Not too long ago, baker Judah Liu spent two to three hours making marshmallow cakes at home. The cakes were a hit with friends and baking was a hobby that served her well.
But when Liu started selling her products at the weekend bazaar of a posh mall in Makati City, people noticed instead her not-too-sweet caramel cake with its trademark miniature pink icing flowers.
The cake was good enough for this newspaper’s editors to take notice and for Liu to earn a page in the Inquirer Lifestyle “Best Desserts (The Most-Read Ultimate List),” the section’s first-ever book launched on Thursday night in a well-attended and first-of-its-kind dessert fair at SM Aura Premier in Taguig City.
Written by Inquirer food writer Vangie Baga-Reyes, the tome features more than 90 cakes, pastries, pies and ice cream culled from Ilocos Sur to Davao provinces.
Liu, the force behind Pasteleria Costa Brava, was initially unaware of making it to the list featured every year, the first of which was released by the lifestyle section in 2008.
This was because the list, anticipated every year by foodie circles, was neither an intentional effort nor part of any aggressive marketing strategy.
Inquirer Lifestyle editor Thelma Sioson San Juan said she asked Reyes to write the first list six years ago after noting “how readers and friends would always inquire about what sweet goodies to buy and where.”
Not only was the first “Best Desserts” list (or the List) “well-read,” San Juan noted.
“It also became a most visible merchandise signage … for independent bakers [like Liu],” she said.
“The List has been posted in many public places, from malls where some of these bakers joined fairs to independent stores,” San Juan added.
The lifestyle editor also said the feedback was enough to make her and her staff realize “right there and then that we had stumbled on an idea that our readers and the public would continue to look for.”
Inquirer foodie culture
Inquirer president and chief executive officer Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, in her speech at the launch, said that not only the lifestyle section but also the newspaper’s discerning staff was also instrumental in how the List came to be.
“Not many of you may know, the Inquirer has an eating and foodie culture. Sharing food has been our way of not only fighting the daily stress of deadlines but [it] also has been the most spontaneous bonding,” she said.
“People in the newsroom naturally gravitate to the lifestyle section simply because there’s always food there. Even our editor in chief Letty Magsanoc, even in the heat of the deadline, senses when there is special food in the lifestyle workstation,” Romualdez added.
The Inquirer president recalled how food writer Reyes learned of the desserts featured in the book mostly by word of mouth. “She does the patient and thorough task of tracking down these taste makers, tasting their creations and photographing them. Majority of these desserts are not found in commercial establishments but are ingeniously made by homemakers and bakers,” Romualdez said.
She described the featured goodies as “a testament to Filipinos’ ingenuity, resourcefulness and, most of all, [their] gracious and loving hand in the kitchen.”
Proof of how desserts could qualify as a universal language was evident in how those cited in the “Best Desserts” list bonded while trying each other’s lovingly baked goodies.
Gina Navarro, one of the three sisters continuing the traditional way their parents made Estrel’s handcrafted caramel cake, was all praises for Heny Sison’s lemon torte laden with frosted whipped cream, walnut meringue and zesty lemon filling.
Sison, on the other hand, urged this writer to try the rustic apple pie with butterscotch sauce that featured a pecan crust with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, presented by Angel’s Kitchen.
Meanwhile, Navarro’s sister, Joy, preferred the famous mango torte from the Cuerva bakeshop, heavy with mango balls circled by a thick layer of whipped cream on a chewy-crunchy walnut base.
Miko Morelos, who manned the Dulcelin booth boasting what he said was a “gourmet” version of the mango torte, admitted eyeing the goodies in Kiko Soliongco’s Vegetarian Kitchen that showcased orange cheesecake—a lucky accident caused by a shortage of lemons.
Soliongco, in turn, said he was only minutes away from trying Nono’s Chocolate Oblivion, two layers of chocolate cake filled with walnut praline bits exhibited in a booth manned by Kat Rodrigo.
Aurora Su-Calubad laid out a table filled with ganache chocolate cake right there on the aisle where event host Tessa Prieto-Valdes hobnobbed with guests.
What made Calubad really proud, she said, was having a booth right beside that of her mentor, Dorothy MJ Ferreira, whose famous Purple High Cake is made of real ube fibers that give it a unique chunky texture different from ube cakes made of flour and artificial food coloring.
Best of the best
“These desserts are the best of the best, so you can’t go wrong,” Romualdez said as she urged guests to try more.
“These are definitely worth the calories and your treadmill time,” she joked.
The book was edited by Alya Honasan, with layout by Riki Velarde, photographs by Andrew Tadalan and foreword by lifestyle editor San Juan.