BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | FEBRUARY 2022
At some point in linguistic history, the word dessert was derived from a French verb meaning “to clear the table.” What was being removed were the soiled dinner plates and cutlery in order to make way for the luscious cakes, pies, pastries and other sweet treats that we all try to save room for because they are our favourites.
There aren’t many food cultures that don’t prepare some sort of sweet for serving at the end of a delicious meal. While there are many desserts to choose from at the wide range of restaurants in Waterloo Region, here a few sweet – and possibly unique – selections for you to savour.
Kusina Sugbo Cakes and Pastries – Ube Cake
The food and restaurant scene continues to evolve, and one kind of food that has seen a growing prominence in Waterloo Region is Filipino fare, including its baking.
You can find cakes and other sweets at Nuestro 88, Sari-Sari and at Gayuma Catering, a food operation that prepares Asian fusion dishes from its Filipino base: “gayuma” means “love charm,” or “anything that attracts.”
Part of the attraction is that Gayuma has teamed up with Kusina Sugbo, a team of sisters named Jamie and Joanna Undag, who came to Waterloo Region from Quebec and have been baking here since June, 2021. They offer a range of unique cakes and pastries, including Japanese cheesecake, mango cake, taro cake and coconut macaroons. You can order their baked goods through Gayuma or their website.
“Our specialty is ube cake,” according to Jamie. “It’s our grandmother’s recipe. We lived on agricultural land in Philippines, and there was a lot of ube available. My grandmother used to pick it fresh.”
A root plant that is also called purple yam, the ube has a flavour like sweet potato but nuttier “and with coconut undertones,” adds Jamie. She says their two-layer ube cake is made with powdered ube, that they specifically import from Philippines, along with sugar, flour, eggs, butter and coconut milk. “The filling is called halaya, which is a purple jam made with ube powder, milk, sugar and flour. It gets cooked gently for a long time. The cake is then iced with a buttercream.”
Café du Monde Crêperie – Sinfully Delicious dessert
Nadia Cleo Dragusanu, owner-operator of Café du Monde on Coronation Boulevard in Cambridge, lets sweetness run wild with her Sinfully Delicious dessert. But first, she had to assert her restaurant and catering company’s primary ingredient: the famous crêpe of French cookery and how it works as a foundation for virtually any combination of savoury or sweet dishes.
“You don’t hear about crêpes a lot, but they are very versatile and are a space to run wild in. We had all the ingredients in the kitchen, and I just put this dessert together one day,” says Dragusanu.
The crêpe, brownie, chocolate ice cream, chocolate ganache and caramel are all made in house, she says. And the dessert is something that is addictive. “I had a sample, and I couldn’t stop,” she says.
“Once word got out on social media and customers started trying it, they started seeing how much is going on in the dessert. So we asked our followers to send in their favourite name for the sweet, and we picked Sinfully Delicious,” she says adding that it’s advised to not be too proper while enjoying something so delicious and rich.
“It’s best to make a mess of the entire dish before eating it because that really brings out the flavours.”
Jake & Humphreys’ Bistro – Poppy Seed Angel Food Cake
Baker and co-owner chef Janet Duncan prepares poppy seed angel food cake with grape rosewater sorbet and cranberry caramel sauce: it’s a dessert which captures some food science in the baking process, as well as sentimental note or two. As for why she picked angel food for the restaurant, a business she co-owns with chef and partner Klaus Ristanovic, the times demanded it.
“Why the poppy seed angel food cake? When we first opened in 2010, the trend was no dairy,” Duncan says. “And along with the ingredients you need a special angel cake pan. And I have a few of those.”
Duncan explains the chemical reaction and culinary magic that happens with the cake. It starts with 12 ounces of egg whites at room temperature, a pinch of cream of tartar and a capful of orange flower water. “We beat it on high with a whisk attachment until a medium peak is reached and gradually add one cup of white sugar – very slowly, or the whites will never get thick and glossy,” she says.
Icing sugar then gets folded in along with flour and two tablespoons of poppy seeds. It’s baked at 375′ F for 20 minutes and then turned around and baked for another 20 minutes. The cake will puff up and settle back down, be golden brown on top and spring back when lightly touched, Duncan says. The cake and pan together are inverted to cool.
“It’s 2022 and we still serve it as no dairy, but we added poppy seeds because we had them,” adds Duncan. However, the science and the special technique aside, the dessert has special meaning for Duncan too.
“We add a passion fruit caramel sauce that was the recipe of late local chef Sarah Sharkey, along with grape and rosewater sorbet. This is now my mom’s favourite cake for dessert. She’ll be 90 years old in July.”
The Pulao Gals – Gulab JamunIt is a grave culinary disservice to call the gulab jamun a “soaked doughnut,” but that’s the first thing that jumps to mind as a quick and easy description for Zerka Mya, one half of east-end downtown Kitchener’s Pulao Gals, a halal Pakistani venue that also specializes in food of the Pashtuns.
“It’s a popular treat in many southeast Asian countries,” Mya says of the gulab jamun. “And, yeah, it is kind of like a soaked doughnut, essentially. One of my friends calls it a Timbit on steroids.”
The treat, however, has a bit more complexity than the popular coffee-shop snack. Often called the national dessert of Pakistan, the gulab jamun is a milk solids-based kneaded and soft dough that is made in house by the Gals. Shaped into balls and fritter-like, the gulab juman is then deep-fried and takes a very pleasant and enticing bath in a sugar syrup.
Mya says their gulab jamun cheesecake cup draws on a bit of tartness to give the dessert its roundness and balance.
The Pulao Gals’ desserts are examples of fusion sweets in which they introduce the western palate to southeast Asian ingredients and flavours.
“Even though it was too sweet for many of my friends while I was growing up here, they are very popular. As for the gulab jamun cheesecake cup, we garnish each one with a tiny rose, which people really love.”
Red House – Vegan Fudge Brownie
The chef behind Red House’s vegan fudge brownie is Jenn Parkin: she’s combined a brownie with a dark chocolate ganache, the earthy-sweetness of brûléed banana, marshmallow fluff and some divine tonic-macerated raspberries that are a slight balancing tartness to the symphony of sweetness.
“Customers were asking for vegan desserts besides just a sorbet,” according to Parkin who has pastry training and experience. “With its pureed black beans, the vegan brownie is nice and moist with the richness of cake. The beans are a good substitute for eggs, and then we add brown sugar and the marshmallow, which is made with chickpea water and sugar.”
Parkin pulls out her blow torch to brûlée some bananas with sugar to a golden brown and adds raspberries, which pulls out all the stops for a rich and satisfying vegan dessert, according to Parkin.
“This version is just like a traditional fudgy brownie,” she says. “You wouldn’t notice the difference if we didn’t tell you.”
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.