"Is this a sans rival restaurant?" "Why do they have four kinds of sans rival?" "I'm getting drunk from the sugar." "Are you a crunch or a chew?" "Malaswang buttercream!"
Being a part of a food society has its perks. We get to attend great dinners, taste darn good wines, and become friends with amazing and talented women. Three of those amazing women and I have regular email exchanges that make us sound like cake-maniacs. We've been tracking down sources of the tastiest tidbits for a few months now, and last night we finally sat down to our first horizontal tasting.
A horizontal tasting is not about us collapsing in a prone position from stuffing ourselves silly. It's about one type of cake, four to six different sources, and enough taste buds to confirm, argue, critique, and absorb, and in a big splashy (or not) finale, announce what we think is the best of the set.
Last night, our focus was the multi-layered, buttery, sweet, and nutty Sans Rival. It is a difficult cake to make. Layers of meringue, topped with layers of buttercream, a good spread of nuts. Before pulling the collection together, we had to decide if we would bring traditional or non-traditional types of sans rival - cashew seems to be the agreed traditional version, but there are pistachio options and macadamia versions available too. Eventually, after some long email debates and face to face voluble dialogue, we bowed to tradition and chose only cakes with a cashew topping.
We were also facing a bit of a deadline. There was a sans rival that had been brought from the province and was in the freezer awaiting its destiny. We knew that we were already compromising the taste and texture factors by waiting it out this long and it would definitely not improve with age.
The other cakes, all sourced within Metro Manila, came from recommendations of other food/cake lovers. Flurries of texts about who was going to attend, last minute flaking, and tasting notes ensued, plus agreeing that no way were we going to survive on sugar alone. Good thing that K is the owner of a restaurant! She made sure the cakes were properly stored, and that her team were ready and willing to feed our hungry maws.
When the time for the cakes came to pass, we herded ourselves over four luscious looking specimens - the provincial offering, maintaining integrity even after a week of waiting, two circular pieces, and a large rectangular cake. We named them 1, 2, 3, and 4. Our hopes that no one would decipher which cake was which didn't work out since most people knew the shape or box size of most of the cakes. Note to self, have the cakes pre-sliced ahead of time!
We tasted cake 1 first, and even with the time lag, it definitely made most people murmur in appreciation. It has a slightly salty buttercream without a great deal of nuts, and a chewy interior.
Cake 2 had a lot of layers, we counted 7 but could have been 8. It was also notable for a strong nutty flavor, I thought more than necessary. The first of the crunchy cakes, it was one of the stronger contenders.
Cake 3 looked great on the outside. Smooth buttercream finish, a distinct sprinkle of nuts on the top, and when it was cut, definite layers of meringue and cream inside. Taste-wise we were underwhelmed. It was sweet. It didn't make us want to eat more, and some found it lacking in that necessary something that makes you want another bite. A pretty cake for parties, but it won't go down in our annals of great sans rival.
Cake 4 jostled with number 1 for champion's title. Some liked it for the seemingly intense buttercream exterior, however I argue that any cake that is plastered like a brick with buttercream only to show negligible coating inside the cake is a farce, coy, a tease, or worse. It was crunchy, and had lots of nuts, but many of the nuts were a tad too brown for me.
After a lot of noisy arguments (and sugar induced logic), the majority agreed that number one was still the champ. It got extra points for not only standing up to a week's worth of waiting, but for an overall strong presence. Not too sweet, a tasty buttercream, consistency in layering, and even the pro-crunch advocates agreed that in the end, it made us happiest.
This may not be the last of the sans rival taste tests, for we know there are many more out sources out there. Will the Visayan champion stand up against the ones we read about in Davao, Pampanga, or Laguna? And what about those non-cashew based nut cakes? Are they to be left in the annals of cake-dom? Till the next cake chapter!