Philippine Daily Inquirer

The new home that Estrel’s caramel cake has built

Life Style Food
Philippine Daily Inquirer - Thursday, April 9, 2015
By Vangie Baga-Reyes

Walk-ins can now get hold any time of that pretty, light-as-air chiffon cake covered in silky caramel

ESTRELS’S has a new home. It’s bigger, brighter and classier, designed to accommodate more orders and walk-ins.
Think of it as the new house that caramel cake has built! The famous bakeshop, which opened in 1946 in Azcarraga (now Clao M. Recto), Manila, moved to Scout Tobias corner Scout Limbaga, Quezon City, in 2001. It was actually the house of founder Estrella Ylagan or Tita Estrel, as she was dearly called by family and friends.
On one side of the sprawling garden, a small shop was built where people could pick up their cakes; it was inconvenient for most customers to get their cakes at the gate especially when it was raining. The shop was so small it could fit only 10 people, with another small table for taking calls and orders. Estrel’s could only accept orders. There was no extra cakes for walk-ins.

Three-story structure

Phil Daily Inq Thu April 9 2015 Estrels kl

Now, with the new structure and spacious area on the same lot, more and more orders can be accommodated. And walk-ins can have the pretty and light-as-air chiffon cake covered in silky caramel, adorned with clusters of impeccably shaped butter roses, in pink, yellow, green and blue, any time. The 880-sq meter bungalow of Tita Estrel and the bakeshop were torn to give way to a three-story structure dedicated to the production of caramel cake. Construction took about 15 month under the supervision of architect Gelo Manosa. “We felt it was time to construct, because the layout of the house wasn’t ideal for big kitchen operations anymore” says Gina Navarro, who runs Estrel’s Bakeshop with her siblings Joy and Mia. Tita Estrel was the eldest sister of the Navarro siblings’ mom, Alice Ylagan Navarro.
Tita Estrel passed away in 1989, Alice in 2007. Some parts of the house, like the original adobe walls that used to divide the living and dining rooms, were retained. The adobe walls now stand beautifully by the bakeshop’s main door.

Smooth operation

Gina, a chef and food stylist, closely collaborated with the architect during construction.
I made sure the production area is according to what I wanted it t be---simple, clean, and with a smooth work flow. No divisions, but one big, well-organized box” she says. The first floor has the bakeshop, the pick-u counter and the area for talking orders. Huge clear-glass windows add a sunny ambience to the room, with wood flooring that gives a homey feel. The second floor is the production area, where the old and treasured Hobart electric mixer (used by Tita Estrel) is still in use. There’s an ample zone for baking, frosting and decorating. The employees’ lounge and dining area is on the third floor. There’s also a small kitchen for cooking meals for the employees. “We have a full-time cook to prepare meals for our staff,” says Joy. “The lounge is where they can relax and rest as well.” There’s also a large function room for meetings and gatherings.

Comfortable working area

Another reason for the construction is for our staff", adds Gina. “We want them to have a comfortable working area. It’s all for them because their work is very labor-intensive. The efficiency and performance of each person always depends on their work space.”
We are one company that doesn’t rely on high-tech facilities,” says Joy. “We treasure our people. Our production is still the old method, all by hand from folding to decorating. That’s why we take care of our people.”

All around the house, various painting in pastel hues were done by Mia, the artist in the Navarro family.
From the initial; handful of staff that Tita Estrel got to work with her, the manpower has now doubled and tripled.
We’ve always been faithful to Tita Estrel’s idea and kitchen methodologies---made-to-order, freshly baked from scratch every day, no preservatives and avoid producing in mass quantities. All our cake designs have Certificates of Copyright Registration. That said, treating employees well is a main ingredient in keeping loyalty.” Gina handles the maintenance, repairs and other technical aspect of the business, Joy, the daily operations; and Mia, the systems technology.
The Navarro siblings have been very grateful for the huge success of the business anchored and only one product.
We are just lucky,” says Gina. “It’s a tried-and-tested product. We don’t really have to have a long list of offerings other than the caramel cake. It’s always better to do a few but do it very well.”



“Best Desserts” book launch – a sweet treat in more ways than one

LifeStyle Food
Philippine Daily Inquirer - Thursday, February 6, 2014
By Vangie Baga-Reyes

Convention hall filled with desserts, and dessert-lovers

Wow, a whole convention center filled with sweet treats,” exclaimed Yvette Fernandez, Town & Country editor in chief, as she entered the SMX Convention Center at SM Aura for the launch of Inquirer Lifestyle’s first ever book, “Best Desserts.” Indeed, the convention center was packed not only with people, but also with dizzying array of desserts, from Belgian chocolate truffles, cakes and tortes to macarons and ice cream, spread out in tables dressed in rich, lovely colors with lampshades, flowers, balls and dainty cake pedestals as primary accents. More than 50 top dessert makes brought generous samplings of their best desserts, plus more samplings of other sweet treats for guests to partake and enjoy.



Best of the best: Inquirer list of top desserts is ‘worth the calories’

Philippine Sunday Inquirer - Sunday, February 2, 2014
By Cathy Yamsuan

CARAMEL cake of roses by Estrel’s stands out during the launching of the INQUIRER’s Best Desserts list at SM Aura. Phil-Daily-Inq-Thu-Feb-2-2014-Estrels-kl

NOT TOO long ago, baker Judah Liu spent two to three hours making marshmallow cakes at home. The cakes were a hit with friends and baking was a hobby that served her well. But when Liu started selling her products at the weekend bazaar of a posh mall in Makati City, people noticed instead her not-too-sweet caramel cake with its trademark miniature pink icing flowers. The cake was good enough for this newspaper’s editors to take notice and for Liu to earn a page in the INQUIRER Lifestyle “Best Desserts” (The Most-Read Ultimate List),” the section’s first-ever book launched on Thursday night in a well-attended fair at SM Aura Premier in Taguig City.
Written by INQUIRER food writer Vangie Baga-Reyes, the tome features more than 90 cakes, pastries, pies and ice cream culled from Ilocos Sur to Davao provinces.
Liu, the force behind Pasteleria Costa Brava, was initially unaware of making it to the list featured every year, he first of which was released by the lifestyle section in 2008.
This was because the list, anticipated every year by foodie circles, was neither an intentional effort nor part of any aggressive marketing strategy.
INQUIRER Lifestyle editor Thelma Sioson San Juan said she asked Reyes to write the first list six years ago after nothing “how readers and friends would always inquire about what sweet goodies to buy and where.” Not only was the first “Best Desserts” list (or the List) “ wellread, “ San Juan noted.
“It also became a most visible merchandise signage … for independent bakers [like Liu],” she said.
“the List has been posted in many places, from malls…



60 years of baking

Lifestyle - October 12, 2006
By Reggie Aspiras

Who will ever forget the caramel cakes? I won’t, I grew up with them. My most vivid memories are of the cakes laden with large, rich butter cream roses. It’s a luxury that I have managed to sustain for 38 years. And Estrel’s had already been in the business for over two decades before I was born. They are now celebrating their 60 year and even today their caramel cakes still taste like those my lola served many years ago. To Estrel’s, congratulations and may we be fortunate enough to enjoy your cakes for another 60 years!
Estrel’s is at Scout Tobias St., QC, tel. 3722965.



The City's 20 yummiest (privately baked) Cakes

Lifestyle - July 3, 2008

By Vangie Baga-Reyes 

Caramel Cake

Come-on: To lust for, this melting, light chiffon cake under a blanket of glossy caramel is charmingly adorned with butter cream flowers in lovely colors. Makes for a pretty centerpiece. Cost: P550 for eight-inch round cake with caramel filing and P500 without filing.

Order two days in advance.

Creator: Estrel’s
Call: 3722965 0r 3717938
Address: 54 Scout Tobias St. corner Scout Limbaga, Barangay Laging Handa, QC.

It’s piece of (caramel) cake!

Lifestyle - April 28, 2004
By Cheryl Tiu
2bU! Correspondent

Phil.-Daily-Inquirer-Lifestyle-Estrel-2004---1One of my best friends’ birthday was coming up, and a mutual friend texted me and suggested that we give her a cake from Estrel’s.

At the time, I was still unfamiliar with the name, but my friend adamantly insisted that it was “really good.” Sure enough, come my friend’s birthday, she thanked me profusely and gushed about how the cake was “soooo good.”

So what is the place that made two of my friends drool in delight?


Estrel’s Caramel Cakes was established in 1946 by the late Estrella Ylagan. Her hobby and love for baking led her to concoct a culinary masterpiece. She sourced a chiffon cake recipe from a box of cake flour, improvised from there, and basked it in silky caramel icing. The result has been a perennial bestseller.

Or let’s put it this way: as soon as I sank my teeth into the fluffy chiffon cake delectably adorned by the golden caramel icing, I savored the bliss for as long as I could, before I reflexively (almost impatiently) dug my fork right back into the box of cake. Never mind that I broke all rules of decorum, the cake was too divine to ignore!

Estrel’s is currently run full-time by Joy (niece) and Alice (sister) to Tita Estella. A part from their best-selling caramel icing, they also have chocolate (traditionally created as a milk-based icing) and butter (made from pure, though undersweet butter).

In contrast to most commercial cake shops, Estrel’s creations are made-to-order. It is necessary to pre-order the cakes at least one day in advance to ensure their freshness.

Cakes are baked on the day before they are set to be picked up and the expiration date is indicated on a sticker, especially since the shop does not make use of any preservatives. Sometimes, some batches are made available for walk-in customers, but we warned that these are always sold out.

“[I would liken our cakes] to eating a homemade cake, baked by someone in the family who can do it really well, like aunt or lola—to satisfy something you’re craving for,” says Joy. To achieve this homemade flavor, all of Estrel’s cakes are baked by hand and the production size is kept really small.

Trademark decor


Estrel’s is also known for its trademark cake décor of colorful roses, each one dexterously crafted from butter and very soft and fragile to the touch (as opposed to the hard, sugar roses produced by commercial cake shops).

Some non-cake best-sellers include chocolate-chip cookies, which, with their oatmeal-and walnut base, come off crisp and crunchy. The leche flan, meanwhile, is baked (as opposed to most other leche flans which are steamed), resulting in a richer, fuller flavor. The shop also offers apple square and food for the gods.

Beside the shop, Joy’s sister, Gina, runs a creative culinary school. Classes for adults are run all the year, with professional chefs like Seiji Kamura (Seiji), Don Alba (Alba) and Nick Anderson (Cafe Provencal) holding classes.

During the summer, classes are offered for children, and Gina herself conducts classes, supplemented by her cookbook creation, “Cooking and Baking for Kiddie Chefs,” published by ABS-CBN Publishing.

Another sister, Mia, based in California, also bake and sells made-to-order cakes on weekends. But Joy says there are so good that some customers have purchased them in Manila only to hand-carry them to USA!

“My Tita's philosophy has always been that she doesn’t want anything to be commercial; she doesn’t want mass- produced bake products,” she adds. “We’ve been faithful to that philosophy by continuing the tradition.” Estrel’s caramel Cakes-Creative Culinary School is located at 54 Scout Tobias, Barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City (a couple of blocks from Timog). Call 3722965 and 3717938.


The old world charm of baking by hand

Lifestyle - February 13, 2003 -

By Elsie Kalaw-Santos Inquirer_Philippines_Estrel_2003 IN THE LAST seven years, my friend and former colleague Gina Navarro has become the author of a special birthday treat for me.

Its is a box of Estrel’s caramel Cake, a chiffon cake under a blanket of glossy caramel, bedecked with the cluster of perfectly shaped butter roses in the shades of pink, blue and yellow. The cake is sooo-o pretty, I always hesitate to cut through the flawless set light brown icing. When I do, I set aside the roses that may be in the way of the knife—to be devoured when no one is looking.

Estrel’s cake has never disappointed over these years that I’ve savored it on my birthday or some other special occasion. It is consistently soft and fine in texture, flavorful with just a tinge of sweetness and never too creamy. Often I got my cake with the icing still warm and just beginning to settle. All Estrel’s cake are baked just before they are claimed.

Home-baked appeal

Estrel was Gina’s aunt, Estrella Ylagan, the eldest sister of her mother, Alice Ylagan Navarro.

Tita Estrel had a keen interest in cooking even as a child, a trait not uncommon among the Ylagans. Her cooking skills were honed under the tutelage of master cooks, including the late Maria Ylagan Orosa, an aunt. Most people now remember her for her patriotism during the Japanese occupation (for which she was executed by enemy forces), but Maria Y. Orosa was better known while she was alive for her culinary skills and love for good. She was credited for having developed the Orosa oven, a charcoal-based clay oven (palayok is how Alice refers to it) that Estrel initially used to bake her cake.

By hand

That Estrel’s caramel cakes consistently please the eyes and the palate is no accident. Rather , it is a product of craftsmanship, which is at the core of every folk art.

After the last war, bakers did not have much to work with except their hands, and that was how Estrel made her caramel cakes. She patiently beat the cake batter manually and then continuously stirred the caramel icing as it was cooking over just the right amount of heat.

Gift_Cake_Estrels_PhilippinesMost taxing was the manual creaming of the butter and sugar to make the butter roses. The mixture had to be beaten till the sugar was completely dissolved and a stiff consistency was achieved. The persistence resulted in the formula for caramel icing and butter roses that had the perfect blend and flavor, much improved from the original chiffon cake recipe that she copied from a box of cake flour. In 1949, very confident in the goodness of her cake, she set up a bakeshop on Lepanto Street in Manila.

Even when electric mixers became regular appliances in kitchens, Estrel did not use them because electronic beating of the mixtures would not produce the soft and fine texture of her cake.

"Tita Estrel never dreamt to be big. She didn't want a commercial bakeshop that would go into mass production. She knew that if she went into mass production, she would be forced to use preservatives and emulsifiers on the cake," recalls Gina.

Nothing but the best

And this is one feature of Estrel cakes: Real eggs, milk and butter are used in favor of emulsifiers or artificial eggs and flour that facilitate baking in big volumes. The cakes also have no preservatives. That’s why Estrel’s cakes are best eaten on the day they are baked. If refrigerated, Gina says, the cakes would last another two days. The cakes also have no additives or artificial flavorings; their flavors are the natural result of the mix of real, high-quality ingredients.

No one better understands the uncompromising stance of Tita Estrel in the kitchen than Alice Navarro and her daughters, Joy, Gina and Mia, all of whom underwent rigorous training in the kitchen under Tita Estrel in her own time.

Estrel’s Caramel Cake (tel. 372-2965) is now managed by Alice with the help of Joy and Gina.

It is primarily in deference to Tita Estrel’s passion for perfection and high standards that Estrel's cakes are not mass-produced.  There has been no change in the recipe and, inspite of the high cost of ingredients, no attempt to skimp on quality. Gina attests that into each cake goes seven super jumbo eggs, two bars of Anchor butter, and a significant does of full cream milk.

Two kitchens

The cakes are now baked in two kitchens. The first is located on the second floor of the Laperal Apartments along Recto Avenue fronting San Sebastian College. This has been base of Estrel’s Caramel Cake since 1950s. Many suki still pick up their cakes from this outlet.
The second kitchen, located in the family residence at 54 Scout Tobias (corner Scout Limbaga) in Quezon City, has been in operation only in the last two years. In the same address now stands a smart-looking, homey shop where clients pick up their orders.

Six hours’ labor


The shop’s staff of 14—10 in the Scout Tobias kitchen and four in the Recto kitchen—have been trained in the arduous process of making caramel cake. The process is Gina admits, painful to the hands and arms, especially for beginners.

Inspite of the tiring process, the family boasts of having the loyalty of several of their staff. Their eldest baker, Floring Carillo, now 72 has been with the bakeshop for the past 51 years and refuses to retire. Floring’s batchmates were in the employ of the bakeshop until they passed away.

Producing one cake is labor-intensive, explains Gina. “Everyone in our staff has to be skilled, otherwise we cannot produce the cake of Tita Estrel. There are times we reject the output of our staff because it is not at par with Tita Estrel’s standards,” says Gina.

It takes a total of six hours to produce one 8 x 12 inches cake. This includes the beating of the batter. Then there’s the cooking of the caramel icing and pouring it while still hot on the cake. The angle of pouring has to be accurate so that the icing naturally flows on the entire surface and on all the sides of the cake. This natural flow of the icing accounts for the glossy finish of the caramel topping.

When the caramel topping is done, the decorators start to pipe out pastel shades of butter roses. These roses cannot be stocked or they’d melt. They are made only when the cake is ready.

Several times, the Navarro women have had to assess the wisdom of ignoring the use of electric appliances to facilitate and therefore increase production. However, they always come up with the same answer: Tita Estrel never wanted a big business and her cake should always have the home-baked appeal.

Best of the best: Inquirer list of top desserts is ‘worth the calories’