I learned how to bake when I was 13. I was self-taught; I was on YouTube, Allrecipes, baking blogs, Food Network. I occasionally helped my mom, but I was so in the backseat when I was a kid. When I was 13, I was like, Okay, I have a sweet tooth. I want a hobby, so I learned about baking.
I still love store-bought cupcakes and cakes, and those were the first things I learned to make on my own. Eating-wise, I was always in love with Filipino desserts — that’s what my mom would make for family parties and for me. The first thing I remember making were vanilla cupcakes, and I was very excited to prove to myself that I could do it — like, if I could make it from scratch I could do anything.
I was always in love with Filipino desserts — that’s what my mom would make for family parties and for me.
Baking makes me feel so fulfilled. It’s nice to have something you can share with people. Growing up, I remember doing Key Club or Habitat for Humanity, and it felt like everyone could sing or dance; we’d go to showcases or talent shows, and baking was something that was special for me. I could bake a cake for a friend for their birthday. Being able to provide an extension of myself through the desserts I like to make really pushed me creatively to put together something new. I could incorporate more flavors and ingredients that were traditionally Filipino.
Being able to provide an extension of myself through the desserts I like to make really pushed me creatively to put together something new.
Everyone was baking during the pandemic, and at that point I was so consumed by New York City and being with friends that baking took a backseat for the first few years I lived here. Then in the summer of 2020 I buckled down, and going to the kitchen became a safe space where I broke out the stand mixer. Having a baking blog was something percolating in my head for a long time. I wanted to do something creative, and I had this window of time to pursue this, commit to it, and manifest it.
I started the blog and also started doing pasalubong treat boxes. Pasalubong in Tagalog loosely means “souvenir” and includes gifts and treats you’d get for family members when you’re traveling. It was kind of a taste of home and felt symbolic. I’d sell them in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn; it was impromptu but also very intentional. I’d donate 100% of the proceeds to mutual-aid organizations.
I was posting about what I was making, and then my literary agent found me on Twitter and reached out to me about a book — this was like a month into my blog. It was so surreal to think that was even a possibility. I started to write the proposal in January 2021, submitted it in May, and then it was months of shopping the proposal. In July 2021 it went to auction, and it wasn’t until December when the contract was finalized. It was such a marathon. It was published in February of this year. It was a dream that I didn’t realize was even possible for me.
It was a dream that I didn’t realize was even possible for me.
I still work full-time in the live-music industry, but the time I’ve saved from being remote was so useful for me to put toward baking. Also, living with roommates while testing the recipes, I was like, “Okay, I have to just devote all the time I can to working on this.” I’d schedule recipes that require the stand mixer to the weekends or after 6 p.m. because we all had Zoom meetings all day. It was truly a crazy time.
When I wrote the proposal I knew I wanted to include stories about my life, my heritage, and my parents' immigration story. It took a lot of overcoming imposter syndrome and saying, “My life is important to write about, actually.” The beauty of a cookbook is that the stories are there, and I wanted to write something that would last. I also feel like I’m still up and coming, so it felt important to provide context of, this is Filipino cuisine to me and how I'm interpreting it and remixing it. Without that, I think people would be like, Why?
It took a lot of overcoming imposter syndrome and saying, "My life is important to write about, actually."
My family has been very supportive. I don’t think it was real to them until it was out on shelves. They went to Barnes & Noble and saw it, and now every time I’m home, if they see a Filipino person they’ll be like, “Oh, you should read my daughter’s book.”
When I was working on it I think they saw it almost as a fun school project, but once it was out I think they were able to see it on shelves or see me on different legs of the book tour, and it’s so exciting.
The horchata bibingka I made today is one of the original recipes I used in my treat box. It’s a great recipe because it’s one of the most emblematic Filipino desserts of a rice cake baked in banana leaves, but at the same time horchata is not Filipino. Growing up I’d get tacos and burritos in California and also horchata. The memories of having bibingka but also horchata made sense to me, especially because horchata is a rice-based drink. It just made sense to add these flavors with coconut and cinnamon. My bibingka recipe is usually made in little muffin tins, but using Square One is so much easier. You don’t have to cut the banana leaves into a bunch of little circles; a square pan just fits perfectly.
My bibingka recipe is usually made in little muffin tins, but using Square One is so much easier. You don’t have to cut the banana leaves into a bunch of little circles; a square pan just fits perfectly.
The second recipe I made was lychee madeleines with hibiscus tea glaze and rose petals. Again, madeleines are a French dessert, while lychee is very tropical and Southeast Asian, so it was just incorporating tropical flavors into a traditionally French dessert. I used a Big Chill to cool them, with a Holy Sheet beneath it, which is so helpful for catching excess glaze.
I’ve always had fun with dressing up, and I think representing and expressing yourself is such a privilege and joy. I take any opportunity to do that with my desserts, too. There’s a passion about not just making the same cupcake or wearing the same shirt every day, so it’s a part of the challenge and my love for baking to incorporate color into my desserts. But it’s also intentional: for example, the hibiscus tea glaze tastes good — it’s not just for color.