also love BOTH variants of carrot cake – although I don’t tend to refer to the Chinese version as ‘carrot’ – more mooli or radish. (I think it might actually be more related to the radish in terns of taste and the leaves.) I made the chinese radish cake last Chinese New Year and intend to do so again in a few weeks time. Made a taro cake on Boxing Day but I don’t think it’s as tasty as radish.

    Had to know what went wrong with swiss roll – pics would help. Knowing the recipe you used would be helpful as it may be easier to spot the likely troublespots. However, I’m guesing the probs you had with rolling is ‘cos the cake cooled on the rack whilst flat. You have to roll whilst warm and leave it rolled up as it cools. This then helps set the shape (think hot rollers in hair, you leave to cool to set shape before you remove rollers). If you say the cake was like leather then it’s the method of making your sponge. Dependant on your recipe I would say the batter wasn’t light and airy enough. Perhaps some air was knocked out whilst folding the flour in? The batter was overbeaten (knocking air out) and made the cake tough.

    It isn’t easy to master – I tried once and it wasn’t quite as light and moist as I’d liked – I tried using a chiffon recipe and it wasn’t great but not in the bin job either. Haven’t summoned enough courage to try it again yet – but when I do I fancy a chocolate one!

  12. Nasifriet says:

    Oh wow…thanks Plum Leaf for the cyber lesson. Yep, I think I recognise the errors you mentioned, ie cooling the cake on the rack before jamming and rolling the cake, the sponge was indeed on the ‘heavy’ side – not lightweight as it should, BUT the thing was, I followed every single step in THE recipe book!. BTW, the recipe included a small amt of corn/ tapioca flour. I’m not sure why… or maybe it was over-beatean like you said, thus, making it tough. The smell of the kitchen was fantastic, though 🙂 That was the ONLY positive thing – neither the sight nor the taste could do justice 😦

    Hey, that makes the two of us. I adore the crusty bits of a freshly baked cake. Give me the edges of a cake anytime…


  13. PlumLeaf says:

    Sometimes you can follow a recipe religiously for it to turn out not quite right. I’m sure it’s the execution rather than the method. I get days like that! The cornflour/tapioca starch is to make the flour lighter.

    When I get round to making a swiss roll, I’ll post. (Made some lemon cakes the other day and they were GOOOOOOOOOOD! Surprisingly fluffy and light!

  14. […] you have read my post, Baking is not really my cup of tea, or is it? you will know why I hardly baked. That, however, did not deter me in looking up good, yet easy […]

  15. […] the cake away? Well, if you must know, I did thrash one cake in the past, if you have read my post Baking is not really my cup of tea or is it? A supposed swiss roll cake that wouldn’t roll – it was leather […]

  16. […] the Malaysian Honeycomb Cake. If you have read an earlier write-up I posted way back in July 2010, Baking is Not Really My Cup of Tea or is It?, it was then that I hinted my craving for a ‘spongy, bitter-sweet, nutty and caramelised, dark […]

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