Monthly Archives: August 2010

Tamarind red velvet cakes

As some of you astutely and presciently guessed, a while back I partook of Iron Chef-style shenanigans. The fly lab at my institute (as in, the lab that does their research on Drosophila melanogaster flies, not the lab comprised of things that look like this — I WISH!) challenges other labs in the institute every couple of months to an Iron Chef battle with a secret theme ingredient. We find out the theme ingredient a couple of weeks before the battle, and we do our best to channel Rokusaburo Michiba (rather than, say, Masahiko Kobe, that loser) and come up with bizarre and wonderful dishes featuring the theme ingredient.

So the fly lab challenged my lab (the human lab) to a battle, and the theme ingredient was… tamarind.

There was probably something like 40 or 50 dishes between the two labs. Tamarind ice cream, tamarind bundt cake, ox tongue with tamarind jelly, tamarind gnocchi, pork in tamarind-chocolate sauce with stewed plums, and of course a wide array of curries containing tamarind in varying amounts on the continuum from I-can’t-really-taste-it all the way to my-face-is-contorting-with-pain-at-the-sourness.

My contributions were tamarind gingerbread (which was a bit failcakes, really; it just tasted like normal gingerbread despite the quarter cup of tamarind chutney in it), tamarind toffee truffles (accursed alliteration! — but the truffles turned out amazingly), and tamarind red velvet cakes, which should not surprise any of you in the least.

On the assumption that the creative effort we put in to the dishes would determine whether we would be victorious or not, I drew neurotransmitter molecules all over my cakes using white chocolate icing, thinking that, you know, neuroscientists would find that pretty nifty.

It is somewhat disarming to turn up to a party full of scientists and realise that what you have done is so spectacularly nerdy that people almost can’t quite cope with it and don’t know what to say when you explain that the neurotransmitters they’re eating are actually the three primary neurotransmitters that you are working with in your PhD. Seriously, people who thinks fruit flies are the best and most interesting things ever will think you’re the nerd. Awkward.

Anyway, it was all a wasted effort, since victory was determined by which team could shout the loudest. Yeah, your eyes do not deceive you — a bunch of scientists who presumably know accurate ways of sampling to determine relationships between variables think that shouting is how you figure out which team created better tamarind dishes. Oh and the fly lab also invited along a whole bunch of people we had never seen before in our lives so who would have thought — the group with the most people can shout the loudest. We should publish that in Nature… or maybe The International Journal of Shouting and Other Dumb Behaviours.

So it left a sour taste in our mouths… no, that was the tamarind. Iron Chef was quite a lot of fun, as long as you don’t mind having your hours of precise and painstaking delineation of relevant chemical structures invalidated by a mob with the particular ability to be rather loud.

The recipe! Do you even want it? In the scheme of things, I don’t think many people out there would care much for tamarind red velvet cake. It’s actually pretty good, but I can’t imagine that people would want to go to the effort of making it even if I could say it was the most magical and transcendentally amazing cake you could ever hope to shove into your face by the handful. Which it isn’t, but it’s still nice, since the sourness of the tamarind does a good job of offsetting the sweetness of the cake.

In any case, I used this tried and trusted red velvet recipe, which forms the backbone of all of my red velvet adaptations. For the tamarind version, the cake is changed simply by creaming 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup tamarind chutney into the butter (instead of 2 cups of sugar). The icing is changed just by adding as much tamarind paste as you can, until you get an icing that isn’t too runny or sour but still has the tamarind flavour coming through (I also added a tiny bit of red dye to tint the icing pink). And that’s about it. Give it a go or don’t.