Taste Test: We Try 6 Strawberry Shortcakes from Private Home Bakers to Keep on Our Holiday TableDecember 18, 2017
In the West, strawberry shortcake refers to a rustic dessert of biscuits, whipped cream, and macerated fruit best associated with American summers; in Japan it refers to an intricate pastry of sponge cake, whipped cream, and berries often served during the Christmas season; and here in the Philippines it’s a cake similar to the Japanese version, though at times heavier or sweeter, or with the fruit mixed into the cream. While Filipinos enjoy the dessert all year round, we thought: what better time than this season of endless parties and reunions to explore some of its best-known versions? Here we try six famous, privately-baked strawberry shortcakes in hopes of comparing their respective versions, and of finding the one (or many) we’ll be keeping on our holiday tables for the years to come.
This tall pink stunner exudes elegance in spite of its simple presentation. Its highlight is the cream studded with discernible berry seeds, which comes so generous that it practically engulfs the cake from the outside, into the core (the cake base itself takes on a tubular form with a hollow center), and between layers. When served frozen (as it’s intended to be, though the author admits to preferring it thawed slightly) it resembles good strawberry semifreddo or ice cream, carrying just enough of an airiness but still with a velvety, creamy backbone, as well as a good dose of genuine strawberry flavor that tastes vibrant enough to shine through the creaminess. Meanwhile, the cake portion is a chiffon with a standard sponge-y bounciness, but with what seems to be a heavy dose of egg yolks or butter incorporated, plus a hint of salt for a savory counterpoint; it’s a great cake of choice that stands up to the creamy icing but still feels light overall. If anything, what puts Yulo at a disadvantage is the lack of fresh berries (the frozen berries on top just aren’t the same thing), but the intense berry flavor of the cream more than makes up for it.
Love Cakes by Ann & Gan
Love Cakes delivers a much lighter take on strawberry shortcake that is so delicate it feels ethereal. For the icing, they use real dairy cream that’s whipped to a lighter consistency than Yulo’s, is sweetened just slightly, and has a touch of berries folded in (as far as we can tell from its ivory-pink color and occasional presence of seeds). It’s as airy as it is sumptuous; you get a subdued hint of berry as well as real vanilla that gives it a strawberry milkshake-like quality. The cake part is a pillowy-soft, ultra-fluffy cake with a crumb that’s loose and tender enough that it easily falls apart; it feels just as light as the cream, imparting its moist, ethereal essence as it dissolves on the tongue. While the cake-and-frosting combo, when taken plain, only hints at the strawberry flavor, you get a most generous amount of fresh, juicy fruit—on the top and in the filling (folded in with more whipped cream)—to deliver the strawberry component.
The BF Homes-based pastry shop’s version is similar to Love Cakes’ but is even lighter, if you can believe it. Their icing and filling is also a whipped cream (real dairy cream as far as we can tell) that feels even airier and is less sweet than Love Cakes’, similarly scented with real vanilla and a subdued but discernible hint of berry. For the layers, they use an even more tender cake (likely of the reverse-creamed type) that just about mimics the cream in feather-lightness, carrying a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth quality that falls apart easily like Love Cakes’ but bears a crumb that’s tighter yet even softer. When eaten together, the icing and cake practically become one, unifying into clouds that just about vanish on the tongue, leaving but a whisper of their dreamy strawberry-vanilla essence. Though we’d wish for more tartness—whether it be through the cream itself or with more fresh berries—texture-wise, if you’re into light desserts, Addie’s reigns supreme.
Dimpy’s offers a stark-white cake with a rustic look from the loosely-scattered slices of fresh berries on top. The cake portion is a chiffon with a slightly coarser crumb that offers a bouncy bite; though heftier than the others on the list, it serves as a no-frills base that does the job without stealing the spotlight. But the cream they use, though stunning in its snowy-white hue, carries a peculiar fatty mouthfeel which reminds us more of nondairy cream substitutes. While the use of such (assuming this were the case) is understandable as the tropical weather in the Philippines can make real dairy cream fussy to use, the dull, “oily” taste the nondairy stuff carries—especially in so minimalist an application—throws the overall sensation off. In any case, we appreciate the slices of large berries on top, seemingly of the imported variety that are juicy and sweet, and which come supported by a layer of tart strawberry jam right below that drips down and stains your fork with a surprise speck of red.
The Delightful Miss Joyce
From the well-designed box to the simple-but-elegant looking cake of a light-pink, strawberry seed-stained exterior crowned with slices of fresh strawberries in the middle, we have to give Joyce’s the award for best visual presentation. The cake portion here is a tighter-crumbed but still soft and bouncy chiffon, seemingly flavored with a touch of almond extract which works well to round off the tartness of the berries. Covering the cake is a generous amount of cream which, on one hand, delivers on the fresh, vibrant strawberry taste without being too sweet, but also carries a peculiar consistency we’d describe as fluffy at best, but stiff and grainy (as if it had been overwhipped) at worst. A plain version of the cream (not flavored with strawberries, though with distinct strawberry slices folded in) serves as the filling in between layers of the cake, and not only does it bear the same odd, grainy feel, but also a dull taste which like Dimpy’s, making us suspect the use of a nondairy substitute. On the bright side, you do get a good amount of fresh fruit that (almost) balances it out.
While Dulcelin is most famous for their Mango Torte, their Strawberry Cake ought to be up there, too. Though kitschy in appearance with its ornate style of frosting and ruby-red strawberry sauce topping, their version comes with more components that make for a more complex experience. For the cake they use a soft chiffon with a bouncy, stretchy airiness, and with a slight eggy, buttery flavor that marks its presence as you chew. Creaminess comes via a strawberry-flecked (real dairy) whipped cream that fills the cake’s layers and sides, as well as plain whipped cream piped along the edges and on top. The strawberry part comes well-represented too, not only by the the said strawberry cream on the sides (which is potent in berry flavor like Yulo’s), but also with the strawberry sauce on top which can feel goopy but tastes of real fruit and is delightfully, decidedly tart. More notable is the addition of Dulcelin’s signature cashew nougat in between layers, which not only emphasizes the dairy notes with its deep, buttery taste, but also adds a savory, crunchy character to contrast from the the other components.
The Verdict: Love Cakes by Ann and Gan
Love Cakes wins us over for not only for the individual parts—ultra-fluffy, delicate cake, real-deal whipping cream and generous amount of juicy strawberries—but also for the exceptionally beautiful way they come together for a wonderful whole that represents the strawberry aspect as well as it does the cream. But there are numerous ways to interpret the strawberry-cake-cream combination that you’re bound to find one to suit your own preferences. For lovers of all things delicate (or if you’re pigging out on the mains and prefer to keep it light for dessert), Love Cakes and Addie’s Pasteleria’s cakes very well fit the bill. Those in for a stronger strawberry flavor will love Yulo’s or Dulcelin’s (the latter especially if you like your strawberry desserts tart). For cakes with the most fresh strawberries, Love Cakes does not skimp on the stuff; Dimpy’s and The Delightful Miss Joyce are almost up there, too. Honorable mentions go to Yulo’s, Addie’s and Love Cakes’ for excellent cream, and Dulcelin Gourmet for their unconventional but excellently-done balance of components. Change up your noche buena dessert game with any one of these pink stunners.