Over the past few years, as S and I have been travelling, visiting and sometimes staying with friends, we’ve noticed a very interesting shift. Not too long ago, we would have been offered a foldaway couch, or some uncomfortable cot in a friend’s living room. Most recently, though, friends have pleasantly surprised us with very well-appointed guest rooms. Not only have they been clean, comfy and functional, there has also been ample closet space and fine linens. Some have even come stocked with a wide range of toiletries to choose from. Obviously, we’ve all been getting older — which is something we usually complain about. But one of the nice by-products of getting older (and hopefully more successful) is we all eventually move into larger and nicer homes.

One of the things that S wanted to do when we built our new home was create a really nice guest room. Ours is on the ground floor of the house. It’s done up in neutral colors and planned very much the way a hotel room would be set up. In addition to the comfy queen-size bed, there’s a nice wood desk, two vintage chairs, a small flatscreen TV, and loads of closet space. S has also kitted out the bathroom with a full range of… well, whatever someone might need, be it toothbrushes, band-aids, even contact lens solution. Overall, we felt that the room was pretty darned stylish and we’ve been eagerly awaiting our first house guests.

Until, that is, we went to stay with two friends. Two friends, who I might say are ex-hoteliers. A few weeks ago, we had escaped Singapore to spend a couple days with these friends; they had just moved from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. Upon arrival, we were shown our room. In it, we noticed a small box of cookies, with an envelope with our names on it. The envelope contained a short note from our friends expressing their gratitude for our visit. Now, I’ve previously received dozens of such notes, with fruit baskets, chocolates, pastries, and other edibles. But only at hotels. Never in a friend’s home. The next day, we woke up to a breakfast of freshly squeezed juice and freshly baked muffins. Then, to top things off, that afternoon, while we were resting in our room, our friends knocked on our door and passed us a tray with a carafe of water, a couple of glasses and some more yummy treats. The last time S and I had felt so pampered was on our honeymoon in Paris. Then, and thanks to the generosity of a friend who hosted us, we spent a fantastically decadent week staying in a suite at the Georges V Four Seasons Hotel. Every afternoon around 430pm, a valet would bring a tray to our room. It was filled with freshly-baked pastries. After missing the delivery on our first day, we made sure we were in our room at that time for the rest of our stay. And each day, the pastries were different.

Since returning from our friends’ home in KL, S has been adamant to be as good a host. Which, to her, means ensuring that every future visitor also gets his or her fill of freshly-made fare. And over the past week or two, we’ve been trying to decide what should be our “house cake”. Our rationale is instead of trying to make a different cake or cookie for each friend — and probably only doing a half-baked job (pun intended) — we should pick one recipe and perfect it.

We quickly decided that we’d prefer to make a cake than a cookie. A house cookie is great but it’s just not as cool to display as a house cake. After a bit of deliberation and experimentation, S has come down to three candidates: a lemon poppy seed cake, a deep chocolate sour cream pound cake, or a banana cake. The recipes for the first two come from Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book. The second recipe has been adapted from a recipe my mother gave us and which S has posted about before. The banana cake is a favourite among friends and family. And while it is delicious and comforting, we eventually decided that perhaps it was too simple. Plus not everyone like bananas. I personally love the lemon poppy seed cake. When made properly — and we make it in small friand moulds, it has a rich, tart and moist centre. But I like any cake or pastry with lemon. The deep chocolate sour cream pound cake is superb. It is, despite its name, a light cake, perfect on its own or with whipped cream, some homemade vanilla ice cream, or (for chocoholics) some chocolate sauce.

At the moment, the deep chocolate sour cream pound cake is in the lead. It’s an easy enough cake to make — which is vital for a house cake. But you never know. By next week, S might have found 3 even better candidates. Not that I am complaining. So long as she’s making them to test and taste, I get to try them.

That said, I would love to know what your dream house cake would be, either to serve or be served.

Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake
from Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book

1.5 cups (181g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (57g) cake flour
1 cup (92g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2.25 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups (340g) unsalted butter, softened
2.5 cups (500g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (242g) sour cream

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan. Dust with flour.

Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is well-blended and light, about 4 minutes. At medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the sour cream. If your mixer has a splatter shield attachment, attach it now. At the low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream mixture in 2 additions and mixing just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake the cake for 65 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then invert the cake onto the rack and let it cool completely.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!


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18 October 2008


Mark, that’s correct. Just wasn’t sure of the best way to express one and a half or one and a quarter, etc. Thanks for asking.

Have you read Colin Cowie Chic? There’s a great section on hosting house guests and Colin likes leaving handwritten welcome notes for them too!

A house cake is a grand idea. My own would be something more fruity, such as a pear-ginger cake or apple cake.

In my old house, the guestroom was in the basement. It was comfortable, but basements don’t exactly say “Welcome!” One thing that attracted me to my new house was the bedroom on the ground floor, with a bathroom next to it. Once a child’s room, it now looks more elegant with fresh paint and wainscoting.

Congratulations on your new house. I miss your posts. 🙂
My husband (then boyfriend) baked an orange sponge cake, which smells heavenly, tastes as light as a good dream, I still remember today. I would like to bake this orange sponge cake in a single serving size, top it up with candied orange peel…

To take riya’s top comment further, I not only want to see your guest room, I want to stay there…please?!!
That is a fantastic idea and an inspiring story, and I resolve to do the same. The word hospitality comes from the word hospitable, which Merriam-Webster defines as “given to generous and cordial reception of guests”….doesn’t that say it all?

The chocolate pound cake sounds like a winner, however, I am fond of lemon poppy seed cake……..perhaps make them into muffins like Nigella Lawson did?
I love the idea of offering a wonderful room for your guests (if one is able). It just speaks volumes about your hospitality. 🙂 Cheers!

I’m chuckling over your truism: the older we get, the better our offered guest rooms are.

It almost sounds like you could lean more towards a ‘bed and breakfast’ concept!

I loved this post, and the concept of having a gorgeous guest room as well as the house cake. I think it fits perfectly well with the Chinese ideal where guests are treated with the best, and I love the idea of pampered and well-fed guests in my house, seeing them happy would make me even happier. Really. =)

Is The Cake Book not the best cookbook ever?! I have loved every single thing I’ve made out of that tome of confections – including this one. I also strongly recommend the Brooklyn Blackout Cake…

First and foremost, congratulations on your new home. I’m a senior in college so I’m itching to get out & get a job so I can have a place of my own (sans roommates) and start having real house guests. This post is beautiful. Just the thought of some day having a guest room and a visitor’s cake is so tempting!

I was trying hard to think of what my visitor’s cake would be, but looking at your gorgeous photo…all i can think about is chocolate, chocolate and MORE chocolate. Alright a really beautiful lemon-blueberry cake would be nice as well.
What about establishing one visitor’s cake for each season?

Love the tray, and all those great ideas for when you’ve got guests staying with you.

Now that we’re in HK (and finally decided to make space for a guest room), we’ve had quite a few friends over to stay with us. So far, I’ve been letting them choose what they want me to make, but perfecting a cake (or a few) sounds like a good idea, and I’d probably go with something like this pistachio cake – I love the buttery nuttiness, the texture, and the fact that it keeps well and stays moist! (If you like lemon, you should give it a go too! The chunky topping gives a great lemony burst.) Also, the other half is one of those few strangelings who detests chocolate, so this means she gets to eat some too. Now, if only nut allergies weren’t so common……

After reading your post I’m bubbling over with ideas on how to entertain visitors when they come. We have a little guest house by the pool, and usually we have chocolates and slices of lemon in chilled water waiting for them, but the idea of a house cake!
Maybe a lemon-raspberry poundcake topped with whipped cream and raspberries. Mmmm..

The cake looks wonderful! A chocolaholic myself, this is just the kind of cake I would love to try. May I ask where you are located? I am in Singapore and don’t know where to get the dutch-process cocoa powder. Is it a must?

An awesome cake! Tastes fantastic. Made it while cooking my son’s porridge. It’s that easy and forgiving.

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