"As a wife and a mom above everything else, I'd never feed anyone something I wouldn't feed my own family," says home baker-turned-entrepreneur Ria Ortega. "So everything that goes into my baked goods has to be fresh and first class. I wouldn't substitute to cut down on cost." This uncompromising stance on quality is evident in every bite of Ortega's fine desserts, from her blueberry muffins to her traditional Ilonggo ensaymada. That maternal attachment also shaped the name of her new business, Apron Strings - a name connoting strong and lovingly maintained family ties, and a long tradition of baking only the best.
Indeed, baking is in Ria's blood. She recalls watching her Lola Rosita making ensaymadas and fruitcakes from her earliest childhood, an activity she thought so much fun that when finally allowed to mess around in the kitchen at age eight, Ria took to baking like the proverbial duck to water.
"My father wouldn't allow me into the kitchen before I was eight. Since to a child whatever is forbidden just seems more enticing, my interest was really piqued. Finally when I reached eight, my mom enrolled me in a baking class with Lorrie Reynoso, and I knew I loved to bake because I would wake up in the morning, already looking forward to going to my classes," Ria says. Even now the ensaymada recipe she uses is her Lola Rosita's; thick, fluffy, buttery without being oily, the top fragrant with freshly grated queso de bola. "Eating that ensaymada just takes me right back to my childhood," Ria grins. "Heaven!"
Through her years growing up and later going on to a career in theatre and music, Ria maintained her ties to the kitchen. "Ever so often I would bake again, trying recipes from books and magazines or sometimes trying to formulate my own. I would want something, like a particular texture and flavor in brownies that I just couldn't find in commercial ones, so I ended up developing my own brownie recipe," she says.
On marrying and getting pregnant with her first child, Ria discovered that her version of 'nesting' was to spend even more time in the kitchen, and took more classes with Sylvia Reynoso-Gala. "That's when I began to realize my love of cooking and baking could be deep enough that I could turn it into a career," she says, and now she's finally making that leap of faith.
Apron Strings is starting out in the classic manner of homegrown businesses built with love -- on a shoestring, but with a ready and familiar clientele of friends who've known what Ria can do for years. Working out of her home, Ria takes orders for brownies, cookies, ensaymada, and cinnamon rolls, and is developing new recipes in her spare time.
One product we're watching out for with breathless anticipation is her cinnamon rolls with mango. She'll be participating in the Cuenca bazaar at Ayala Alabang Village and is hoping to get into Mercato Centrale in Fort Bonifacio. "When the demand gets big enough, I'll consider opening a bakeshop or cafe. Slow but sure is the way to go for me," Ria says. "Anyway, whatever happens or how long it takes, this will always be a labor of love for me. Baking isn't just about producing breads or cookies or cakes. It's about creating memories as we enjoy our goodies, whether it's in the process of making them, or eating them."
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We're proud to present another success story from BF Homes in Pinky Anonuevo, proprietress of Pinky's Goodies along El Grande Avenue. Starting from just her mom's signature butterscotch brownies, Pinky has grown Pinky's Goodies into a bakeshop that supplies retailers as far as Tagaytay and Davao and is now about to enter the Landmark chain of supermarkets.
She's also proof positive that Ilonggas have a magical connection to pastry. "What's the secret?" we ask her. "The sugar!" she laughs. "I think it's very simply because in Iloilo and Bacolod we're at the center of the sugar industry and with so much sugar available, it was easy to find ways to use it. Also I think because the Spanish influence is strong there -- look how many of our pastry products in Iloilo have Spanish names." These influences came together in a set of traditional family recipes that Pinky inherited from her mother, who inherited it from her mother, with which she established her bakeshop.
Date and Walnut Cookies
Pinky's Goodies sells Butterscotch brownies in traditional, Chocolate, and Mango variations, plus an assortment of merengues, muffins, cookies, yema, biscocho, and Iloilo's signature Pancit Efuven noodles. I got to sample the Butterscotch in their new foil packaging, which Pinky had to do to maximize their shelf life in anticipation of supermarket distribution, the delectable Banana Muffins, the Date and Walnut Cookies, and the Raspberry Cookies. They were good!
I specially liked the three varieties of Butterscotch, the Banana Muffins, and the Date and Walnut Cookies. The butterscotches were moist, chewy, full of nuts and fruits, and I could taste every different filling because they were neither too sweet nor too buttery. Yum. As for the Date and Walnut Cookies, they were also nicely chewy and the walnuts fresh-tasting. I hate the taste of stale walnuts, and these cookies were thankfully innocent of that taint. My personal favorite though would be the Banana Muffins, as I've always loved banana-based breads and cakes. I got mine baked just that day, and it was wonderfully moist and rich, with just the right amount of butter, the banana flavor very fresh and clean. Now that I know what Pinky can do, I'm just itching to try out their new Banoffee Pie ...
I developed a taste for yogurt way way back, when during one of my dad's foreign assignments, my mom learned to make yogurt. One of my favorite ways to have it was as dessert, with slices of fresh mango or banana, or made into a sort of shake called lassi. The one thing I never thought of, though, was to have it as ice cream.
Fast forward a few decades (no you do not get to ask how many!), and what do I find? Frozen yogurt shops mushrooming all over Metro Manila! One of the friendliest I've found is right here in BF Homes, right by the PCJ Church. This is Yogie Island, a homegrown venture - that is, developed right here in BF Homes - of entrepreneur Gladys Escueta. Their frozen yogurt is not only delicious, you also get to have it just the way you like and served in a in a very welcoming atmosphere as well.
There's no way you can miss this store; it's the most colorful one on the block. With its interior laid out in a combination of mint greens, blue and white, it projects its holiday-island theme like a seductive calypso, irresistibly drawing you to come in and chill out for a while. Gladys says this was the foundation of her business idea - "I wanted it to be fun and have the colors of the beach, white sand and blue sky and green trees, relaxing colors that also make you think of having something cold at the same time." That fun atmosphere is further heightened by Escueta's furnishing various board and party games for free. Any customer is welcome to play the games and stay as long as they like.
Why yogurt then? Here's another secret: this shop serves good stuff because it's what the proprietress herself loves. "Frozen yogurt is a favorite of mine, but when I was looking for one here in BF I couldn't find any. So I studied the business and came up with my own for BF Homes," Gladys says. Yogie Island was the first froyo shop to open here. The shop offers 30 different toppings, from various chocolate chips and candies to fresh fruits, and also offers a line of Berazzled yogurts, frozen yogurt infused with deluxe flavored syrups from Italy. Among the bestselling toppings, Gladys says, are the mochi and crushed graham, almonds and chocolate syrup, and the blueberry cheesecake.
I've always loved yogurt, but Cat usually finds it too tart for her taste. Yogie Island was a delightful surprise to my wife, as the yogurt here is a nice balance of tart and sweet, with extra milk added, to make a rich, mild-tasting refreshment that can easily win traditional ice cream lovers over. Kids love it, Gladys says, which gives health-conscious parents an opening to get their kids used to this lower-fat option. Which is giving me an idea right now: this kid is hankering for a froyo with kiwifruit and peaches.
Yo ho ho, to Yogie Island we will go!