Richard Co is the blogger behind Tales From The Tummy, one of the three local food blogs that I read. He’s a really nice guy, has always got a big smile on his face, and is constantly cracking jokes. Richard also used to own the now-defunct Ortigas location of Ya Kun, my favorite kopi tiam brand. There are existing Manila locations of this most venerated of toast and coffee shops, but I still miss the one he used to own.
Most of Richard’s eating adventures include his wife, Irene, whom I’ve met perhaps twice. I don’t know her well but I do know that she makes cheesecakes. She seems very shy, especially beside Richard; all my questions about the cakes are answered by him. One day, I’d like to ask her what it’s like to be married to a food blogger.
Irene’s home baking business, begun in 2011, is called Indulgence by Irene. A quartet of cheesecakes is the star of her repertoire: Queso de Bola, Ube, Tablea, and Choc-Nut. It’s a veritably proud, fly-the-Filipino-flag feast of flavors.
Leading the pack is the Queso de Bola, the variant that started it all. It’s an idea borne from a “Cheesepedida”, a cleverly named cheese-themed party the couple had with their friends. Richard recounts, “Irene and I both love cheesecakes but are usually disappointed with the ones containing gelatin, so I’d been egging her to make one. The pot luck party was the best excuse [for her] to make a cheesecake.” Apparently, everyone fell in love with it, and thus a business began.
Queso de Bola cheesecakes are not new to those of us living in the Philippines but each one is unique. Irene’s is such in the subtlety in which the flavors build on one another: cool creaminess is sidestepped by salty, and somewhere at the back, shavings of cheese totter in for a textural counterpoint.
The Ube Cheesecake meanwhile, is Irene’s collaboration with Chona Ayson of Homemade Treasures, she of ensaymada fame. It is Chona’s ube jam that saturates Irene’s cream cheese batter, an interspersion of purple and passion so total that I wonder: I’m eating ube, but is it in jam? or cheesecake? or a deft intertwining of both? A delicious dilemma, this.
I’ve not tried the Choc-Nut variant, photos of which show the candy strewn over a vanilla cheesecake. The base ingredient for the Tablea Cheesecake however, is courtesy of a relative who produces the native cacao. As Richard explains, “It’s pure tablea with no extenders that we’ve been selling locally to friends and acquaintances. The feedback has been wonderful so [they] were trying to convince Irene to use it in a cheesecake.”
At first bite, there’s a breath of coffee; deceptive since it’s not an ingredient here. Then tablea trounces it swooping in on notes of smoke, a flavor with swagger and as bold as its swarthy hue. It’s been tamed only by a flush of cream, a smidgen of sugar. I can close my eyes and imagine savoring a cup of tablea tsokolate, except this time I’m eating it in cheesecake form. If you allow this to warm to room temperature, its texture is akin to nibbling on the inside of a truffle.
Irene’s cheesecakes share similar characteristics. They are held aloft on uneven graham cracker bases that thin out towards the middle. For confections of this caliber, I feel that they deserve a crust more worthy of the weight they carry. All these cheesecakes are also very, very dense, don’t expect them to be reminiscent of their New York-style counterparts because they’re not.
I look at Irene’s cheesecakes: they’re results of encouragement from friends and an especially persistent (encouraging!) husband. I gaze at the cakes’ concave surfaces, uninterrupted smoothness produced as if by magic. You know, you can’t make magic (and cheesecakes) without a lot of patience, and you need a lot of patience to be married to a (food) blogger. My Bin will attest to that.
Indulgence by Irene
0922 830 3900 / 0917 622 5800
Cheesecakes available in 2 sizes:
4.5-inch: P200-220; 9-inch: P1000
Ube cheesecake: 4.5-inch: P250; 9-inch: P1,200
On Facebook: IndulgencebyIrene