By Cindy Yuong, AOS Baking & Pastry
April 12, 2017
American and French bakeries are ubiquitous around America, but what about the occasional Asian bakery and its host of glorious baked goods? American bakeries hold classics – comfortable sweet flavors the tongue knows. Patisseries and boulangeries are more varying in their flavors and products, always coming out with new combinations and contemporary products to catch the mind’s eye. Most people know and go to these for their sweet treats, but Asian bakeries are gaining popularity as the world is hunting for new flavors to please the palette.
The most prevalent Asian bakeries seen around are traditional Chinese bakeries, found in most Chinatowns. Some others include the more modern and French-influenced Korean and Japanese bakeries appealing to the younger generation. Most of the Asian bakeries are from East Asia, which is how we refer to it here in the United States, but in Asia, these bakeries are referred to as Western bakeries. A major category of Chinese baking is Hong Kong-style. Hong Kong is a nation that was colonized by Great Britain for an extended length of time, allowing for the Western influence to spread far.
East Asian bakery offerings are considered Western as they were altered since the original baked goods did not fit into the Asian taste preference: light and not too sweet. Many Asians, especially amongst the elderly, are extremely critical of American desserts for being way too sweet, dense, and rich. “Not too sweet,” is a key phrase, so hearing it from a family party is a sign of sweet approval to the desserts presented. Dessert is not a course that is quite as emphasized in most Asian cultures as it is in American or French, but it still takes a place in their diet more as a snack or treat.
Crisp, French baguettes turned into soft bread buns; dense, rich cakes became light and fluffy sponge cakes; buttercream turned to whipped cream, and pastries flaked and lightened up, diversifying in ways that became classic to their culture. Sugar was cut, butter reduced, and eggs got whipped for their airy (discourse), also making the goods a little healthier. Most Chinese bakeries offer a variety of sweet and savory baked or steamed bread buns made from two distinct doughs varying in fillings and toppings, the most ubiquitous of which is the Pineapple Bun – a bun topped with a sweet cookie topping that does not include anything of its namesake other than appearance. Pastry cases can be found with sponge cakes decorating with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Egg tarts are a classic, and more can be found with seasonal moon cakes, fried sesame balls, almond cookies, roll cakes, and more.
Besides the baked goods, unique flavors and ingredients are mainly found in these East Asian bakeries. Ones that are recently becoming more popular are matcha green tea, yuzu Japanese citrus, taro root, ube purple sweet potato, and adzuki sweetened red bean. Matcha has hit the spotlight more than any other ingredient. What was once exclusively found in Asian bakeries is now a trending flavor in almost any up and coming bakery, café, or dessert menu.
However, there are so many others out there. People are searching for new flavors to love and Asia has a grand array of them. Pandan is often referred to as the vanilla of South East Asian countries. Black Sesame is often combined with sugar to bring out its the rich, nutty flavor while Lychee – a little more common and refreshingly sweet. Sudachi, the cousin of yuzu, a Japanese lime. Salted Egg Yolk is a Chinese classic used in both sweet and savory applications. Durian, the King of Asian fruit, is a pungent, acquired taste, but extremely creamy and a delicacy to many. Sakura, currently only available in Japan, features the delicate cherry blossom of spring time, and much, much more. These are only some of the main flavors,
Ingredients used in making desserts of these flavors are also unique in its kind. Teas, glutinous sticky rice, mocha flour, tapioca starch, coconut milk, grass jelly, basil seeds, agar agar, misugaru, palm sugar, kinako, lotus seed paste. Even some fruits are unknown – persimmons, kumquats, rambutan, mangosteen, jackfruit, soursop, and some more common ones like star fruit, passion fruit, pomelo, and sometimes mango. Most dairy includes sweetened condensed milk, prized for its rich, creamy, and caramelly sweet flavor – one of the main components of classic Asian drinks such as Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea, and Hong Kong milk tea. People don’t know many Asian ingredients, often dismissing them as exotic and weird, but if you give them a chance, it can open the door to a new world of flavors and experiences.
Asian bakeries are taking flavors from America and other cultures, modernizing classics such as Tiramisu, Black Forest cake, and more, but they have kept so much hidden from their own cultures that is so unknown to the rest of the world. East Asian bakeries were explained, some girl went off about this huge list of things – foods – you may never have heard of before, what is that going to do? Maybe you Google search everything and try to find some merit in reading all about it. Maybe find some pictures of it on Instagram. Maybe nothing. But hopefully it has broadened your spectrum and opened your mind to trying different foods. The next time you see something new, take a step forward and give it a taste, or ask for a sample if possible. The field of Asian desserts is already growing, who knows if you might find the next new breakthrough flavor?