Happy Pi Day!

Everybody! Happy Pi Day! This is truly a glorious day to celebrate, sadly it often goes by unnoticed and unacknowledged. I never knew about Pi Day until I came to L.A. The first few numbers of Pi are 3.14, which correspond to today’s date in America. Here, the date is written with the month preceding the date i.e. 3.14.17. In Singapore however, the custom is to write it with the day preceding the month, i.e. 14.3.17, which explains why I never knew about Pi day, since there are only 12 (and not 14) months. Thankfully, National Pi Day was brought to my attention exactly two years ago in 3.14.15, which was especially significant because those are exactly the first 6 numbers of Pi!

For this very special day, I intend to celebrate with a post on a delectably tart and crumbly melt-in-your mouth Cranberry Apple Pie that I cobbled together a couple of months ago. But before diving into that, I feel that it is only right to tip my hat towards the very special number we are celebrating today.

What is Pi or rather π ?

π is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, it is also an irrational number, meaning that it CANNOT be expressed as a fraction. “But wait,” you may say if you were paying attention in High-school Math Classes, “isn’t π =22/7?”

Interestingly, the fraction 22/7 is only an approximation of the number, as is 3.142, which you may have used in many of your math calculations as a student. The actual value of Pi goes on with no discernible pattern, past the decimal point, all the way to infinity. Because there is no way to reduce Pi to an exact number, the exact value of Pi is inherently unknowable, and it is this nebulous quality about Pi that has intrigued and frustrated Mathematicians throughout history.

If you ever watched the movie “The Life of Pi” you may recall that there was a scene where the main character, Piscine Molitor Patel, in a clever bid to stop his classmates from calling him “Pissing,” declares to his class his new adopted name, “Pi.” He goes up to the board to explain its significance and writes out the number, starting at the top corner with “3.1415…” and going on and on with a sequence of patternless numbers till the board is filled and the school bell rings, and the students start to get ready to rush off to the next class.

However random the number Pi may appear to be, it is anything but random in its actual relevance and use in life.

The number appears everywhere in the natural world where there’s a circle, and can be used to describe natural phenomena in our physical surroundings, such as the disk of the sun, the spherical design of flowers, and the concentric rings that travel outward when a stone hits the surface of a pond. Pi also governs the mysterious inner workings of our own bodies, from the spiral of the DNA double helix, to the pupil of the eye, to the rotation of our elbow joints.

Because of the prevalence of circles and circular movement in all aspects of life, Pi has many practical applications. It is used in modern engineering and math, in the physics of waves, in nuclear research, probability and statistics, in human biology and even in astrophysics! Imagine, without Pi, we wouldn’t have been able to launch the first man into the moon!

Whichever way you cut it, Pi is so much more interesting (and delicious) that what was taught in most of our high-school math classes. I hope this little piece on Pi has inspired you in one way or another.

I will make that promised post on the yummy cranberry apple-pie tomorrow, but for now, here’s a picture of it!

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Cakes.

Since my last post in September of 2015, I took a long hiatus from blogging. Ironically, that last post was also my most widely read post. I realised only today that the last post averaged almost 600 views – a huge leap from most of my other posts which would average around 50 views or so. Since that last post, I stopped blogging for a year and a half because I felt discouraged by the state of political events in Singapore, and burnt out from being overly invested in what I thought could be a real and lasting change in Singapore’s political landscape. I felt defeated, not just by the tide of recent events, but also in my personal life as I grieved over the unexpected loss of my father, and started questioning the path that I had taken in my life. But that’s another story…for another day.

Today’s post is going to be on cakes. While I have never mentioned this before, I am and always have been a huge fan of baking. I’ve baked since I was eight years old, prior to even knowing what a ‘cup’ of flour meant. This was in the 1980s in Singapore, where the only measurement standard I was exposed to was the metric standard. It was also before the advent of the internet which would forever put to rest any confusion I had about measurement standards in baking. I remember many failed attempts at chocolate chip cookies, some being too chewy, and some being too floury or salty. They never did look like the picture in the recipe-book I followed. Of course, it was because I never did have a standard set of measuring cups and spoons and would use my mom’s tea-cups and cutlery instead to measure out everything, from flour to sugar and butter. Thankfully, today I have a few sets of trusty measuring cups and spoons.

Since my amateur attempts at baking in the 80s, I have baked hundreds of times for different occasions. These ranged from fundraisers to Birthday parties, to social gatherings and tea-parties, to “just because I’m craving a chocolate chip cookie.” More recently, I have even baked Pineapple Tarts because I felt homesick, and wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year by baking Pineapple Tarts with a fellow Singaporean friend, Dora, who lives in L.A. Dora suggested baking the tarts and I gamely went along with the idea. Surprise, surprise! I never would have imagined myself baking Pineapple Tarts or any kind of local confection that can be easily bought in Singapore, but that’s what happens when you live overseas long enough and don’t have access to the usual goodies. This little baking experiment with Dora will be featured in next weeks post along with a video.

Today’s post is going to be on the German Chocolate Cake. Let it be said that I am not a fan of ugly cakes. This cake is, in my humble opinion, a pretty ugly cake.

 

I have never had any desire to make it and for the life of me, never even knew much about it, except that it looked dull & brown, (strike one)  and had coconut in it (strike two). However, my friend was getting married and I offered to make her a cake for her wedding. She told me she’d love to have a German Chocolate Cake, so I did a little research on the cake and found a good recipe to follow. When I made it and tried the final product, I was surprised by a few things about the cake:

  1. The texture is amazingly soft and fluffy, yet the taste is still rich, decadent and complex.
  2. There is nothing German about the cake. It is a totally American created confection, so named after Samuel German, the English-American creator of the particular type of dark chocolate that was used to bake the cake. German created the chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852, and 105 years later in 1957, a Texan home-maker, Mrs George Clay used this particular chocolate to come up with a recipe for a chocolate cake. Since then the recipe became an american favourite, and sales of the dark chocolate created by Samuel German increased by 73%. Soon after the cake’s name has changed from “German’s Chocolate Cake” to what we now know today as the German Chocolate Cake.
  3. It is possible to make a German Chocolate Cake look decent, if you have the time and patience for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t really! But the next time I make this cake, I will plan to ice and ‘pretty’ it up.

I used this recipe from allrecipes.com after reading quite a few comments and reviews on the different recipes of German Chocolate Cake available. The only thing different I did was to double the ingredients for the filling by 1.5 times and to also toast the pecans and coconut as some of the other reviewers suggested. It turned out great, and my friend and her fiancee loved it, and I I learned how to bake a whole new type of cake in the process!