Bright purple and green cheesecakes? Yes.
Hood Famous Bakeshop founder Chera Amlag combines classic New York-style cheesecake with ube and buko pandan, delectably blending traditional sweets from the East and the West.
Ube is Tagalog for purple yam and its rich, sweet flavor is widespread in Filipino desserts. The green buko pandan, also popular in the Philippines, derives from the tropical leaves of the pandan plant. An artificial version of its extract comes in a bottle, but Hood Famous uses a secret process to make the extract themselves. Faintly fragrant like basmati rice, buko pandan has a light, gentle flavor. Amlag integrates it and ube into extra smooth cheesecakes atop a crunchy, crumbly biscuit crust made with coconut—another Asian-inflected dimension.
“You have to know how to make the original before you can make your own twist,” Amlag says. Texture is paramount. Developing each flavor fusion requires many iterations before it strikes the right balance of flavors. “It’s a trial-and-error process for sure,” she says.
Hood Famous’ ube cheesecake debuted in October 2013 as the sweet component of the Asian/Hawaiian/Filipino pop-up Food and Sh*t, which appears every third Monday at Inay’s Asian Pacific Cuisine on Beacon Hill; Amlag co-founded the pop-up with Prometheus Brown. Today, the fast-growing bakeshop works out of a commercial kitchen in West Seattle—one delivery driver and three bakers, including Amlag, all of whom come from various Southeast Asian backgrounds. Amlag was born in the Philippines and the other two bakers are Laotian and Thai.
“The fun comes from looking at the flavor profiles we grew up with,” Amlag says. “It’s meaningful because we’re sharing a part of our culture.” She loves the ube for sentimental reasons. “When I was little, my mom gave me the task of stirring the purple yam until it was thick like a caramel,” she says.
Hood Famous currently offers only the ube and buko pandan cheesecakes, but Amlag is working on a new flavor made with sweet pureed mango and tart calamansi, a citrus fruit that she says is like a Filipino lime. Expect to see it as warmer weather arrives.
She and her small crew typically spend two days in the kitchen each week, making some 400 individual- and full-size cheesecakes. For now, they’re available every month at Food and Sh*t, at Uwajimaya locations, by delivery and online (you pick up your order at Inay’s). By the end of this year, Amlag plans to offer shipping to meet the growing demand for Hood Famous creations outside of Seattle.