While hip pastry chefs across North America are now incorporating vegetables into their desserts (beet panna cotta anyone?), Asian sweet shops have long been baking sugary veggie-filled pastries.
We’ve gone exploring around Richmond to find sweet ways to eat your vegetables. Here’s what we discovered:
Taro cakes for sale at Mega Bakery in Continental Centre. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
When you bite into the taro cake from Mega Bakery in Continental Centre (3779 Sexsmith Rd.), nothing about the light sponge cake says “vegetable.” Except perhaps the stripes of purple taro that are woven through the sweet and delicate slices.
Taro, a starchy root vegetable that when whole can resemble a long brown potato, is used in China and Taiwan in both sweet and savoury dishes. In Mega Bakery’s Taro Cakes ($1.80/slice), the taro may add moistness, but it primarily helps give the cake its vibrant colour.
Taro Pastries from Kam Do Bakery. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Another lavender-coloured sweet to sample is the Taro Pastry ($1.65) at Kam Do Bakery (6211 No 3 Rd.). It’s flaky on the outside, with a dense, slightly sweet taro paste within.
Ube Macapuno Cake from Kumare Bakery. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
2. Sweet Potato
If taro gives baked goods a gentle violet hue, ube—a Filipino sweet potato—creates full-on purple fantasies.
Ube is a key ingredient in many Filipino desserts, from baked goods to ice cream. At Kumare Restaurant and Bakery (8130 Park Rd), you can tuck into a piece of Ube Macapuno cake ($4.50/slice). It’s a vivid purple cake, layered with fluffy, creamy frosting and slivers of macapuno (a jelly-like sweetened coconut).
Ube Ensaymada at Kumare Bakery. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
This purple yam also makes the filling for Kumare’s Ube Ensaymada ($2.50), a sweet bun stuffed with ube paste.
Maple Castella Bakery’s uber popular “Pumpkin” Loaf. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
You’d better call in advance if you’d like to bring home a pumpkin bread from Maple Castella. This popular loaf—called Nangua Tusi (“Pumpkin Toast”) in Mandarin—is made with Kabocha squash, and it’s a bestseller at this Taiwanese bakery (8700 McKim Way).
This soft, slightly sweet white bread ($5.50 for a half-loaf, $11 for a full loaf) has ribbons of golden squash running through the loaf, which is topped with pumpkin seeds. Take it home, and toast it for a deliciously addictive breakfast or afternoon snack.
But remember: come early in the day or phone first to order a loaf.
Red bean cakes fresh from the oven at Kam Do Bakery. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Sweetened bean pastes are common fillings in Chinese and Japanese baked goods, as local food writer Stephanie Yuen explains in her book, East Meets West. And sweet pastries filled with beans are another reason to stop for a snack at Kam Do Bakery.
A flaky Red Bean Pastry from Kam Do Bakery. (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Their Red Bean Pastries are flaky disc-shaped sweets with a smooth and sugary burgundy-hued bean paste inside.
Green bean pastry from Kam Do Bakery (PHOTO: CAROLYN B. HELLER)
Kam Do also makes a rounder Green Bean Pastry stuffed with a thick sweet bean paste. Neither the red or green bean varieties ($1.65 each) taste particularly bean-like, but the legumes give the filling a dense, creamy texture.
At Peanuts, a bubble tea shop in the Richmond Public Market (8260 Westminster Hwy.), there’s another specialty besides bobo drinks. Tucked into a corner of the stall is an appliance that resembles a waffle iron, and the pastries that come from this waffle maker are called Che Lung Bing (60 cents each, four for $2.25, or eight for $4), literally “Car Wheel Cakes.”
The exterior of these round, wheel-shaped sweets tastes something like a waffle, and they come with an assortment of fillings, including peanuts, coconut, red bean and cheese. But you can also choose one stuffed with shredded radish, which gives a savoury crunch to the sweet pastry.
Tip: The car wheel cakes get soggy quickly, so eat them while they’re hot.
And the next time mom or dad says, “Eat your vegetables,” maybe you can suggest a bean pastry, radish waffle, or slice of sweet potato cake instead.