Manila Bulletin

Manila-Bulletin-Logo_EstrelsLifestyle - August 27, 2008
By Karla Rey

Photographs by William Ong

Charmed by Caramel

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How good is this made-to-order caramel cake for it to be touted as one of the best cakes? It has been in business since 1946 and has thrived without any paid advertising. Despite moving from Recto to Scout Tobias in Quezon City, clients would still drive all the way from Alabang just to pick up a cake or two. It is so good that those who had it for their 18th birthday chose it for their wedding and for their daughter’s debut. This caramel cake is sooo good that it has converted this non-caramel lover into a fan and has made a photographer who avoids desserts that are not sugar-free, finish a whole slice without any feeling of guilt.

Estrel's bakeshop, owned and managed by the Navarro sisters—Joy , Gina and Mia—makes one of those desserts that you just can't resist. This lovely cake of soft chiffon under a delicate blanket of glossy caramel is light, not too sweet. Every cake from the shop is beautifully decorated and makes for a pretty centerpiece. Elaborate butter cream flowers carefully hand-piped, set on the caramel icing, somehow has a look that is distinctly its own. “If you are an Estrel’s customer, chances are you will recognize our cake if you see one at a party. Sometimes, it is our customers who inform us that they saw our cake in TV or in a photo in some publication,” says Joy, the eldest of the three.

The recipe is of their Tita Estrella Ylagan who started it after the liberation as a home-based business originally on Lepanto St., then moved to Azcarraga, now known as Recto. "My mom Alice, then single, along with her sisters and other relatives, used to do all the baking steps by hand.” Mixers were not available yet. Even so, to this day, batter mixing and folding are done the traditional way, by hands. A year or so after Estrel’s opened in Quezon City they started baking extra cakes for walk-ins. These extra cakes are sold out before the store closes. Now with the home functioning as a kitchen and a separate small shop was built nearer the gate, the bakeshop now also offers a few other goodies. “We also have Food for the Gods, Baked Leche Flan, oatmeal- based Apple Squares and Chocolate Chips Walnut Cookies. In the past, we just baked these items as personal gifts to relatives and friends.”

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The Navarro sisters grew up with the business, and as young girls, they were asked by their Tita Estrella to do chores in the kitchen. While all three sisters can bake and decorate cakes, each one has a unique contribution to the business.  But all three sisters recognize their mother, Alice, as an important factor in the success of Estrel’s. "Our mother, who recently passed away, paved the way by showing us the value of hard work and love for the family. Even in her eighties, she worked tirelessly everyday until a few days before she passed away."

So what is the secret? “We are sticking to the same recipe that was handed down to us. We are not changing anything. For example, I cannot recall now how long we have been using Alaska. We use fresh eggs and fresh butter. No preservatives. No shortcuts,” says Joy.

It is by the design that they focus only on a few products but make sure that they do them right. They would rather keep just one kitchen instead of having problems with product consistency. Never mind if it’s not sugar-free and if one has to order it at least a day before. Or that it cannot kept longer than 24 hours at room temperature. Because with the cake this luscious and this light, a single slice will get you hooked for life.