Reimagined Filipino- and Latin-inspired desserts
Bibingka is one of the desserts Melody Lorenzo associates with Christmas in the Philippines. “Bibingka is a traditional rice cake,” the chef and owner of Sweet Condesa says. “It’s cooked in banana leaves in a clay pot.” Lorenzo says she made her version of it last year, and she’s bringing it back again. “I took the idea and turned it into a coconut custard pie,” she says. The chef also adds cream cheese, and tops it with a salted egg. “It has a sweet and salty flavor.”
Lorenzo also transforms queso de bola, a.k.a. Edam cheese, by infusing it in a custard filling for another Christmas pie. The desserts at Sweet Condesa can be summed up by the hashtag Lorenzo came up with—#BayAreaFilipinoPies. Her Instagram feed, @sweetcondesapastries, shows a colorful array of pies, cookies and her signature calamansi bars. But Lorenzo also includes information about ingredients and the local vendors she partners with. The Barako coffee pie uses Ballast Coffee’s “bold and strong” beans sourced from Cavite, Philippines.
“Currently, I don’t have a social media manager,” she says. “It’s just me managing.” If Lorenzo posts something about a Filipino ingredient, it’s informative for people who might not be familiar with desserts like turon or ube, the pretty purple yam. “But [IG] has been helpful for sharing different fun facts that people will engage with.”
For her Tsokolate Chunk Cookies, she buys chocolate from El Cerrito’s Oodaalolly Chocolate. On their website, the company’s owner, Hernan Lauber, describes the Philippines, where he was born, as “the Napa Valley of cacao.” Some of the other brands that Lorenzo uses are imported directly from the Philippines. Apart from farmer’s markets, the chef finds Filipino products at South San Francisco’s Seafood City Supermarket and at the Island Pacific Seafood Market in Hayward.
Sweet Condesa isn’t, as yet, a brick-and-mortar store—and Lorenzo is fine with the amount of freedom and flexibility she has. “I like being able to meet people from other communities,” Lorenzo says. She’s a regular at the San Ramon Farmer’s Market, holds a high-end tea service in Livermore and continues to cater weddings. She also attends an annual bridal fair that takes place in Fremont.
Lorenzo told me that Sweet Condesa began in 2017 when she joined a small bridal shop in Lafayette to create “modern Filipino” desserts for weddings. Without pausing to check her records, Lorenzo easily recalled what she made for her first wedding. “I did calamansi bars, which is a take on a lemon bar,” she said. “I did ube tartlets. The shells are a buttery shortbread that we make by hand and fill with ube that’s cooked with condensed milk until it’s nice and smooth and creamy.” And she also made a caramel flan.
Before opening Sweet Condesa, cooking was a hobby for Lorenzo. She worked a government job for 20 years before she decided to start her own business—a month before the pandemic. “I just closed my eyes and said, ‘I’m just going to do this and see how it goes,’” she says.
Before Christmas, on Nov. 23 and 24, Sweet Condesa offers what she calls “Thanksgiving Pie Pickup” days at Ballast Coffee in San Francisco and in West Oakland, respectively. At least two of her creamy custard pies will feature on that menu: the Turon Pie and an Ube Pie. Turon combines banana and jackfruit, a “scratch-made Saba-Langka jam, baked to perfection in a buttery graham cracker crust.”
Turon is a popular street food in the Philippines. “It’s basically banana and jackfruit in a lumpia wrapper,” Lorenzo says. “It has that caramelization from brown sugar.” The chef makes the jackfruit jam and infuses it into the banana-custard base. She also mentions that her popular pandan pie will return. “Pandan is an aromatic leaf, referred to as the vanilla of Southeast Asia,” Lorenzo says. She infuses the leaf in her coconut-milk custard base and then adds young coconut to top it off.
Find out more information about Sweet Condesa at: sweetcondesapastries.com and instagram.com/sweetcondesapastries.