After 15 years of working in San Francisco in computer systems, Stanford graduate Karen Yang finally came home to Manila to pursue her passion: baking.
“My dad found his passion for singing when he was 60,” said Yang. “That also inspired me to pursue my passion (for creating desserts). My family didn’t think I was serious about it but now they’re very supportive,” she adds.
We were in her month-old bakery in Serendra. Her parents and brother were at the next table and his brother’s wife was tending the store, still fashionably chic in the bakery’s uniform.
Yang didn’t dive into this business unprepared. While studying and working, she found time to fly off to Paris to learn the art of baking. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu where she got a Diplome de Patisserie, or a Pastry diploma. After finishing the basic cuisine and pastry course, she spent some time at Marriot Hotel on Champs Elysées assisting the pastry chef.
“Every time the chef shouted ‘Migniardises pour un! Migniardises pour deux!,’ that was my cue to hit the ground running. Aside from migniardises, I worked on plated desserts as well. This was probably the beginning of my love affair with patisserie.”
Yang also interned at Pierre Hermé patisserie in his commissary in Rue Vaugirard, working with the “macaroniers,” making macarons seven hours a day; and in his boutique on Rue Bonaparte, where she was in charge of making the “Ispahan,” one of Hermé’s signature desserts—two large macarons filled with rose buttercream, lychees and raspberries.
Back in San Francisco, she continued to do her homework, going through the recipes in her set of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks one by one. She further honed her skills through a catering business in San Francisco called Chez Karine Patisserie.
It’s no wonder that her creations at Chez Karine Bakery, now open at Serendra, are impeccable. Her macarons are soft, proof that they have not been on display for too long; not too sweet, with definite but not overpowering flavors, and so beautifully balanced.
“I didn’t like the macarons here so I had to make my own,” she admits.
Her signature item is turning out to be the pudding. They come in these adorable miniature bottles and in three flavors: vanilla, muscovado and chocolate. The vanilla pudding at first reminded me of a cross between crème brûlée and leche flan, but it is far lighter, like Thumbelina pirouetting on your tongue.
A must-experience is Honey Toast, a six-inch (or so) cube of bread that has several strips of bread inside. It is apparently a kind of birthday treat in Taiwan. The Banana Nutella toast, meanwhile, is like a childhood indulgence, with Nutella, slices of bananas, a chocolate macaron and ice cream on top. Yet it’s not nakakaumay at all.
My personal favorite is Ambroisie. This was actually the signature cake of Hidemi Sugino, a master patissier from Japan, whose mousse cakes (entremets), said Yang, are the best she has tasted.
It reminded me of really good silk and made me think of Zhang Ziyi’s dance scene in “House of Flying Daggers”—graceful yet on point, colorful yet exquisitely streamlined. On the surface it looks like chocolate ganache, with a rich, velvety chocolate coat. But it is more appropriately categorized as an entremet because inside is a chocolate mousse.
The joy of it doesn’t end there. Alongside the mousse are pistachios and—surprise, surprise—strawberry jam! Of all the joyous, delightful cakes out there, this is The One.
More desserts await Chez Karine’s guests. Santol is in season now and the chef is playing with creating a santol dessert. But whatever Yang creates, I am willing to bet that, like her other creations, this will be well-balanced, fresh, not too sweet and absolutely delightful.
She is the daughter of McDonald’s tycoon George Yang, by the way. But this time, it’s the father’s turn to be proud of the daughter. His contribution here was simply to pass on the wisdom that, yes, above all, you must follow your passion.
Chez Karine is at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City; tel. 0917-3232845. Open daily 11 a.m.-
10 p.m., Friday-Saturday until 11 p.m.