Filipino desserts get a modern makeover

Community News & Features May 11, 2018 at 4:11 pm
Ube Cupcakes

Ube Cupcakes

The Sweet Spot

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

It all started with an idea as small as a macaron.

When business owners Susan Perras, 39, and Rechie Valdez, 37, met it was like kismet. They had both been running their own businesses out of The Cake Collective, a 4,500 sq ft commercial kitchen in Mississauga that rents out space to professional bakers. It was at the venue’s second anniversary party when the two women bonded over Valdez’s choice of dessert.

Rechie and Susan

Rechie and Susan

“It was Rechie’s ube macarons [that caught my attention],” said Perras. “She was surprised that I knew what it was. We talked about this idea of Filipino and western fusion desserts and it just became this monster that we had to contain.”

“The minute she identified the ube macarons, I was like, ‘Oh my god, someone knows!’” recalled Valdez. “It was an instant connection.”

A Myriad of flavors

In June 2017, Valdez and Perras launched Filipino Fusion Desserts, a custom order and wholesale bakery with a logo that reflected the pair’s Filipino-Canadian roots: a cupcake in the colors of the Filipino flag, along with the golden-yellow sun and a small red maple leaf like the cherry on top.

Since then, they’ve been churning out rainbow-hued party platters of strawberry pastillas, calamansi cannolis, ube madeleines and pandan cheesecake tarts. They also sell their products at Filipino groceries and supermarkets like Seafood City and have become regular fixtures at Filipino festivals where they’ve caught the attention of both Filipinos and non-Filipinos with their unique desserts.

“We get more of the younger Filipinos but the older generation was a bit hard,” explained Perras. “Our calamansi cannolis were a hard sell since we had to explain what a cannoli was but once they heard what the flavor was, they were more willing to try it.”

Cannolis

Cannolis (4 Photos: Nik Buensuceco/@nikbphotography)

“As soon as people put the dessert in their mouths, the light in their eyes is amazing to see,” she added. “Watching people enjoy something that’s familiar but new is totally satisfying.”
“It’s the non-verbal [reaction],” agreed Valdez.

For Perras and Valdez, Filipino Fusion Desserts isn’t simply about adding Asian flavors to popular western favorites but also injecting western flavors to beloved Filipino sweets – like adding chocolate to pastillas.

“Susan and I are foodies so it starts off with us being blown away by our own products when our experience is like, “Damn!” and not just, “Yum,’” said Valdez of their brainstorming sessions. “Those moments when we high-five each other, that’s the one when you just know based on your own taste buds.”

A recipe for success

With their own unique upbringing, Perras and Valdez are certainly no strangers to fusion.

HaloHalo Platter

HaloHalo Platter

Born to a Filipino mother and a Jamaican father and growing up in Brampton, Perras said that when it came to food, she had the best of both worlds. “Having both cuisines growing up was amazing,” she said. “I would go to my uncle’s in my Jamaican side and he made the best oxtails, then I’d go over to my aunt’s place where I’d have kare-kare. I was in heaven.”

While she added that her mom is a great cook who “threw things into a pot and never measured,” snacks like hopia and puto were usually store-bought.

Despite working 12 years in the corporate world (“mostly operations-based and analytics”), Perras always had a passion for baking since she made her first brownies and cookies at the age of 15. From then on, she took various courses in cake decorating and Filipino desserts. “With Jamaican dessert, the only thing I can remember is rum cake,” said Perras. “On the Filipino side it was everything from the kutsinta to pastillas – there were so many different desserts. I think Filipinos just do sweets so well, that’s why I gravitated towards the Filipino side of dessert.”

Like Perras, Valdez also has a background in the corporate world with a 13-year career in banking. However, it wasn’t until during her maternity leave after giving birth to her second child did she decide to take up baking. “I started baking random stuff like muffins and cookies,” she said. “I’m not a veteran baker but the minute I started baking, it became an outlet for me to be able to express my creativity.”

Before moving to Toronto, Valdez grew up in Zambia, where she was born and raised until the age of nine. Her parents had moved from the Philippines to Zambia in 1979 so her father could work as operation engineer in the power plants. Despite living in the English-speaking country, Valdez recalled being “surrounded by nature and all things Africa that you can pretty much picture.”
“Back then, when she was a stay-at-home mom, my mom used to make fresh pandesal,” recalled Valdez. “I have these fleeting memories of sitting next to her while she made polvoron from scratch and stamped them by hand, while I helped roll the polvoron and twist the little ends.”

Pandan Cheescake

Pandan Cheescake

She added that although that doesn’t happen anymore, what matters is that they took the time to make desserts from scratch and by hand. “And I will still do that for as long as I can,” she said.

The future is sweet

With a lineup of summer festivals ahead, there’s no slowing down for the two entrepreneurs.

While Valdez admits that the ultimate goal is a bricks and mortar store, she said that they’re focusing on getting recognition and expanding their business slowly but surely. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a newly launched YouTube channel, Filipino Fusion Desserts has a growing social media following.

“Filipino cuisine is becoming mainstream because we all pretty much have mini computers on our phones so everything is accessible and people are interested in learning about different cultures and different food,” explained Perras. “Everyone’s trying to find the next big foodie thing.”

Valdez added that it’s also about putting Filipino food at the forefront so that ube will one day be as common as chocolate and matcha.

“The Filipino food movement is happening around the world as we speak and it’s been getting stronger – we’re just contributing to a part of that here within the GTA,” she said.

“We’re part of that movement in that we’re working alongside many other thousands of people who are just as passionate about trying to get our Filipino flavors out there.”

Valdez and Perras say they have a book full of dessert ideas still waiting to be baked into reality. And, of course, the ube macarons that started it all are still on the menu.

Ube Cake with Macaron

Ube Cake with Macaron

Calamansi Cupcake

Calamansi Cupcake

(https://filipinofusiondesserts.com/plattermenu/)