I owe a lot to the readers of this website. They’re the pulse of Dessert Comes First, my guides to the ever-changing food landscape that is Manila. One such reader’s tip leads to the discovery of a charming little bakery and finally, good egg tarts.
12 Baskets is a little neighborhood bread shop, a panaderia of yore all grown up. Ensconced in its own little corner of up-and-coming food neighborhood J. Abad Santos and its environs, 12 Baskets is unassuming and friendly.
It’s owned by Fred Yang, a guy who’s very young (late twenties), inexperienced (it’s only been two years since he first set hands to dough), and gutsy (how many people with this little experience can lay claim to their own store?) Prior to deciding to bring in the dough with bread dough, Fred was working for an insurance company. Its slow pace prodded him to find a more dynamic way of life. Armed with a love for eating but a professed lack of cooking or baking knowledge, he admits that “… I’m a late bloomer. I wanted a food business but I didn’t know how to cook so I said ‘ok, I have to learn.’”
A foray into bread baking through a friend’s guidance opened his eyes to possibilities; kneading dough especially, enthralled him. Fred pushed on, practicing, learning and eventually supplementing his growing skills by completing the seven week intensive baking course at the Heny Sison Culinary School. The only male in class, he was as fascinated with the bread lessons as his female counterparts were with the cake decorating. “The girls loved the fondant and decorating but it was hard, so hard,” Fred recalls, wincing at the memory. “But when it came to the breads, wow! It was just two days but that was my favorite part.”
Deciding that it was either a bread shop or bust, Fred spent 2009 practicing and perfecting his craft. “Konting pride lang. People suggested that I become a supplier first, start out small but I wanted to have a store. [I wanted] something of my own, something I could brand and expand later on.” As he tells it, it took some doing to get the courage to move forward but in 2010 things started moving. “Before I knew it, I was visiting city hall daily for permits.” He grins.
12 Baskets, as some may correctly assume, refers to the Bible story where Jesus multiplied loaves and fish. The name came to Fred in what could be called a moment of divine intervention, overriding all the other good-natured albeit cheeky suggestions of his friends to call his store Our Daily Fred, Fred Talk, and my favorite, Fred’s Bread (the reason why I title this post as such). 12 Baskets is also Fred’s motto for the store, that of abundance.
The bakery is small but sufficient. Shelves of bread are lined up flush to the backboard, each variety carefully packaged and priced. The stamped expiration date is a thoughtful touch I think. The bakery in the back is even bigger than the storefront, adequately equipped with everything a bread shop needs and nothing it doesn’t: double-decker oven, dough kneader, proofing box, bread slicer, a lone KitchenAid for making pastry. For now, all breads are hand formed but Fred expresses a wish to automate the process in the future. I’m surprised when he tells me that his team of four employees are all first-time bakers also. When he tells me that he “got them from all sorts of places,” I interject naughtily: “From where? Jail?” That gets a good laugh and Fred’s pride is palpable as he relates how he trained his bakers himself.
Whenever I interview food purveyors such as Fred, I’m always fascinated to listen to what they’ve learned watching their customers, observing their preferences. When it comes to bread, Filipinos will live and die by their pandesal even though there’s a display of 10 to 12 varieties at any given time in the store. Those in the food industry are aware of this responsibility to provide to their customers but also to educate, helping them become aware of more choices.
Since opening this past June, Fred is focused on offering what he calls “simple breads,” panaderia staples like pandesal, monay, square (aka “tasty”) bread, ensaymada, etc. Later on, Fred plans to offer somewhat more stimulating breads such as those with herbs and cheese. Presently, the only concessions to what’s to come are the focaccia squares, pesto pandesal, and ciabatta.
Of course I have to ask, where are the sweet breads? There’s a simple cinnamon roll and fluffy-soft ensaymada made with real butter. I’m told, to my chagrin, that they don’t have their chocolate bread today. Fred tells me that his non-bread products like revel bars and banoffee pie are currently made-to-order, with more pies (both sweet and savory) in the offing.
I mention earlier in this post that it’s a DCF reader who gives me the heads-up on 12 Baskets, and all because of my quest for egg tarts. Thanks to that reader, Smarla, I now have a go-to bakery in San Juan, one that makes some of the better egg tarts I’ve come across so far in Manila. Fred’s egg tarts are enchantingly uneven in crust and form, they glisten, their surfaces beaded with condensation. A crust, flaky beyond belief, cradles a precious cargo of custard – quivery-soft, this side shy of too-sweet. I give my comments and a few suggestions to Fred. I’m already eager for his egg tarts version 2.0, baked upon request.
12 Baskets Bakeshop
G/F Metrolofts Condo
38 General Gutierrez St. corner J. Abad Santos St.,
Little Baguio, San Juan
Open daily, 6am – 10pm
For photos and a detailed, behind-the-scenes account of my visit to 12 Baskets, read Smarla’s blog post.