When Melody Lorenzo decided that she wanted her Oakland-based Filipino dessert business, Sweet Condesa Pastries, to sell pies, she knew she didn’t want to do the standard apple or pumpkin pies that she’d seen year after year at Thanksgiving celebrations in the Bay Area, even ones hosted by Filipino-American families. “Come on, let’s do something different,” Lorenzo says. “If I’m going to do pies, it has to represent my heritage — the flavors I grew up with and the people I grew up with.”
And so, this Thanksgiving, Sweet Condesa is unveiling a whole new lineup of pies that are unlike the any of the ones available at other local bakeries: an intensely purple-hued ube pie, a calamansi pie, bright with citrus acidity; and other more whimsical pies inspired by classic Filipino desserts like turon and halo-halo.
The pies are available for pre-order, to be picked up at Lorenzo’s production bakery in Oakland the day before Thanksgiving.
At first glance, Sweet Condesa’s timing hasn’t necessarily been ideal: Lorenzo quit her full-time job in February to devote herself to the three-year-old Filipino pastry business, which had been her side hustle since 2017. Of course, the coronavirus crisis hit just a month later — a devastating blow to the event catering portion of the business, including the 10 weddings that Lorenzo had planned to cater.
Probably best known for its tartlets, which come in Filipino flavors like ube flan, pandan meringue, and Brazo de Mercedes (Filipino-style roll cake), Sweet Condesa has developed a faithful following over the years, especially within the Filipino community. So, since Lorenzo already had a few pies in the rotation, that seemed like a logical place for her to apply her creativity during the pandemic, especially with the holidays coming up.
There is, in fact, a deeply rooted pie-eating culture back in the Philippines, Lorenzo says. Most notably, the islands are known for two kinds of pie: egg pie, which Lorenzo describes as being somewhat analogous to a Portuguese egg tart, and buko pie, a northern Filipino specialty filled with custard and young coconut.
Lorenzo’s pies, on the other hand, are wholly her own creations, inspired by her desire to put Filipino flavors in a package that would be familiar to American dessert lovers — something akin to a key lime pie, with a buttery graham cracker crust and cold, eggy custard fillings. Indeed, Sweet Condesa’s calamansi pie is probably the closest thing to a Filipino version of key lime pie, using the juice of the Philippine citrus fruit to strike “the perfect balance between sweet and tangy.” The pie tastes especially good when frozen, Lorenzo says.
The baker’s more recent creations are even more ambitious and fanciful in the way they play with the Filipino dessert canon. The halo-halo pie, for instance, blends all of the traditional components of the traditional shaved ice treat — the ube halaya, macapuno strips, jackfruit, assorted beans, and more — into the custard base, so that the eater still gets bits of the texture of those additions in each bite. And the turon pie is a kind of deconstructed version of the fried banana spring rolls: The custard takes on the flavor of a banana-and-jackfruit jam that Lorenzo makes, with a crunchy brulee topping emulating the texture of the fried lumpia wrapper.
Sweet Condesa is currently based out of the Jack London Square storefront of the French patisserie Miette, whose founder, Meg Ray, Lorenzo considers to be her mentor: Lorenzo’s introduction to baking was a three-day workshop that Ray taught back in 2008. Now, in addition to selling at the San Ramon farmers market two Saturdays every month, Sweet Condesa does scheduled pickups out of Miette (85 Webster Street in Oakland) for customers who place special orders.
For Thanksgiving, pre-ordered pies will be available for pickup on Wednesday, November 25, from 5 to 7 p.m., and five-inch miniature versions of the pies will be shipped out, frozen, for overnight delivery on November 23. The nine-inch, full-size pies cost $45 apiece, or customers can buy a pie duo for $80. The deadline to order is November 18, or whenever the bakery sells out. “There’s only two of us — me and my assistant,” Lorenzo says. “So there’s only so much we can make in reality.”