Tuesday, July 7, 2009


How To Get A Sugar Rush
and REALLY Enjoy It!

Butter, sugar, cheese, and a dab of flour....what's not to like?

While a lot of folks of my generation (“Gen X”, “Martial Law babies” or whatever other tag is given to us born between 1965-1975) are finding their (fleeting) passion for running, swimming and biking or all three, I’m still at the height of my love-affair with food. Exercising to me is only a means to an end –I exercise so I can eat the food I want!

So it was with great anticipation that after almost 6 months in the making, my small circle of foodie friends finally set our ensaymada horizontal tasting. And we can't have ensaymada without its best partner: hot chocolate or tsokolate -- hmmm, imagine all that chocolate, milk, butter and sugar! So we needed to find a venue that serves good hot chocolate. Enter “Heavenly Chocolates,” that chocoholics’ wet dream (pun intended!) on Roces Avenue. It serves hot chocolates from single-source beans, a novel but very much welcome idea in Manila, and maybe for that reason alone, the rest of the group unanimously agreed to venture to far-off Q.C. even if Heavenly Chocolate doesn’t serve the Philipine-style tsokolate.

With the venue ID’d, the line-up of candidates had to be firmed up. In deciding what ensaymadas to taste, it became obvious that there are at least 2 camps of ensaymada lovers: those who like the old-style, airy bread-like consistency (the most famous of the commercially available ones is Hizon’s), and those who like the cakey, moist kind (like the Mary Grace and Muhlach/Super Melt type). But we all agreed that we must have each kind’s best or at least the best among those known AND available to us. Oh, and we limited ourselves to those that use quezo de bola and not cheddar cheese, and only plain, traditional ensaymadas will do -- no flavorings or other add-ons like ube (que horror!). With these criteria, Cyrene narrowed down the choices to 6 -- 3 from each style. And the contenders are:

Old-style ensaymadas:

1. Pastelleria Mallorca (from the culinary Gonzales family of Pampanga)

2. Imang Beatrice Rodriguez of Pampanga

3. Medina family from Makati by way of Pampanga (come to think of it, the heritage of all three old-style ensaymadas is from Pampanga, so we can call the old-style as Pampanga style too!)

New-style ensaymadas:

1. Mrs. Cunanan (of Valle Verde)

These were the mini-sized ones, and not the regular-sized ones.

2. Tender Trap

These were voted the best-looking: petite and uniformly sized.

3. Nic’s Bakeshop

Thick Parmesan (they claim) cheese elicited yummy sighs

On the day of reckoning, Lanny and I arrived in Heavenly Chocolate before 3pm to get everything organized. Micky was already there with her surprise entry: a traditional panaderia ensaymada bread of our grandparents’ (or even great grandparents’) time, bought from Café Uno but with an up-to-the-minute twist: it was made of whole wheat.

Cafe Uno's entry: the dark horse. Its whole wheat flour gave it a darker color, nuttier taste, and more definitive texture. It was a pleasant surprise!

Though it didn’t fit in either of the 2 categories we had, we still included it so we can rate it against the others. And the ensaymada from Nic's Bakeshop was a non-conforming entry under the new-style category. It had parmesan cheese instead of quezo de bola! Hmmm…. should be disqualified. But since it was there, what the heck, we just served it anyway.

As with previous tastings, we tried to do a blind one as much as we could. So as the ensaymadas came, each batch was sliced and placed in identical platters and only I had the “codigo” though, of course, those who picked up a certain ensaymada knew which one he/she brought (hey, who said we had to do this scientifically and methodically? We just want to eat!).

While the ensaymadas were being prepped for service, discussions were ongoing on the origin of ensaymadas and how the Philippines’ version compares to those in Mallorca (the supposed birthplace of ensaymadas, if I heard and remembered right). Since I was busy with the slicing and secret marking, I didn’t hear much more of the conversation so will just hope someone in the group adds a comment below. Anyway … now to the tasting!

The old-style/Pampanga-style ensaymadas were placed on one side of our communal table, new-style ensaymadas on the other side, the surprise entry in the middle, and hot chocolates were ordered.

Who wouldn't be excited to taste these beauties?

Someone reminded the group about Coco’s theory on what I now call the “first-taste advantage.” But without any pretense of a scientific tasting (heck, we didn’t even have any score sheets this time), each taster just chose what he/she wanted to try first and the individual tastings were done randomly.

For the old-style entries, though they were almost identical in consistency, the tastes did vary. Some tasters found a faint odd taste in the Medina ensaymada. I read in some blog that quezo de bola is mixed in the batter and not just sprinkled on top so maybe that explains the “odd” taste. Unfortunately, CJ and Bom had to get the gargantuan Mallorca ensaymadas a day before so the ensaymadas had been refrigerated. I’ve had it fresh as well as 1-day old but without refrigeration and this batch did taste differently, mainly it wasn’t oozing with butter in the bottom as it usually does and it was a tad bit dry. But for me, its “bone structure” could still be detected and I still liked it very much. The others didn’t quite agree, and the top dog for the old-style entries was the Imang Beatrice ensaymada – soft, airy and buttery with just the right amount of saltiness from the quezo de bola on top.

As for the new-style ensaymadas, I do remember people liking the parmesan-topped ensaymada of Nic’s mainly because it had a strangely appealing thick parmesan cheese topping. But as expected, the Cunanan ensaymada was everyone’s favourite in this category, so much so that Sophie had several servings of the Cunanan ensaymada and clearly out-ate all the adults in the group (including Dad Chito and Mom Lorna).

Micky’s surprise entry was indeed a surprise, a delicious surprise! It may be the memories that the taste stirred up which made us all like it, most specially Kat who took home all the remaining Café Uno ensaymadas. It was the most bread-like in texture and taste but, pleasantly, didn’t have a margarine taste (I guess we’ve outgrown Star Margarine!) but still had the comforting solid sugar topping. And at P30 a pop, it was the best deal in the house.

At the end, the over-all choice of the group, voting viva voce: Cunanan ensaymada. The sweetness of the dough combined with the not-so-salty quezo de bola topping plus the subtle butter taste got the majority’s nod. Jenny even brought home the left-over Cunanan ensaymada for her hubby to taste-test for himself.

It’s too bad that I’m writing this more than 2 months since the tasting happened so I don’t recall what specific comments were made and who made them, which would have made this blog more informative and certainly entertaining. I guess this makes me a bad blogger, a late blogger or both. I do know now I can’t make a living out of this!

Where to find or order:
1. Pastelleria Mallorca – 18 Scout Fuentebella, Quezon City; 373-2789/373-2790

2. Imang Beatrice – Pamangan stall in Salcedo Market, Makati; 0917-5399861 (Des Rodriguez-Torres)

3. Medina – a no-name stall in Salcedo Market, on the inner row across the French food and fresh seafood row; 896-5523

4. Mrs. Cunanan - 44 Jasmin Street, Valle Verde 2; 631-0798

5. Tender Trap – 681 Lee St., Addition Hills, Mandaluyong; 722-9844

6. Nic’s (can't find the info right now)

7. Cafe Uno - 195-C Tomas Morato cor. Scout Funtabella St., Quezon City; 374-0774

Special thanks to Heavenly Chocolates @ Unit 1, Roces Centre, 127 Roces Avenue, Quezon City (Tel. No. 666-2208) and Cyrene for the pics!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chocolate Cake

Loco Over Choco
A chocolate cake horizontal tasting seemed daunting. There were just TOO many to consider! Fudge, decadent, flourless, or mousse? Ganache, fudge, or buttercream icing? Custard inside icing allowed? The possible permutations and combinations seemed endless, and when we started asking people for nominations, we were swamped with names. After a while, just the thought of chocolate made us sick.

The thought of having to eat more than 10 cakes made us quesy, to say the least, so we decided to limit the candidates to the following parameters: plain chocolate cake with plain icing. The Cookie Monster cake of yore. Custard inside icing allowed. Our benchmark: Polly Garilao's popular chocolate cake. We trimmed down the list from a high of 20 to a more digestible number of 10.

As a disclaimer, I personally like gooey gooey gooey chocolate cakes....the type that sticks to the roof of your mouth, smears your teeth, and smudges your napkin. The kind that unabashedly screams "chocolate" and "lots of it", with no finesse whatsoever. Pretty cakes are obviously appealing, but there is something so decadent (that word again!) about chocolate that makes a gooey mass/mess a turn-on. In my opinion, at least. :) But, as all tastes differ, that night, 19 souls sat down for the great Chocolate Cake Showdown.

So, our candidates:
1. Ultimate Chocolate Cake by Symphony Sweets ~ P1,500 / 8" Round Tel # 823-5235 - Marcelo Green Subdivision, Bicutan Also available in Salcedo Market on Saturdays.

This cake actually was disqualified by appearance alone, as we were looking for a cake without embellishments. As you can see, this handsome cake, with its truffles and almond slices, was far from a Plain Jane. This could also account for its high ticket price. However, the cake and icing were exceptionally good, and if judged on these alone, would have ranked quite high.

Upon further investigation the next day, it was discovered that a plain, chocolate cake by Symphony Sweets existed (called the Supermoist Chocolate Cake, P700 for a 9" round). This would have been more suitable for the tasting, and by gosh, with a name like that, how could it lose? :)

2. Wine Club ~ P575. / 8" Round Aguirre St., Legaspi Village, Makati Tel. # 893-7784

This cake literally paled in comparison, as its light brown buttercream icing looked anaemic among all the deep dark chocolatey colors. The buttercream icing also was very different from the fudge and ganache icings that night, in terms of texture (silkier and not gooey) and flavor (definitely less intense in chocolate). That being said, the cake itself was great....moist and flavorful.

3. Diimpy Camara's Chocolate Cake ~ P400. / 9' x 9' Dasmarinas Village Makati Tel # 843-8086

Dimpy Camara, of Frozen Brazo fame, also makes a deadly chocolate cake. This cake comes with a caramel sauce which only makes it EVEN better. Apologies for the unflattering blue glare (coming from Old Swiss Inn's stained glass window). A plain, square, gooey chocolate cake. Good stuff!

4. Chocolat's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake ~ P400. / 8" P427. G/F Llanar Bldg. 77 Xavierville Ave., Loyola Heights, QC Tel. # 928-9304

This cake was the only cake with MATTE chocolate icing. Not really sure if matte icing worked to its advantage. While it did look like a lusciously gooey cake (the icing was irregulary slathered, as if consciously trying to avoid the manicured looks of a store-bought cake), I must admit, in my opinion, the matte icing looked less attractive than the glossy, fudgy icings. However, as this was nominated by several people, we thought that it had to be included in our line-up.

5. Rosanna Baron ~ P500. / 9" Round La Vista Subdivision Tel. # 928-4118

This cake looked like the epitome of a gooey chocolate cake. Thick swirls of chocolate fudge icing haphazardly crowning this cake promised an even more luscious inside.

6. CALEA - Bacolod

Bacolod's entry was a 2 layered dense chocolate cake topped with a lighter fudge icing and an almost frozen-like cream center. In fact, after 30 minutes in room temperature, the icing began to ooze most attractively down the cake.

7. Med Chef's Moist Chocolate Cake ~ P650. / 10" Dome shape Q.C. - also available in Legaspi Market (Sundays) 0918-3596538

Imagine your favorite childhood Choco Mallow blown up 100x.....that's what this cake reminded us of. Not your best looking cake, but one that you will remember.

8. Karen Young's Chocolate Ganache Cake ~ P700. / 8" Round Karen’s Kitchen (KEY Specialty Foods) 428 Adalla St. Palm Village, Makati 898-2280

Rich ganache icing made this stand out. Had great icing:cake ratio. And decorated beautifully as well!

9. Polly's Chocolate Cake tel # -401- 4588 ~ P220. / 8" Round Merville Subdivision, Bicutan Also available in Shell Magallanes

Our benchmark. However, some people observed that this round cake did not taste was good as their square ones. Not really sure if there's a valid reason behind this, or if chocolate fatigue just set in. But for P220 for an 8" round cake, this had definitely the best bang for the buck!

10. Chocolatier Classics - Malu del Rosario ~ P400. / 6" Round Tel # 850-6051 or 842-5882 Ayala Alabang Subdivision

Judged the most photogenic cake. You just couldn't take a bad picture of it! Moist chocolate crumb, deep fudge icing, high cake:icing ratio. Definitely a contender. And pretty too!

Pretty maids, all in a row. Thanks Arg Camacho, for the photo!

Judges had to alternate between chocolate cake and "palate cleansers" of sausages, pork knuckles, and other salty fare. We didn't want chocolate fatigue to set in too early.

Taking the job seriously
Scores were submitted, tabulated, and recounted. The winner? Chocolatier Classics by Malu del Rosario. It had everything that we were looking for......deep, intense chocolate flavor, not too cloyingly sweet, gooey fudge icing, good cake:icing ratio, and looked gorgeous as well!
Special mention has to go to Symphony Sweets, who would have won the tasting had it not been eliminated. Also special mention to Calea's frozen cake, for having the best icing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pork Barbecue

Which Pork Barbecue reigns supreme?

Some of our contestants, front-view

Food Magazine Editor-In-Chief Micky Fenix posed this question to us, challenging us to our next horizontal tasting: pork barbecue. Our parameters:

1. Must be commercially available, meaning, ANYONE can buy it. It cannot be some home-made specialty that is only cooked as a favor to someone.
2. Barbecue must be bought and eaten the same day.
3. No sauce and no sidings except plain rice. The barbecue must be judged on its own merits.

Our horizontal tasters chose 8 of the most popular ready-to-buy pork bbq and blind tasted. Our contestants: Amber's, Floring's, Heavens, Aling Nene, Ineng's, 3 Sisters, Reyes, and a BBQ from a home-based enterprise. From our line-up, you can see we chose from a a wide range of available barbecue from different price points: From cheap (Amber's was the cheapest at P15+delivery charge) to pedigreed (Floring's is by Chef Florabel) to a home-business.

.....and after a quarter-turn, their side-view. This is the beauty contest of barbecues!

We met at the Old Swiss Inn Makati branch, where prior arrangements had been made. The sticks of BBQ would be brought directly to the kitchen, where the kitchen staff would remove the meat from the sticks (saving 1 stick for picture taking), arranged on numbered white platters, and be kept warm while waiting for the lineup to be completed. When all 8 were accounted for and plated, the waiters brought out the platters of meat and laid them out on one long table......

Pork barbecue....as far as the eye can see......

Food Magazine even sent their photographer and equipment to document this horizontal tasting. Read their full coverage (with better pictures) in their May issue!

The professionals at work......

....and the amateur, disturbing the professionals

Getting down to business, our hungry panel hunkered down. Long discussions about appearance vs. taste, value for money, convenience, etc. ensued. Some judges found raw pieces of meat....improperly cooked barbecue! Horrors!

The judges were strict, the contest was tight. Some barbecues just DIDN'T taste good without sauce. Some barbecues, inspite of their reputations, were surprisingly disappointing when tasted beside another lesser-known one. This was a true blind tasting. No one could recognize his favorite.

In the end, it was a unanimous and surprising decision: Heavens Barbecue had bested them all.

Heavens Barbecue has 6 branches:

The Zone
The Zone 7224 Malugay St cor. Buendia, Bel-Air
Telephone: (63 2) 894-3899, (63 2) 893-4715

BF Homes
Aguirre St. cor. Elizalde St., BF Homes
Telephone: (63 2) 659-2314, (63 2) 659-2315

Madison Square, Madison St. cor. Ortigas Ave., Greenhills
Telephone: (63 2) 726-0250, (63 2) 727-3206
Madison Square, E. Rodriguez Jr., Libis
Telephone: (63 2) 396-1198

Diego Silang
Petron C-5 cor. Diego Silang,
Telephone: (63 2) 986-0143

Savanna Commercial Center
Savanna Commercial Center , Vito Cruz Ext. Corner Pasong Tamo
Telephone: (63 2) 897-2575

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Making Food Reviews a Science

In the 80s, thousands of Coca-Cola drinking Filipinos were surprised - offended even - to discover in a blind taste test, administered in Church plazas, street corners and schools nationwide, they did in fact prefer the taste of another cola. Millions of advertising pesos and years of brainwashing were stripped away when the consumer was made to choose his preference based on nothing else but how one's tongue responded to two unmarked cups of brown swill.

We all have our favorite foods that we rave about in parties or force suitors to find in the middle of the night. If this discovery is unknown to the general populace, the joy is multiplied tenfold at having this succulent secret to oneself, to be shared only with one's nearest and dearest foodies. The conviction among foodies that their favorites are truly the best to be found in Manila is so strong people are willing to stake their names on it (for whatever random value that is worth). To give some structure to the debate of who in fact has found the universal favorite, the idea of the horizontal tasting for food was born.

Horizontal tastings are traditionally done with wines, where wines from different vineyards but of the same vintage are compared in unmarked glasses. Just fyi, a vertical tasting is applying the same blind comparison between wines of different vintages from the same vineyard. Our version of horizontal tasting involves bringing in different brands of one dish.

It began with a blind tasting of four sans rival cakes, brought in from near and far (as in the winner was from Dumaguete!). The second horizontal tasting, held only after the testers' taste buds and cholesterol counts had recovered from the first, was a competition among plain cheesecakes. The third tasting, sponsored by Food magazine, was a battle of the pork barbecues. And most recently, there was a heart-clogging competition among too many cheese ensaymadas.

Anyone is welcome to join these horizontal tests, for as long as they bring enough samples of their "manoks" or prized contenders to the table to be taste-tested by others as well (the cost of the combined orders is divided among the testers). Each dish is stripped of packaging by the kitchen staff and is laid bare on numbered plates. Testers are given a scorecard wherein they rate each contender based on certain relevant criteria, such as taste, appearance, texture etc. Only after the results are tabulated can the brand name of each item be revealed.

Having joined two horizontal tests myself, I can attest it's not as simple as it sounds. As the endorser of one contestant, you will be dismayed to discover that other testers see things differently from you (apparently, some people like their ensaymadas dry!). In the barbecue test, I protested when some barbecues (such as Reyes and Aling Nene) where not allowed to have their signature sauces served alongside them. The meat was supposed to stand on its own merit, unadorned. The sauces were laid on the table for the diners to mix and match with other brands as well. Lastly, the "umay" factor when you are tasting more than 10 similar things in succession is considerable. In lieu of palate cleansing sorbets, we have resorted to taking steak breaks in between bites of sans rival-- or just throwing some table salt onto our tongues if we want to save space in our tummies.

This blog is the first public record of the results of these grueling, but oh so delicious horizontal tests. If you would like to propose a new horizontal test, (next one up is a Chicken Inasal fight), or you would like to join any of these events, let us know because a bigger sample pool is in everyone's interest. It is also better for us to have more testers to bring in different perspectives.

We look forward to doing battle with your "manoks" in the horizontal wars ahead of us! Bon Appetit.