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Blog - How an Italian Loves... Filipino Desserts! My Top 7

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Some couple of months ago, I wrote a post about Filipino food listing my 10 favourite local recipes. The post was read by a lot of people, thanks especially to many shares on Facebook: more than 4000 shares as of this writing. We are pleased about it, since Filipino cuisine gives a lot of surprises although it is not too famous in the world. I actually ended the post saying I would have completed the list talking about desserts. And so, here you are!

First of all, you should know that Filipinos love sugar and everything sweet! The Philippines is a sugar-producing country, growing mainly in the islands of Negros, Luzon, Panay and Mindanao.  Plus, I often say that food to be successful in the Philippines should either be “crispy”,  “creamy”, or both! Like this, desserts, sweets and cakes are perfectly loved.


Apo Island, Negros Oriental, The Philippines. Photo: Tropical Experience.

For what I observed, most Filipino desserts either originated from the Spanish colonial tradition or made from typical natural products of South East-Asia, like rice cakes and coconut jellies among others, while some are interesting fusion of both. Nowadays you will also find American influence in the dessert menu: yummy and super-caloric chocolate cakes, fudge brownies, cookies, sundaes and so on.

I have to say already that I left Halo-Halo out of my chart, even if this is the most famous dessert of the Philippines. “Halo-halo” translated directly means “mix-mix”. I admit that is one of the few Filipino recipes that I don’t like much but it deserves to be mentioned because of its fame. It is something between a drink and a dessert, made with shredded ice as the base. Then, you  add sweet beans, various fresh and/or caramelized fruits (jackfruit, bananas, palm fruit, coconut strings, etc.) coloured jellies, sweet potatoes and other similar ingredients depending on your preferences, fantasy and recipes. On top, you place a couple of small slices of leche flan (caramel custard) and then finally add evaporated milk. It is very refreshing and it is the favourite Filipino dessert, especially for children. I learned to appreciate it anyway, and sometimes I have one on the beach or after a heavy meal (I find it quite digestive). Here in the picture it is served in a coconut shell, with a scoop of ube ice-cream on top (ube is a local sweet purple root).


The famous Halo-Halo. Photo: Tropical Experience.

It is time to begin the top7: these are the Filipino desserts I love most.

7. Brazo de Mercedes


Let’s start the top7 with a bomb: Brazo de Mercedes! This not-so-light dessert is a soft merengue roll with creamy caramel custard inside. The roll is like the length and circumference of a (healthy!) arm. This dish has Spanish origins with an interesting history. Its name means “Mercedes’ arm”, a name of a lady I don’t know about and I couldn’t find information about on the Internet. Anyway, the name comes from the quite similar Spanish recipe  “Brazo de Gitano” (Gipsy’s arm). They say also that this cake was discovered in a monastery in Egypt by an Italian monk, who brought the recipe in Spain, where it was initially known as “Brazo Egipciano” (Egyptian Arm). Curiously, you find it also in another former Spanish colony, Chile, with the name Brazo de Reyna (Queen’s arm).

6. Ensaymada


Ensaymadas are always welcome in our house!

This pastry is one of the most spread in the Philippines and, also in this case, it has Spanish origins. Particularly, “ensaimada” is a typical delicacy of Maiorca, in Spain. Filipino ensaymadas are round and very soft , quite sweet and the paste is moderately butterish. They are served with sugar sprinkles and grated cheese strips, whose salty flavor creates a good contrast with the sweet flavor. My favourite version has “dulce de leche” ,a caramel thick paste, in the core center. From the description, they seem to be quite heavy,  but it’s actually not. For me, it is a perfect sweet for breakfast, but it can also be great for… every hour!

5. Keso Sorbetes


Sorbetes in Luneta (Manila), a classic! Photo: Tropical Experience.

The sorbetes is the Filipino version of the ice-cream. The most notable variation from original ice-cream is the use of coconut milk instead of animal milk. Plus, they use to add cassava flour (cassava is a local kind of sweet potato). Sorbetes are usually home-made and are mostly sold on the streets, taken around by peddlers in hand-carried carts. They are usually served on a wafer cone where a surprising big amount of small scoop balls are piled up, with 3 different flavours. They come in mango, chocolate, coconut, kalamansi (local lime), ube (purple yam) and my favourite flavor:  Keso!

4. Turon with Banana and Langka


Me and a Jackfruit!

We could define Turon as the bigger and  sweet version of spring rolls. Inside this lightly caramelized crunchy wrap you will find the crispy-creamy texture match as already said is a Filipino classic. Fruits in this case are banana (“Saba” type, good for cooking) and langka, the jackfruit – a sweet and fragrant giant fruit common in South-East Asia. It is a very good snack and is not too heavy since the wrap cover is very thin and most of the ingredients are fruits. This is for sure a very tasty way to eat fruits!

3. Mango Float


We already dedicated a whole different post to the super-flavourful Filipino mangoes! And, if you’ve  ever tasted it in the Philippines, you cannot say you don’t like mango. Filipino mangoes are simply wonderful, the best mengoes in the world… this is my unbiased opinion.

Anyway, Mango Float is a popular refridgerator cake,whose main ingredients are condensed milk, cream, sweet “Graham” (honey-cinnamon-wheat)crackers and very juicy slices of Filipino mango. Sweet and refreshing, it is perfect after meals or as a snack…or for crazy midnight cravings! You can prepare your own following my wife Candice’s recipe here.

Anyway, Mango Float is a popular refridgerator cake,whose main ingredients are condensed milk, cream, sweet “Graham” (honey-cinnamon-wheat)crackers and very juicy slices of Filipino mango. Sweet and refreshing, it is perfect after meals or as a snack…or for crazy midnight cravings! You can prepare your own following my wife Candice’s recipe here.

2. Buko Pie (Coconut Pie)


Buko pie and kesong puti, two specialties of Laguna, near Manila. Photo: Tropical Experience.

This pie, for me,  is one of the best things in the Philippines! A specialty of Laguna, south of Manila, it has a thin, buttery flaky crust and cover. When you slice it, you will find inside soft shreds of fresh young coconut. The filling is made with coconut water and milk which gives natural sweetness. You should get them exclusively from the best bakeries of Laguna, where the original recipe was believed to be invented.

1. Sans Rival


My Sans Rival birthday cake!

And here’s the winner! My champion:  the Sans Rival! Of course, it is something not really dietetic, but too good not to make it to the top! How could it not win with this splurging butter feast? Sans Rival is prepared with layers of merengue, butter cream and cashew nuts. Creamy, sweet and crunchy. In the picture, you see it as my birthday cake!

I also appreciate its mini-version, called Silvanas, in which the dessert is made as a “cookie” with the same ingredients (the ideal size to avoid feeling guilty, unless you eat 4-5 of them in a row like I do). Sans Rival can be found in different versions in many bakeries and shops, even though quality is important in order to taste it with its authentic flavor.

Even better, travel to Dumaguete, where Sans Rival is their expertise. And since you are already there you can also swim with turtles at Apo Island, explore their lakes and do many other things.

After my top10 Filipino dishes post, now I’m done also with this top7 of desserts! How else can we go on with the explorations of Filipino food? I guess it is high time for you to come here and taste all these!

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(written on April 2015)

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