Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cloning Mernel's chocolate cake

Recently, my online friend Mimi (whom I had a chance to finally meet in Singapore last January!) told me about a certain popular chocolate cake in the Philippines.  The cake is from a family-owned bakeshop located in a small town about two hours drive from Manila.  The shop seems to be so well-known nowadays that not only locals buy from them but even people from the metro.

The shop's name is Mer-nel's Cake House and their signature heart-shaped chocolate cake looks like this...

Image credit: Mernel's place FB page

Very simple and traditional, isn't it? Some people might not even be enticed just by looking at it.  From what I gather, the cake is chiffon, the icing is the soft and creamy type, the borders are made of boiled icing and the flowers from royal icing. That is basically all I know. I am not even sure if the cake indeed is chiffon.  Mimi doesn't know any better as she herself has not tasted the cake (although her family back home has).

The past couple of weeks have been spent experimenting on the chocolate icing as it appears to be the heart and soul of this cake. Every blog post, review or feature I found on the net is raving about it!  Mimi and I have been exchanging text messages, pictures of what we've made, our guesses, and observations.  Since Mernel's cakes are very cheaply priced, two of our assumptions were: 1) the ingredients used are not expensive; and 2) the process that goes into making this cake isn't complicated.  We musn't overthink it! Very little information can actually be found on the net about the icing as though it's really a guarded secret.  I did, however, find an article mentioning a specific condensed milk brand the cakeshop has been using and that was quite revealing (IF they're telling the truth).

This is like the caramel cake experience all over again.  I am again trying to recreate something I have not even tasted! It can be a frustrating exercise at times but persistence is the key, don't you think?

Anyway, about 3 tries and 3 recipes later, I am happy to share a cake that appears to have the look of Mernel's and possibly, the taste too...

I wanted to be true to the original so I made it heart-shaped as well.
See, the icing is combed at the top too!
The chocolate icing is really dark and shiny as it should be...
And the chiffon cake is a deep chocolate colour as well!
For now, this is as close as I can get.  Some of you might be asking, "Where's the recipe then?"  Well, hold on,  I am not sharing that just yet.  Here's the deal: I need people who have actually tasted this cake to tell me what the real thing is like. I need you to help me out here!  If you have something to share, please, please, leave a comment here.  Be as descriptive as you can. Any useful information will be appreciated.  Afterall, you my cake-loving readers, will benefit from this!  It will be another Filipino favourite we can conquer (after the ube, mocha, caramel cakes, among others).

I shall be waiting!  Till then, no more chocolate cakes for me please.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Verdict

There were only a few specific things I wanted to do during our short holiday in the Philippines recently.  Apart from of course spending quality time with my family, I planned to buy books (they have big bookstores there unlike here!), visit a cake decorating supplies shop that I've only read about on the web, and lastly, finally taste an Estrel's caramel cake.

I had my brother order a cake in advance for my son's 19th birthday.  Our favourite family restaurant, which we booked for the celebration, was only a few blocks away from Estrel's.  

We got a 14x20 rectangular cake which turned out to be too big!
My verdict?  The cake was beautiful as expected, the chiffon really soft as it should be and the caramel icing smooth and creamy.  However, there was nothing spectacular with it at all.  I am not a fan of anything too sweet but to me, both cake and icing were very bland.  Being called a caramel cake actually seems to be a misnomer as there is very little, if at all, a caramel taste in the icing.  As you can see in the photo, the colour is rather pale, suggesting that the sugar wasn't caramelized very much. 

Would I eat it again? Probably, although it is not something I would crave for or look forward to when I go back to the Philippines in the future. Having said that though, I would still choose this cake over a fondant covered cake (even with the most impressive decorations) anytime! Being very old-fashioned, with it's smoothly poured icing and with each buttercream rose beautifully piped out, is I think, what primarily draws people to buying it again and again.

Would I say my version of the caramel cake is close? Yes, though a tad sweeter.  Is it better? Hmmm. Don't want to claim that out loud....

Anyway, I had a chance to make a caramel cake for a birthday a few days ago.  I purposedly cut some of the sugar from the icing just to see if it would become as pale as my son's cake.  It still turned out darker!

As far as the look is concerned, am I getting close? Afterall, it's been more than 2 years since I started experimenting on this cake!