Home bakers are a cornerstone of the content generated on this site, and I’ve featured over a hundred home bakers in the 12 years since I began Dessert Comes First. This time, I’m honored to have a member of the DCF Creative Team, Kris, write about a most remarkable home baker, her lolo. Cipriano, a most dignified name for an undoubtedly dignified man and talented baker, Kris describes him with such affection that I can’t help but wish that I could’ve met him as well. As for that sans rival which Kris now makes so masterfully, it’s a contrast of crisp and chewy meringue rounds. Each layer is swathed in the silkiest buttercream scented with a glimmer of vanilla, a timeless dessert embracing the flavor memories of yesterday and today. – Lori
If sans rival were a man, it probably wouldn’t be a heartthrob. For the most part all sans rivals look the same, save for the kind of nut garnish (cashew, pistachio, macadamia) or piping it has. But it would be the kind of cake that oozes with a lot of sex appeal IMHO, one that can win you over with its charm and personality once you get to know it.
I grew up in a house where sans rival was a big part of the family tradition. It was our celebratory cake for every occasion, and the staple dessert for no occasion. My grandfather (lolo), Cipriano, would make sans rival so often that our kitchen regularly smelled like toasted kasuy and meringue baking in the oven. And if you’ve ever made sans rival before, you’d know that’s a deadly combination… it smells incredible.
See, my lolo was the kind of person who liked to make things. When my dad was little, lolo would make him toy “cars” out of tin cans that he could pull with a string. I suppose that’s why baking came naturally to him despite not having any formal training. He was a D.I.Y. kind of guy. When he wasn’t tinkering with the garden, or fixing something at home that sometimes didn’t even need fixing, you’d find him painting.
He and my grandmother (lola), started a nameless home baking business in the ‘60s making sans rival, chocolate cake, and orange chiffon cake using recipes my lola found in an old magazine. Lolo, being the way that he was, tinkered with the recipes and tweaked them to his own style; lola would bake the cakes; he would supervise.
Of the three cakes they sold, sans rival won the popular vote. Not a lot of home bakers baked it back then, unlike the more common chocolate and chiffon cakes. So addicting (so they say) was his sans rival that guests who came to visit would make a beeline for the refrigerator! And when the business picked up a few years later, Christmases were a frenzy because their 2-person operation struggled to keep up with the demand.
I remember many mornings waking up to lolo standing over our trusty old KitchenAid mixer (which is still alive to this day, by the way) spatula in hand, whipping a fresh batch of eggs for the meringue. His recipe is actually pretty simple. It’s old school sans rival, tweaked and fine-tuned, until it became exactly how we all enjoyed it. Not too sweet, generously laden with cashews, and above all else, makunat (chewy).
His sans rival always had a stack of nutty meringue that was firm on the outside and chewy underneath, bursting with cashew flavor. The buttercream was rich and decadent, mostly because it used real butter, never margarine. When I was little he would teach us how to etch the fork marks by hand onto the icing, before he sprinkled chunks of cashew on top. What he made, eventually, became the gold standard of sans rival for everyone in our family. It was how we felt all sans rival should be like.
When lolo died in 2010, I didn’t realize how huge a cult following sans rival in general had until last year, when we decided to revive his recipe on a whim. This was prompted by years of “the best sans rival in Manila” being the topic of many conversations over dinner. Everyone had a favorite sans rival somewhere. And in some of those conversations, my husband would hear our friends and family gush about how much they missed my lolo’s version. And so, after a lot of prodding—and out of my husband’s sheer curiosity, he being a sans rival fan as well—we dug up Lolo’s original recipe and started experimenting.
It’s not rocket science to make sans rival, but let me also tell you, it’s not easy. My lolo was no chef, so the handwritten recipe he left behind took a whole lot of reading between the lines. His icing, which is a French buttercream, was difficult to perfect because it’s highly temperature-sensitive at various states of preparation. We went through three dozen egg yolks the first time we made it (and later, two candy thermometers) just to get the consistency right. Thankfully, many of those who have tasted our buttercream say the icing is to die for!
Now more than a year later, after A LOT of trial and error, Cipriano Sans Rival was born. Again. As a treat to those who once enjoyed it, and a tribute to my lolo whom we miss everyday. When Manila Bulletin named our sans rival one of the best desserts of 2016, it made our year. As with anything done with passion (and a little bit of obsession), the late nights folding in the cashews by hand, and painstakingly decorating each sans rival with just a fork in tow, were all worth it. My hope is that we have done him proud.
Cipriano Sans Rival
39 Firefly St. Valle Verde 6 Pasig.
To order, text or call 0917 583 6833 two days in advance, pickup only.
For more details, visit Cipriano on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ciprianosansrival/).