Joan & Jane Cake Bites (J&J) is a business run by two sisters, Cathleen Co and Michelle Chan. The three-syllable, almost staccato sobriquet is taken from their middle names. “We would be honored if you could try samples of our items… and get your honest opinion on them,” they write in their email. They add that they attended my Christmas Gift List event last year, and enjoyed themselves immensely. How I wish I could’ve met them then!
Still, I like it very much when “silent fans” as they call themselves and so-called lurkers come out of the shadows. If you like food as much as I do, then I want to get to know you.
J&J is an offshoot of Cathleen and Michelle’s initial business, a catering and party tray service called 8 Spoons. It was borne out of a successful attempt to cater Cathleen’s kid’s first birthday party. When asked to differentiate between J&J and 8 Spoons, Michelle replies, “I think our business is a cross between a home baking kitchen and an actual business.”
It’s difficult to believe that J&J started just last November. With such little lead time, their boxes are works of art in themselves, creatively executed and with an eye for design. Done in deep magenta, the boxes have thoughtful touches like “cut here”; and “please do tell” heading up the listed contact information (word of mouth is everything after all). The back of the larger boxes are walls of food quotes, perfect to skim through while nibbling on a pastry.
Speaking of pastries, J&J makes the most intriguing 3-Nut Tartlets (P200, box of 9). A triad of pecans, almonds and cashews, the tartlet itself is a triangle because as Cathleen and Michelle explain, “We thought it had the best crust-to-filling ratio as opposed to [other shapes].” I agree. The fancifully fluted edges shore up a filling that’s a cross between shortbread and a coconut macaroon, the latter flavor of which is echoed in its coconut cap that’s at once sticky-chewy, buttery-crunchy. This one’s my favorite.
The tarts capped with cashews are the Salted Caramel Cassava Tartlets (P280, box of 8), a variation on the Cassava Tartlets.
It’s uncommon for local home bakers to present their own riff on a native treat but that’s what the sisters have done. Their Cassava Tartlets (P280, box of 8), draw reference to a cassava cake but – and here comes the twist – it’s enclosed in a crust suggestive of puff pastry. They love “… anything with puffed pastry or pie crust, something we both share with you, Lori.” (Wow, these girls aren’t kidding when they tell me that they read all my posts!) I love it when I meet fellow pie and pie crust lovers. I think the tarts can afford to be a bit more moist, sweeter too, but they’re showered with Parmesan, its characteristic saltiness pointing up the root crop’s rather subtle flavor. These are Boo’s favorite, and I’m lucky that I’m able to snatch just two away to shoot. The tarts have a very short shelf life however and must be eaten on the day of purchase; the flavor’s just not the same otherwise.
Yet another nod to local ingredients is J&J’s Adzuki Cream Cake (P600/8-inch round), shown here in a sampler size. Inspiration culled from a Korean store takes flight in rounds of sponge cake and fillips of cream. The red bean’s distinctive earthiness tumbles into the filling and frosting, and deep in the cake’s heart, finds its center: robust red bean flavor swathed in cream. The cake is so light, the flavors so delicate, that I need to keep my fork in it lest it fly off the table and float away.
A complete counterpoint to the whispery softness of the cake is the crackly crunch of the Lemon Pistachio Bites (P300, box of 30). An uncommon togetherness, pistachios pock and permeate the cookie while lemon zest perks it up.
I’m impressed with J&J’s range of desserts, definitely far from the usual and with a penchant for sophistication. “We want our customers to appreciate local ingredients [like the red bean and cassava] and see them in a different light,” Michelle avers. “In the same way, we also want [them] to savor ingredients that were once presumed to be very expensive, like pistachios, pecans, cranberries, as something now reachable to anyone.”
Of course no home baker’s line-up is complete without chocolate. The Black Beauty (P750, 8-inch cake) is riveting in name and appearance. Once revealed, it elicits a gasp from me. The cake looks back silent, smoldering – what enigma, surely edible, does it hold within? As if signaling its readiness to divest of its secrets, I touch its nubby exterior and crumbs begin to fall. My knife slides in – in reply, a freefall of crumbs and then … splatters of color. Mangoes, gilded in gold; kiwis glinting green, strawberries blushing shyly, and bananas bundled in yellow – all enmeshed in an edible eternity of cream cloaked in chocolate cake. Eating this is like eating clouds, layers of lightness interrupted only by subtle suggestions of chocolate and fruit. And to think that there’s a “blonde” counterpart to this cake aptly named Blonde Beauty. That, I want to try too and the Mango Princess.
Subtlety has its place in my eating life but sometimes nothing beats the purity of communication like a simple punch to the mouth – a punch of chocolate, that is. J&J’s Salted Caramel Brownies (P150, box of 10) – my god, even the name excites me already – fits the bill. Craggy fissures of darkness brim with caramel, pooling in puddles, brownies brooding brilliantly. A topcoat of crackle mantles unending moistness below. Bite, and the touch-tag of salty-sweet begins.
Joan & Jane by Cathleen Co and Michelle Chan
Product list and other information here.
Joan & Jane are also at the Salcedo Market every Saturday.