Taste Test: We Rounded up 9 Mini Cheese Tarts You Can Find in ManilaApril 30, 2017
In the past years we’ve seen a growing appreciation of the wonderful world of Japanese sweet treats: light, fluffy strawberry shortcakes, soft-serve ice cream, Japanese cheesecakes, and of course, cheese tarts. Now the idea of sweet, cheese-filled pastry shells themselves are not exclusive to the Land of the Rising Sun per se, but it is from Japan that we’ve seen a distinct style arise: one with a crisp, flaky or buttery shell and molten, flowing center, a la the versions of Japanese brands Pablo or BAKE. The former has successfully made it to our shores; and while we await the (rumored) Philippine debut of the latter, we’ve found a number of Japanese franchises, local brands, as well as independent home bakers come up with their own versions of the treat. But how do they stack up?
For this taste test, we put primary focus on how they fare at room temperature (which is how most people will likely be eating them anyway). But because many cheese tart brands will tend to boast about the different temperatures they can be enjoyed, we’ve also sampled them warm from the oven (freshly baked wherever possible) as well as chilled (but within the same day of purchase), taking note of whichever states they stand out. We’ve also noted how they are often served as you order straight from the counter where applicable (e.g., for those with standalone stores where tarts are baked on-site and can be had freshly made). To account for consistency, each tart was re-tested at least twice, 1-2 weeks in between.
P60/pc, P330/box of 6
Available at Kumori branches nationwide
Though relatively small, a bite of Kumori’s reveals a well-made crust that we’d liken to a good butter cookie: crisp, tender but flaky, and beautifully buttery with a touch of salt for balance. The said crust is remarkable enough that we’d have it on its own, but it’s even better combined with the filling—a whip-y, airy mixture that is molten in the center and carries a peculiar flavor that’s not as tangy or salty than the others, but deep and slightly pungent. It’s best served warm, if you’re lucky enough to catch a freshly-baked batch; otherwise, fret not: the crust and the filling retain much of their original textures even when the tart has cooled to room temperature.
P100/pc, P550/box of 6
Available at Pablo branches nationwide
While the team has mixed feelings on Pablo’s full-sized, flagship tart, its mini counterpart is a completely different story—it may well be our favorite tart of the bunch in spite of being the most expensive. It’s served warm when you order from the counter, and it beckons you to sink your teeth into its light, whip-y, mousse-like filling (which is similar to Kumori’s but a touch more soufflé-like). With a bright, tangy flavor (much brighter and richer than that of the full-sized tart!), it carries a complexity that a member of the team likens to real crème fraîche. Their crust is unique too: tender and crumbly with occasional grit from what seems to be wheat bran to add variation in texture (think of a cross between graham crackers and digestive biscuits), and a nutty flavor scented with vanilla. This tart is best devoured fresh as the crust has the tendency to get soggy once cooled to room temperature. But we’ve gotta give props for consistency, because—occasional long lines aside—you can expect more or less the same quality in every visit.
P49/pc, P180/box of 4
Available at Uncle Tetsu, SM Megamall
Uncle Tetsu’s comes the cheapest, but is also the the widest in diameter. It also takes on a completely different style compared to the others, coming closer to panaderia-style egg pies—just more neutral, less yolk-y in flavor. We don’t mind the change in style but we think they could have executed it better. The filling is an eggy mix with very little semblance of cheese (or much of any other flavor, in truth); and the crust outside takes the form of a thin pastry seemingly in the style of the full-sized Pablo cheese tart (if you’ve had it) but comes across as chewy and bread-y rather than flaky. (A quick retoast gives the impression of a crisper crust but at the expense of the filling, which turns even eggier.) A number of us from the team admit to enjoying it anyway; it’s light enough and not too sweet that it makes for a quick, casual snack.
P60/pc, P180/box of 3, P300/box of 6 (introductory price)
Available at select Paper Moon branches
This Japanese crepe cake franchise’s version errs toward the dense, creamy, American-style cheesecakes rather than its light, fluffy Japanese-style counterpart. Oddly enough, the filling separates into two somewhat-distinct layers as you work toward the center: a denser, saltier bottom layer (right where the filling meets the crust) with a taste closer to what you’d find in processed cheese bars (not that this is a bad thing); and a top layer with a tangier, cream cheese-y flavor and much silkier feel. The crust is a bit of a disappointment, especially at room temperature (by which it is served by default): for the most part it feels soggy and is easily bendable. As you bite it crumbles somewhat but hardly gives off much crispness—and though nicely browned (though on some store visits we’ve had it served paler and less-done than on others) it mostly tastes bland, contributing little more than a starchy feeling in the mouth. Definitely chill or toast the tarts to firm the crust up—the author recommends the former as it also brings out the creaminess of the filling—or save the calories and head straight for the filling with a spoon.
Patisserie Bebe Rouge
Available at Patisserie Bebe Rouge, Makati
Noticeably bigger and heavier than the others (which does justice to the price), this locally-based, Japanese-owned patisserie also presents a tart that veers toward the richer, American-style cheesecake end of the spectrum. Its crust also takes the form of a mildly sweet butter cookie, and inside you get a filling that is relatively dense, but still soft enough that it allows the fork to seamlessly glide in. The cheesiness you get is more of the savory and pungent sort as opposed to being bright and tangy—but it offers just the right amount of sweetness. We enjoy this best at room temperature as it gets a little too soggy when reheated yet too dense when chilled.
Available at The Breadery, UP Town Center and Ortigas
This local grab-and-go bakery’s take on the cheese tart also leans toward the decadent rather than delicate side. You’re greeted by a firm, glazed top, and a rich filling that is close to a thick, yolk-y, vanilla-imbued baked custard. Its crust is equally sturdy and dense—and though slightly bland on its own, it works wonders to balance out the heft of the filling. If you’re lucky enough to snatch these freshly-baked and warm (e.g., right when the stores open), do it—that’s when the crust is at its most short-textured and crisp, and its filling at a runny, silky-smooth consistency.
P80/pc, P240/box of 3, P450/box of 6
Available at LAVA branches nationwide
This proudly local brand offers a cheese tart made with four kinds of cheese, three of which are sourced locally, and boy can you taste it. Break into its unevenly-browned, fritatta-like top surface and you get a light but molten, soufflé-like filling, potent with saltiness of the fromage (we’d guess there were some sort of queso de bola or parmiggiano reggiano in the mix). The crust comes just sturdy enough to support the filling inside but tender enough that it shatters as you sink your teeth in. When cooled the filling turns fluffy and powdery—you can almost feel the snowy grated cheese against your tongue. Overall, LAVA’s is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it treat and some of us found it overwhelmingly savory, but for fans of the pairing of salty and sweet (this writer included), this tart is for you.
P540/box of 6 = P90/pc
Available through GourmetFinds
You’ll have to order three days ahead, but it’s worth it—the cheese tarts from this home baker are sublime from the individual parts to how it comes as a whole. GourmetFinds’ version features a slightly sweet crust that is just a touch more delicate than Kumori’s, but also tastes purely of real, good butter (not surprising considering they also make some of the best Kouign-amann and Canelé in town) and carries a wonderful shortbread-like texture. Inside, the filling—though not as light or whip-y than the others—still carries a slightly molten center that feels smooth and velvety on the tongue. You get the right balance of tangy and creamy, with just enough richness that deserves to be eaten on a saucer with a fork but without being too cloying that you couldn’t go back for another helping.
Buttery & Co.
P300/box of 6 = P50/pc
Available through Buttery and Co.
Buttery & Co. is another home-based baker, albeit a relatively new one, on the rise. Their take comes packaged elegantly, its white box home to individually paper-wrapped mini tarts. There is less tanginess or saltiness in this filling (at least compared to the others) but it is made up for with its astounding creaminess and dense but slick-on-the-tongue texture which we loved. The crust suffers from a few consistency issues—a few times we ordered, we got a crust that was bland and too crumbly that it felt too delicate for the rich filling; on a more recent order however we saw a marked improvement with a sturdier, toastier crust that flakes beautifully. At times you can catch the purveyor do pop-ups at the Power Plant Mall Bakers’ Dozen fair, during which you can get the tarts warm and molten (if not a little too liquid)—but we enjoy them best chilled in the fridge, during which the filling firms up to an even more luxurious, pot de crème-like consistency.
Within our nine-tart lineup, we definitely see a wide variety of styles. Some crusts are better at delivering the short-crumbed, crisp-tender texture of shortbread (Kumori’s and Gourmet Finds’ are exemplary of this trait); some crusts stand out for being of completely distinct styles (e.g., Pablo’s digestive biscuit-like version). Fillings, too, range from the light and soufflé-like (Pablo’s, Kumori) to the rich and creamy (The Breadery, Buttery & Co); or from the relatively bland (Uncle Tetsu) to the uber-cheesy (LAVA). Moreover, we’ve found that the local (and homemade) versions can stand up to the ones from Japanese franchises. There are some overall standouts in our book—Pablo’s filling, Kumori’s crust, GourmetFinds’ balance of parts, LAVA’s (polarizing but distinctive) sweet-salty flavor—but all in all there is a cheese tart for everyone. Eat them with a fork on a saucer (and a cup of tea) if you must, or just bite into them straight up from your hands. Trendy or not, this is one dessert genre we’ll be finding ourselves going back to again and again.