My parents’ little wedding cake was baked and decorated by an unknown bakeshop, but it was pretty enough to be featured in a cooking section of a 1949 magazine. Our love affair with sweet treats spans everything from local kakanins to European and American-style cakes and pastries, that Kapampangan bakers have also come to master.
When my father and mother got married in 1949, their reception featured a nicely baked and decorated wedding cake. It was all white and trimmed with sprays of sugared flowers, topped with toy figures of the bride and groom. Though just a modest-size cake, it looked so exquisite, worthy enough to be featured in a lifestyle section of a newspaper. My mother clipped that article and pasted it on her wedding album, alongside their cake-eating photos. We had that album for years, until it fell into tatters—including the magazine clipping.
Thank God, I still have the cake photos to remember that “sweetest”day of my parents’ lives. Kapampangans have always had a taste for sweets—thanks to our robust sugar industry. From our clay ovens and open hearths, our lolos and lolas cooked “kakanins’ that were all-sugar based—kalame, tibuk-tibuk, mochi, pastillas, bibingka. Later,”hurnos”or ovens of clay or bricks were introduced, that enabled Filipinos to do some baking—pan de sals, panecitos, araro (arrowroot) cookies, saniculas.
During the American Period, especially in the 20s and 30s, well-off Kapampangan families sent their daughters abroad to learn new skills in fashion,couture, and of course, culinary arts. The era also introduced her to new contraptions for the kitchen—the modern oven—which further helped her to create an assortment of confection: soft mamons, fluffy ensaimadas, and cakes of all kinds, following American and European recipes. With their baking wizardry, many of these women even became entrepreneurial.
One such grand dame was widow Salud Dayrit Santos (b. 7 Feb. 1883/d.1970), who became an expert in whipping up international dishes under the tutelage of Paris-educated Rosario Hizon-Ocampo. But “”Imang Salud” took most pride in her pastries made to perfection: Petit Fours, Empanaditas, Nougatine, Mazapan de Pili.
But it was her ‘’ensaimadas’’ that were to die for. She baked them with care, slathered with Brun butter, and dusted with grated queso de bola. Her rich-tasting creations were soon snapped up by friends and neighbors. Today, Imang Salud’s granddaughter, Meliza Santos, is carrying on the tradition, baking ensaymadas using her apu’s heirloom recipe. Branded with her name, Imang Salud Ensaimadas are today, sold in select places like the Legazpi Weekend Market.
Ocampo-Lansang Delicacies in Sta. Rita, is another homegrown business—modest by standards—but very popular in the Kapampangan region, all because of its two products—turrones de casuy and sans rival. It was started in 1920 by Felisa Lansang, who learn to make the sweet treat from a recipe learned from Spanish Dominican nuns.
At least two Hizons are credited for building successful business based on their baking know-how. The Hizon’s Cakes & Pastries on Bocobo Street in Ermita, Manila was founded by Inocencia Hizon, a widowed single mother who worked as a department store clerk at Aguinaldo’s, Escolta.
Family lore has it that the now-famous ensaymada recipe was given to her by an anonymous woman. Inocencia baked dozens of ensaymadas using the recipe, and engaged the help of her sister to peddle the pastries in offices, which, to her surprise, were all sold-out. This encouraged her to put up a bakeshop which she named simply as “Hizon’s”, on Raon St.
Today, Hizon’s has branches in Pasay, Greenhills and Makati, run by daughter Milagros Ramos Roasa. The shop is also famous for its taisans, apple pies and ube cakes, but the ensaymada remains a sentimental favorite.
Amalia Hizon of Mexico, together with husband Renato Mercado, put up a little cake shop called Red Ribbon that drew praises for its cakes and pastries. They put up the first shop in 1978 along Timog Ave. in Quezon City. In a matter of years, the cake shop gained a substantial following, and in 1984, it opened a U.S. outlet. It was no wonder then that Jollibee Food Corp. acquired the business in 2005.
Another name to reckon with in the field of baking and pastry arts is Emelita Basilio Wong-Galang. The exigencies of an early marriage prompted her to study cooking, taking lessons from her mother-in-law and heeding the kitchen wisdom of her Chinese-born father, Jose Wong (Ho Keng Gip), who worked as a cook in Pampanga hotels and restaurants--including Orchid's canteen-- before setting up his much-patronized Royal Bakery in Angeles City.
In 1980, Galang put up the first culinary school in Northern Luzon—the Emelita W. Galang Culinary Arts Studio Inc., which today, offers such courses as cake decorating, chocolate artistry and other confectionary arts.
Of course, Kapampangan cookery is also part of her school’s curriculum. Whether you are craving for a puto or petit fours, mochi or meringue, sanikulas or sans rival, pan de sal or pound cake-- the versatile Kapampangan woman of the house can make them all, to your heart’s delight. With her deep and extensive kitchen background…even baking is a piece of cake!