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Food for thought: Ode to cake

By Jason Wong
On April 10, 2014

This upcoming Friday is my birthday, so I thought that I'd use this week's column to talk about birthday cakes. Let preface this by saying that when it comes to sweets, I'm not a very decadent person. I eat ice cream maybe once or twice a month, and I've been inside the Sweet Emotions store perhaps three times since it opened. Honestly, I prefer sweet food that isn't too sweet (yeah, I'm that guy that scrapes the frosting off cake nine times out of ten). For the few of you who feel the same way, here are some less sweet varieties of cake that move away from the standard "death by chocolate" and all its confectionary variants.
My personal favorite kind of cake is one that my mom has made for me and my brother's birthdays every year without fail: the pandan chiffon cake. A chiffon cake is very light cake made with vegetable oil rather than butter, which is difficult to beat enough air into. Therefore, a fluffy texture is achieved by beating egg whites until they're stiff and folding them into the batter. The cake is of Malaysian origin, flavored with the extract or juices of the pandan leaf, which gives it an emerald green color. Don't worry - the cake doesn't taste leafy or healthy or anything of the sort. Perish the thought! I like it not only for nostalgia reasons, but because it isn't cloyingly sweet like I find a lot of other cakes to be. On a more practical note, because of the high oil and egg content, chiffon cakes don't dry out as easily as their buttery counterparts, and also lack the high fat content of them as well.
Similar to the chiffon cake is the angel food cake, which also makes use of stiffened egg whites to achieve its signature light and airy texture. Also, like chiffon cake, angel food cake is arguably healthier because of its lack of butter. I also enjoy angel food cake because it doesn't sit heavily in your stomach after eating it as a lot of the more popular birthday cakes do. Angel food cake also pairs nicely with fruit like strawberries and raspberries, as well as benefiting from sauces of the aforementioned fruits drizzled over it.
Finally, I also very much enjoy carrot cake, though I dislike the copious amounts of cream cheese frosting that always seem to grace it. Quite frankly, I really don't understand the appeal - I feel that I might as well be scooping pure sugar into my mouth.
Anyway, the birthday cake itself is really more of a Western tradition that is slowly bleeding over to other parts of the world. For example, the Chinese birthday pastry is the sou bao, a steamed lotus-paste-filled bun shaped and colored to resemble a peach. Instead of one giant pastry, a small sou bao is served to each guest. Unsurprisingly, I also enjoy this pastry because it isn't very sweet.

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