Singapore Cooks

Make a Singapore Flag Surprise Cake for National Day

Every slice of Mr Lutfi Isnin's cake shows a design of the Singapore flag

Fresh graduate Lutfi Isnin's cakes and tarts might look plain on the outside, but inside each one is a surprise.

One of his creations is a matcha tart that has three layers of azuki red beans, white chocolate ganache infused with sakura and matcha nestled under Japanese white strawberries and encased in a hojicha- flavoured (roasted tea flavoured) pastry.

His strawberry tarts are loaded with roasted pistachio and pistachio cream and his butter cookies are studded with pretzels and potato chips.

The 25-year-old, who studied accountancy at Nanyang Technological University, relishes packing surprises into his bakes.

He says: "I enjoy looking at my friends' expressions when they bite into the secret ingredients. People tend to remember these unique bakes."

For National Day on Tuesday, he has created the Singapore Flag Surprise Cake. It looks plain, but cut the cake and each slice looks like the Singapore flag.



    For the stars and crescent-shaped cake cut-outs:

    8 egg whites 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

    1/8 tsp salt

    55g icing sugar, sifted

    1/2 tsp vanilla extract

    120g cake flour, sifted

    200g caster sugar, sifted

    For strawberry mousse:

    37g plain gelatin powder

    155g cold water

    8 egg yolks

    105g caster sugar

    26g cornstarch

    385g store-bought strawberry puree from baking supplies shops

    440g whipping cream

    346g white couverture chocolate from baking supplies shops

    25 drops red food colouring

    133g whipping cream

    1.8 litre vanilla ice cream


    For the stars and crescent cut-outs:

    1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C. Line a 40cm by 30cm baking tray with baking paper.

    2. Add egg whites, cream of tartar and salt to the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on high speed until mixture turns foamy. Add icing sugar 1 Tbs at a time, whisking on high speed till stiff peaks form.

    3. Add vanilla extract to the mixture and whisk for five to 10 seconds.

    4. Add the sifted flour and caster sugar into the egg whites in three batches, folding them into the batter with a spatula after each addition.

    5. Pour batter into the baking tray. Gently tap the tray on the countertop and bake for 20 minutes. Insert a skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean, it is ready.

    6. Place a sheet of clean baking paper over the baking tray before inverting the tray onto a cooling rack. Remove the top layer of baking paper and let the sheet cake cool for 20 to 30 minutes.

    7. Use a 7cm round cutter to make a circular cut-out. Move cutter about 1.5cm to the right and press it down to form a crescent-shaped cake (above). Repeat these steps to create 12 to 13 crescent-shaped cake cut-outs, line them up and pierce through with a 20cm skewer. Place them close together and ensure at least 2.5cm of the skewer is exposed at each end.

    8. Using a 1.5cm star-shaped cutter, cut out 100 to 125 star shapes from the remaining cake. Line them up and pierce through with a 20cm skewer. Make five sets of this, with 20 to 25 stars for each set.

    9. Freeze the skewered cake cut-outs for at least three hours.

    For the strawberry mousse:

    1. Stir gelatin powder into the cold water until it turns into a gel-like mixture. Set aside.

    2. In a clean mixing bowl, mix egg yolks with caster sugar, add cornstarch, mix and set aside.

    3. Pour the strawberry puree and whipping cream into a saucepan set over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add in egg yolk mixture and stir continuously.

    4. Place saucepan back on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Let it boil for at least one minute to thicken. Turn off the heat and stir gelatin mixture into the mixture.

    5. Quickly pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl containing the white couverture chocolate. Mix until all the chocolate has melted. Add red food colouring and leave mixture to cool at room temperature.

    6. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk the 133g of whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the cooled red-coloured mixture.

    To assemble the cake:

    1. Cut out two 15.3 by 7.7cm cardboard dividers. Place a miniature version of the Singapore flag that is made of cloth on top of them. The flag can be bought from book shops, and the red portion of the flag should be the same size as the cardboard divider.

    2. Push a needle through the flag and the two cardboard dividers to mark the centre of the crescent and five stars on the cardboard. Remove the flag and pass a 20cm skewer through the holes.

    3. Wrap the cardboard dividers separately in cling wrap, and run a skewer through these holes.

    4. Line a 23cm by 15cm baking pan with baking paper. Ensure there is a 7cm overhang of paper at each of the shorter sides of the pan to make it easier to unmould the cake.

    5. Take the skewered crescent and star-shaped cake cut-outs out of the freezer. Place the skewers in between the two cardboard dividers according to the positions of the holes traced from the Singapore flag earlier. Place the entire contraption into the baking pan.

    6. Pour the mousse into the cake pan in three batches. After each addition, tilt the pan at the sides to ensure that the mousse fills the gaps in between the skewers. Freeze the baking pan overnight.

    7. Scoop out vanilla ice cream and pack it into a 15cm by 15cm baking pan that is lined with baking paper. Ensure a 7cm overhang of paper at both of the shorter sides of the pan. Freeze the baking pan of ice cream overnight.

    8. Run a knife around the sides of the baking pan containing ice cream, place a cake board on top of it and invert the ice cream block onto the board.

    9. Remove frozen mousse from the freezer and place the pan in a tray of warm water for about 30 seconds to loosen the mousse from the sides of the pan. Remove the mousse from the pan using the paper overhang and transfer to a flat surface.

    10. Pull the skewers out from the frozen mousse. Use cake servers to transfer the mousse block onto the ice cream block.

    11. Place the whole cake in the freezer for 30 minutes for both layers to set.

    12. Remove the cake from the freezer. Dip a long knife in warm water and wipe it dry before cutting the cake.

    Serves six to eight

    Place the skewers with the star-shaped and crescent cut-outs in between two cardboard dividers and place the entire contraption into a baking pan.

The red-and-white coloured cake comprises strawberry mousse stacked on a block of vanilla ice cream. White chocolate mousse or cake can be sturdier substitutes for the white portion of the cake, he says.

To design a surprise in the cake, he drew inspiration from the Sarawak layer cake, which reveals intricate kaleidoscopic motifs when cut. They are formed by assembling precisely sliced strips of cakes in different colours.

Similarly, the design of the crescent and five stars in the cross-section of the Singapore Flag Surprise Cake is formed by assembling skewers of vanilla sheet cake that are cut in the two shapes and are lined across the mousse portion of the cake.

To support the skewers within the mousse, he improvised two cardboard dividers that have holes created based on the positions of the stars and crescent in a miniature version of the flag. They are part of a contraption that is placed in the baking pan, before the mousse is poured into it.

Coming up with surprises was also how Mr Lutfi started baking seriously two years ago.

Then an exchange student in Central Michigan University in the United States, he decided to bake a strawberry shortcake for his roommate's surprise birthday party.

He says: "I had a craving for desserts."

Following baking videos on YouTube closely, he managed to replicate a recipe and was commended for his first bake. That started him on making fruit tarts, chocolate truffles and macarons in his hostel's shared kitchen and he continued to bake regularly when he returned home early last year.

Some of his favourite confections include a strawberry-studded cake and lemon yogurt cake.

With his baking repertoire growing, he managed to convince his parents to carve out a baking corner in the kitchen in his family's five-room flat. It is equipped with an oven and cabinets to store his baking tools and ingredients.

Mr Lutfi has a younger brother, 22, who is waiting to enter university. His father, 52, works as a courier and his mother, 56, is an airline ticketing officer.

Last year, he started an Instagram group, bakersofsingapore, for home bakers to share their baking experiences and tips. The group has more than 8,000 followers.

Mr Lutfi, who is single, has organised three meet-ups with some members of the group.

He says: "It is fun to meet the bakers behind the photos of their cakes and pastries. Besides getting technical baking feedback, we also talk about our lives and become friends."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline Make a Singapore Flag Surprise Cake for National Day. Subscribe