Instant Cake

Instant Cake

Category : Food

Freshly baked cake in 60 seconds… sounds too good to be true? Believe me, it really, really is.

This turned up on the shelves of Cheers convenience store and I could not resist, even though the $2 price tag should have been ample warning.

In theory it is a fine idea… empty the sachet of powder into the tub, add milk (or water) to the marked line, stir well then microwave for 1 minute. Hey presto – instant cake!

In practise it was all another story. It would have been very much more helpful to mark the line on the inside rather than the outside of the tub. It took rather longer than 60 seconds to stir the powder and milk into an acceptable consistency. The lid was so flimsy that it came with a warning that it was a burning hazard and therefore unsuitable for use in the microwave. And the 60 seconds baking time had to be followed by 120 seconds cooling off time.

You will note that I have not mentioned the taste or texture yet. You can probably take a good guess at those. This was supposed to be a chocolate cake but it ended up something like a dark brown, slightly damp bath sponge. I managed one spoonful before it went in the bin.


Goldfish S’mores

Goldfish crackers have always been a favourite in our house, either as cute croutons in soup, or simply from the packet as a tasty snack.

We’ve sampled all the different types, which include vanilla cupcake, fudge brownie and rainbow colours, but the plain cheesy version has always come out tops.

This s’mores flavour, however, looks set to give the others a run for their money.

Not that we actually like s’mores so much, you understand. That combination of toasted marshmallow and melted chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers is just a bit too sweet and sticky for more than the occasional taste.

It’s just the memories that taste inspires, of weekends cabin camping in the Japanese alps, sitting laughing round a bonfire with marshmallows on sticks, getting burned fingers and tongues. This was when daughters #1 and #2 were members of the Girl Scouts of the USA organisation, which had an overseas troop at their school, and I was a volunteer leader.

There’s no way you can recreate that kind of thing with crackers from a packet, but you have to give Pepperidge Farm credit for trying. The familiar fish come in chocolate and graham crackers flavours, then the ‘marshmallow’ fish is a bit smaller and (sadly) more like a crunchy meringue than a squishy marshmallow, but never mind. It’s the thought that counts and this certainly hits the spot.

I found this packet in Hong Kong, where it was clearly a left over Christmas special, so doubt I will have the chance to buy more any time soon, but it was a real treat. Thanks for the memories!


Ice Cream Tuk Tuk

When I was young, long summer afternoons were punctuated by the arrival of the ice cream van, its unique jingle heard from streets away so that every child in blast range ran home for sixpence to spend on frozen treats.

By the time the van had parked and the driver opened up the side to turn his van into a shop, we would be standing in line debating what to buy. It might be the multi-coloured Rocket lolly, the pink and white Fab dipped in chocolate and dusted with sprinkles… I always loved the ‘99’, a cornet with a swirl of soft ice cream stuck with a Cadbury’s Flake.

So I was really happy to see this ice cream tuk tuk in Bangkok. Sure, it was not moving but was parked in the middle of a mall, and I realised later it was a ‘chain’ with tuk tuks in a number of shopping areas. But it was selling a wonderful range of decorated ices like the Coconut Cool Cat and Angels Berry, and quite transported me back in time for some very happy memories.

 


Seasonal Sakura

Christmas can start as early as September in the UK, with decorations going up and seasonal specials on sale. Cadbury’s crème eggs have even been spotted in October, many months before Easter…

It’s not quite as bad in Japan, but still – despite the February snow – the spring time cherry blossom is hotly anticipated with posters, decorations and products submerging Tokyo in pink.

There are even seasonal brews from the big beer companies, with the limited edition cans adorned with shiny flowers.

Starbucks coffee shops also prove to be no exception, with these delightful if very creamy sakura flavoured specials on sale already. Daughter #1 was persuaded to sample the latte, which came with festive pink sprinkles, but not the sakura chiffon cake complete with blossom bud.

Her verdict: who can tell what cherry blossom really tastes like? The best drink by far was a regular hot chocolate topped with pink blossom shaped marshmallows.


Frozen Popcorn

It’s a cast iron guarantee that you will find something completely ridiculous on Harajuku’s Takeshita dori, and this is my current top pick.

Frozen popcorn is possibly even more pointless than you might imagine. Even daughter #1 scoffed at my intention of trying it out…

The shop honestly looks like someone has taken over a defunct ice cream counter and wondered what to serve from the metal tubs left behind. They decided on popcorn, they chose some interesting flavours and additions, but in the end this is just cold popcorn and does not change either in taste or texture if you forget about it for several days after that first ‘so what?’ sampling.

I went for honey and raspberry flavour with m&ms. Other options ranged from cheese and peanut butter to custard and marshmallow. It cost an outrageous ¥583 for the smallest serving.

For my final verdict on this, I shall simply give you the name of this store – Good Grief.


Genghis Khan Caramels

‘Genghis Khan’ is the name given to a slightly spicy dish made with grilled lamb, which is a speciality of Hokkaido and thus fair game when it comes to picking interesting local flavours and turning them into something surprising as a souvenir – like this pack of caramel candies.

No-one is suggesting that Genghis Khan ever visited Hokkaido, in fact the name comes from the dome shaped grill pan this particular dish is cooked on, which looks a bit like the hats the Mongol warriors used to wear.

When it comes to Hokkaido souvenirs I am far more likely to select sweeter, cuter, items, such as carved wooden bears or melon chocolates, but this was so odd I felt I had to try it.

The smell of the unwrapped caramel nearly put me off, but it turned out that this was the ‘meatiest’ part of the experience. The natural flavour of the caramel, which is made with rich Hokkaido milk, overpowers anything else (and this also applies to the other flavours I have sampled, including lavender and melon), although there is a faint aftertaste of barbeque.

If you are the sort of person who loves the crispy, caramelised burnt bits on the edges of your char-grilled meat, this will probably appeal, otherwise you should stick to the more mainstream flavours. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but now I have satisfied my curiosity I doubt I will be eating any more.


Coolish

This is such a clever and amusing idea I found it impossible to resist – ice cream that you suck from a pouch. It’s the definitive answer to the nuisance of a melting double scoop dripping down your hand, or simply being knocked off the cone to the floor. The total lack of mess involved also makes it perfect for small children or the adult klutz in your life. Even better, because it has a reseal-able cap, you can stick it back into the freezer to finish off another day.

Coolish is Japanese, and comes in a range of flavours including mango, coffee and Belgian chocolate as well as plain vanilla. You can buy it in convenience stores all over Japan, and also in supermarkets in other Asian countries.

You have to squeeze the pouch fairly hard to break up the ice cream inside before you can suck it from the tube at the top, but it is well worth the effort. And because it is in a cold pouch rather than out in the open air, it melts very slowly so lasts a long time.

We all really like this particular treat, and snap it up whenever possible.


Chocolate Idlis

Anyone who loves Indian food will know all about idli – the spongey steamed ‘cake’ made from fermented rice and lentils. In southern India it is usually served at breakfast time, along with a tangy yellow dahl and coconut chutney, and I personally have always found it a splendid start to the day.

But the idli itself, whilst ostensibly a savoury item, is plain enough to go with almost anything, which is why I was tempted by this packet of chocolate idli mix. Yes, I know that packet mixes are a total cheat, but making idli at home requires hours of laborious preparation and life really is too short.

Anyway, I did buy this from an Indian store, despite the fact that it is made under licence from giant US food company Pilsbury. At least it meant the instructions were in English, which always helps.

Compared to the labour that would have been involved in making this from scratch, opening the packet and whisking in milk was easy. There’s even a helpful line drawn on the packet of powder, to measure the amount of milk you need. Unfortunately, the instructions tell you to add a lot of vegetable oil as well at this point, which did not appeal very much. So I cut back on that a bit, which in retrospect may not have been the best idea (daughters #1 and #2 would tell you I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter…)

Not having the specialist equipment needed to steam idlis the Indian way, I resorted to silicone cupcake moulds inside my rice cooker and a brief spin in the microwave. This worked a treat, even taking a mere 5 minutes as opposed to the 30 recommended on the packet.

The idlis turned out to be pretty dense, which was probably because I failed to add the necessary amount of oil, but never mind because otherwise they were very definitely the genuine article – surprising for a packet mix.

The only downside was that, like regular idlis, they did not have a great deal of taste and could have done with a sweet alternative to spicy sambar as a sauce. But all was not lost, apparently there is nothing that homemade super-thick chocolate orange vodka cannot improve…

 


Raindrop Mizu Mochi

I might have spotted it in Bangkok, but this is a uniquely Japanese dessert – a ‘raindrop’ cake made mostly from natural spring water, which claims to have no calories at all.

Actually, since the cake itself is so delicate it apparently melts away within 30 minutes at room temperature and so is not on display, what I spotted first was the sign at the Kyo Roll En stall in the Emporium. ‘Miraculously clear, light and refreshi ng – made for your mouth!’… it looked too good to resist.

The cake turned up served beautifully on a leaf shaped mat, looking exactly like a giant, perfect, raindrop, and was almost too lovely to break into. By itself it has a cool, refreshing taste, slightly sweet but in a very subtle way. The main flavour comes from the ‘kuromitzu’ Okinawan brown sugar syrup, and the ‘kinako’ roasted soya flour which is served alongside (and which cannot also contain zero calories but never mind…)

Eating this was a real pleasure – it would be great to see it in Singapore.


Cookie Ice Cream

And not just any old cookie, but cute decorated cookies like bears, frogs and your favourite cartoon characters. Add ears or hair made from cheerios and multi coloured sprinkles, and you have a work of art in your hand rather than just a naughty snack.

These ice cream sandwiches are from Bonca in Thailand, and despite their appearance, take just minutes to put together. You choose your cookie and ice cream flavour, point out your favourite sprinkles, and get a huge portion in return for only 125 baht. It was actually too much for me to finish, even though the strawberry ice cream I settled on was full of real strawberry pieces and seriously delicious.

I know, I really should be buying things like this for the children in my life rather than myself but mai pen rai… some treats are simply too adorable to resist.


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