A new wave of small-production bakers working out of home, commercial, and ghost kitchens throughout Southern California are playing with Asian flavors in their desserts — and the results are fantastic, with dishes as diverse as cheesecake baos flavored with White Rabbit candy, Rice Krispies treats punctuated with mochi and black sesame, and pandan mochi egg tarts. From home cooks to French-trained pastry chefs, these new-school Los Angeles bakers are taking their favorite ingredients from their Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean backgrounds and melding them with familiar desserts.
Tiffany Kim’s Mochi Krunchies are her version of Rice Krispies treats, complete with bits of chewy mochi and nostalgic flavors from her childhood like black sesame, pandan coconut, and ube Oreo. She also bakes highly Instagrammable macarons with Korean flavors like injeolmi mochi and Jolly Pong latte. The idea for Loaf Language came about during the COVID-19 pandemic when Kim was laid off as a pastry cook and her parents’ business was forced to temporarily close. She held a bake sale to help them out and the response was so positive that she continued to sell more of her desserts, often donating to movements like Hate Is a Virus and Black Lives Matter.
Nīn Cupcake Shop
At Nīn Cupcake Shop, Allison Thu Tran’s cupcakes are works of art, garnished with flower petals, white chocolate drizzles, and crisps. While she makes classics like red velvet and chocolate, some of her more unique flavors include black sesame mochi, safflower Thai tea, and mango sticky rice. Tran, who’s worked in the kitchens of restaurants like Momofuku, has been selling her cupcakes since 2012 (originally under the name “Tootie Cakes” before rebranding to Nīn Cupcake Shop last year), and is currently working on building a kitchen and bakery space for her business.
Teochew-Vietnamese baker Jenny Huynh (whose day job is in nutrition and public health) makes an assortment of baked goods that are an evolution of her family’s history and recipes. Her grandparents owned a bakery in Vietnam for over 20 years before immigrating to the U.S. as refugees, and she’s used their knowledge and her own flair to make mooncakes with flavors like black sesame, strawberry, and brown-sugar oolong tea; banh bo nuong (pandan honeycomb cake); banh cam (sesame balls); and cookies with flavors like Vietnamese coffee and five-spice ginger molasses.
Ba Kỳ takes orders through direct messages on Instagram and on its website, with pick-ups in the Torrance area and potential delivery depending on the location. It also does custom orders, special events, and pop-ups.
Dōmi is popularly known for its stunning glazed mousse cakes that look like marbled seascapes and galaxies, slinging flavor combinations like jasmine mousse with strawberry jam and vanilla chiffon cake. The bakery’s gorgeous cakes, mooncake cookies, and tarts blend East-meets-West flavors; a chocolate salted caramel black sesame cake is one of its best sellers. Dōmi is helmed by Evelyn Ling and Joe Cheng Reed (who are Chinese and Taiwanese American, respectively), two pastry chefs trained in classical French techniques in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City. They created the bakery in 2019 and were vendors at Smorgasburg on the East Coast before bringing their goods to LA in 2021.
Mochee LA specializes in all things mochi, including its most notable creation: mochi egg tarts made with ingredients like ube, matcha, coconut pandan, and black sesame. Launched by Indonesian-born Priscilla Phangramond and her husband during the pandemic, Mochee LA pays homage to Phangramond’s memories of making mochi with her late mother. Incorporating her Indonesian roots into her desserts, she also makes klepon (that she calls “Mochee Bomb”), which are mochi-like balls of melted Indonesian palm sugar that are coated with shredded coconut.
Korean American baker Ellie You combines her love for unique flavors and elaborate designs in her fluffy sponge cakes. One of her signature cakes is a nod to injeolmi, a Korean snack of rice cake covered in powdered roasted beans, paired with mugwort genoise. She plays with other ingredients she grew up with, like sweet potato, chestnut, and kabocha, and also filters in more flavors like chocolate banana and strawberry milk cream. You started Harucake in 2019 with plans to use premium and organic ingredients, a minimal amount of food coloring, and designs that are minimalist but visually arresting. Harucakes will open its first store in Koreatown in the spring of 2023.
Jina Kim had launched Blend Sweets as a cheesecake business while her friend Britney Wang had built a name for herself making baos as the Bao Bae. In 2021, the two decided to combine their passions to create a creamy-filled cheesecake bao. They make their baos with their favorite flavors in mind, like ube cheesecake, matcha, hotteok (Korean sweet pancakes), and White Rabbit candy.
Blend Sweets is available at pop-up events. Follow its Instagram for updates.
A Lil Peckish
Pauline Chou had been a longtime baker before the owners of Chinatown teahouse Steep encouraged her to sell her baked goods at their shop, which she was also managing at the time. It wasn’t until this August that she decided to start her own brand. Specializing in tea-flavorite treats and mainly working with Asian ingredients, the LA-born but Taiwan-raised baker creates items like a salted yolk pork floss scone, kabocha pound cake, and osmanthus jiuniang (fermented rice) Basque cheesecake.
Vietnamese American baker Jennifer Nguyen’s Hawaiian-inspired baked mochi tarts are a labor of love. In fact, it takes two days for her batter to develop its flavor. She punctuates her desserts with ingredients like black sesame, earl grey, and jasmine green tea, among others. Most of Nguyen’s desserts are free of gluten, nuts, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavoring; she also makes vegan blondies (that taste like butter mochi) with black sesame seeds that she roasts and grinds in-house. A longtime baker who was raised in Southern California and has worked in front-of-house positions at various restaurants, Nguyen started her Mochimas business after seeing others do the same on social media during the pandemic.
Christy Kong’s cakes are works of art, where she recreates portraits and makes intricate designs using buttercream. Some of her most distinctive flavor creations include black sesame chiffon and cakes filled with mochi, taro puree, and jasmine tea-infused cream. She attended a baking school in North Hollywood and later returned to her home country of China to study the art of buttercream drawings. After working at a variety of bakeries and restaurants in LA, she decided to finally start something of her own, and thus, Unplug Patisserie was born.
Unplug Patisserie takes orders through direct messages on Instagram, with pickups in Rosemead.