Getting your sweet fix is no longer limited to grocery runs or tried and tested cakes from well-established brands. Our choices now include what our friends are eating and what we see online, thanks to the connectivity of social media. It’s the perfect time for home-based businesses to step in and diversify the eating choices out there. Joining the fold of personalized desserts is Brown Butter, a dessert business that offers cakes such as Mango Black Sesame, Chocolate Banana, Chocolate Five Textures, and the Popcorn Surprise. These four desserts don’t just indulge the palate: they show us the different possibilities that can be had in ingredients we thought we were familiar with.
Take one look at any of Brown Butter’s desserts and you’d think several kitchen staff prepared them. But each item is the hard work of one woman: Cathy Choi, who came home in 2013 after working for Wynn Resorts Macau, the Ritz Carlton, and Michelin-star restaurant Robuchon au Dome in Macau. “Working in a hotel is very different from working in a Michelin-star,” Cathy explains. “I was in the production team of the hotels, where we produced all the cakes. But in a Michelin-star, the volume is very small and (everything) is top, top quality. You can’t even make the tiniest mistake. The ingredients that we used were the best that I’ve seen in my life,” she recounts.
Cathy brings that eye for detail and quality in each of Brown Butter’s desserts. She chose to run the business from home in order to maintain each cake’s quality. She explained that to set up a shop, a lot of the money goes into the rent and thus leaves you with less to spend on quality ingredients. At the same time, you’ll have to rent not just a shop space, but also a kitchen. “You’ll end up getting a kitchen somewhere else or you get a commercial space meant for that just to operate. You pay double and then you also have to think of the logistics,” she elaborates. Another concern for Cathy was the volume: a shop handles a larger number of orders, which also leaves you with less control of the quality.
Cathy would rather invest that money for rent on her desserts’ high quality ingredients. “I only use real chocolate, particularly the one from Belgium. For my cream, I use Elle & Vire, which is the best French cream out there,” she adds. Cathy believes in maintaining a minimum quality when it comes to her products and the more manageable setup of a home based business allows her to do that.
Although Brown Butter has only been around since October 2014, each cake showcases the skill and particular taste only a professional pastry chef can offer. Each cake is made up of layers that not only play with all sorts of textures, but also complement the variety of tastes in just one cake. Her Popcorn Surprise was inspired by Redenbacher popcorn. “It has all the components of Redenbacher’s: caramel, roasted pecan, and then the popcorn flavored cream. There’s a sponge layer to balance the creaminess of the cake and the rice crispy base is there to give it that crunchy texture.”
Another signature dish is the Chocolate Five Textures, which layers a chocolate sponge, chocolate crumble, chocolate crisps, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ganache. The extra sweet elements balance the bitter layers, while the crunchy textures add more of that audible crisp, and a solid base to the creamier parts. For those who want a little more fruit, the Chocolate Banana layers banana cake, caramel brulee, walnut, chocolate caramel mousse, and flambé banana in a decadent 8”x8” square. Brown Butter also offers the Napoleon, a dessert that’s difficult to find but made more accessible thanks to Cathy’s efforts.
Although each cake has satisfied all types of palates, Cathy was worried at first that the cakes would not be well received by the clients. “These aren’t the usual cakes in the market. I wasn’t sure if people would accept them or not,” she says. But that drive to be distinct and offer something new to the market drove her to conquer such a fear. “I still believe I want to do something that others aren’t doing. I don’t want to make another cake that has flooded the market.” At the same time, she feels Manila is ready for more adventurous options. “The dining scene in Manila has changed a lot. There are a lot of new restaurants like Mecha Uma, Vask, and 12/10, where you see a lot more interesting combinations and it’s well-received by the people,” she adds.
As Manila’s dining and eating scene expands, Brown Butter is a welcome addition to an environment that not only introduces new concepts but also pushes the boundaries that’s been set in the last decades. Cathy’s vision and courage proves that we are no longer just willing to try something new, but also willing to see how far these concepts can go.