Saturday, July 05, 2008

4 without rival

"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!


Marketman said...

OMG, four sans rivals in one sitting? I can barely eat one serving! When all is said and done, you MUST let us know which rated the best!

Katrina said...

Although I'm most definitely in the crunch camp, I'd go for Cake 1 too. From experience, the merengue loses its crunch by the second day (or even on the same day it's first cut into), so I'm not surprised it was already chewy after a week. What's most important is that buttecream!

I do hope you also do a non-trad sans rival taste test. My votes would go towards House of Sylvanas's Choc. Sans Rival and Patty Loanzon's macadamia version. I'm still looking for a pistachio or almond version that satisfies me. If you're willing to go even less traditional, Aristocrat's Toffee Sans Rival (which really tastes more like coffee, so I always wonder if it's a typo) and of course, their Torta de los Reyes, deserve their place, too.

Have you tried the dessert at Segundo Piso called something like Tarta Russa? They claim it's the original incarnation of sans rival. It's divine, but bears almost no resemblance to the sans rival we know. I guess that would be the other end of the spectrum, despite that it is, they say, the REAL sans rival.

mtan said...

MM, from the four, the majority loved the Sans Rival from Dumaguete. But we didn't get to try Betty's SR and a couple more in town. If we ever get the chance to hold another tasting, I'll let you know.

Katrina, yes, I have had the Tarta Russa from Terry's (if I remember right, you were there for lunch one time when I ate it). It's a lot more custardy than our regular sans rival.

christine said...

Somehow I'm not surprised with the results of your tasting night. I just wish now more than ever I was there! :)

Sakai said...

one of the cakes that i find too rich... i really cant tolerate much of it...

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