Filipinas - The Magazine for All Filipinos

Simply Irresistible

November 2004 

By Dedette Sison-Santiago

Filipinas-Magazine-Nov-2004---1

Alice Ylagan-Navarro remembers having an abiding interest for baking when she was a teenager. Baking wasn’t just a hobby, it’s an art developed from long hours of training in the kitchen and laboring to produce a melt-in-your-mouth caramel cakes whose popularity has spanned more than five decades.

Now in her eighties, Navarro still lives and breathes the aroma of freshly baked cakes in her kitchen. She recalls days spent with her eldest sister, the late Estrella Ylagan, baking cakes.

Estrel’s Caramel Cakes isn’t just about cake—it’s all about traditional, fond memories, baking the “good old-fashioned-way.” It’s a business with humble beginnings.

In the late 40’s, Estrel’s started baking cakes for family and friends. Alice was a mainstay in her kitchen. “Manang Estrel would always coax me to help her so I would learn the proper way of baking cakes,” Alice recalls. By word of mouth, the popularity of Estrel’s Caramel Cakes spread and her reputation for using only quality ingredients grew. This paved the way for a small bakeshop along Lepanto Sreet in Manila. It came to be known as Estrel’s Caramel Cakes.
TwoLayer_Estrels__Caramel_Cake_Manila
“It was very labor-intensive,” says Alice who witnessed how Estrel manually beat the batter, cook the caramel icing and decorate the cake—a six hour activity to produce just one 8 x 12 inches cake.

Estrel’s caramel cake is always irresistible. For many, it has become a traditional choice for special occasions. The look is remarkably ‘50s: a fluffy chiffon cake draped with glossy sheen of caramel icing, decorated with perfectly-shaped roses in the palest shades of pink, blue, yellow and green and then embellished with white lace butter icing. The taste is never too creamy, never too sweet—a winning formula Estrel developed from a cake recipe she found from a box of cake flour.

Excellent Mentor

Estrel’s didn’t start out as a kitchen wiz. She learned the rudiments of cooking and baking from her aunt, the late Maria Ylagan Orosa who took her an assistant at the Plant Utilization Division of the Bureau of Plant Industry. Orosa, most remembered for her patriotism during the Japanese occupation, was also a culinary icon known for her love of good food and innovative recipes using native ingredients. She developed the Orosa Palayok Oven, a charcoal-fired oven that Estrel initially used to bake sponge cakes and jelly rolls.

Home-grown Business

Filipinas-Magazine-Nov-2004---2

As Estrel’s business got off the ground, Alice co-manage it and under her sister’s guiding hands, she, too, developed her baking skills. Alice found herself enjoying every baking hour. In time her children, Joy, Mia and Gina became involved in the kitchen too.

When Estrel died, Navarro kept the business going. Over the years, the original Estrel’s cake recipe remained unchanged, including the sizes, shapes and hues of the butter roses that adorn each cake. “ It has been our signature design and our clients from way back always feel nostalgic every time they order the same cake with the same taste, quality and look,” says Joy.” Tita Estrella’s clients like formers debutantes in the ‘50s still come to us for their birthday cakes and they’re always excited, reminiscing about their early days just by looking at the cakes.

The family produces the cakes from two kitchens now: one located on the second floor of Laperal Building along Recto Avenue in Manila (the base of Estrel’s Caramel Cakes since the ‘50s) and the other located in the family residence in Scout Tobias in Quezon City.

BlueRose_Estrel_Caramel_Cake

Joy , who resign from her job to concentrate administrative matters, boast the loyalty of kitchen staff of no more than 15, including their eldest baker Floring Carillo, 73, who refuses to retire. “ Manang Floring mixes colors for the butter roses in such a unique way that none  of us can duplicate,“ she states. “We train our staff well in order to produce the same quality of cake that Tita Estrel produced. Sometimes it takes a months of effort before one could perfect the butter roses,” attests Joy. Butter roses, she adds, are made only when the cake is ready, otherwise they will melt.

Although the family business has grown, the Navarros prefer to stay small and refuse to compromise quality over quantity. “Tita Estrel wanted a small business with a home-baked appeal and this is how the cake was known.” Joy states. And so today, even if everyone’s learning how to do things instantly with the aid of modern kitchen gadgets, Estrel’s keeps their cakes baked the “good old-fashioned-way.”