Kora Donuts in New York City is certainly one of the best known of this new wave of Asian-inspired dessert purveyors, and quite possibly one of the hardest to get your hands on. Launched in the summer of 2020, chef Kimberly Camara started Kora after being laid off from her job in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park. Fusing the flavors she grew up on and recipes from her Filipina grandmother with the all-approachable doughnut, Kora’s soon built a waitlist of more than10,000 fans intrigued by flan stuffed brioche doughnuts or the bright purple ube brioche doughnuts featuring the Philippine sweet bright purple yam both in the dough and in the ube custard filling. Ordering opens on Mondays at 3 p.m. and often sells out within minutes. Camara’s fine-dining pedigree shows in the complexity involved in each doughnut; one comes with calamansi (a Philippine citrus similar to lime) curd and poppy cream and is topped with calamansi glaze, torched meringue, and a graham crunch.
Courtesy of Bake Sum
Bake Sum in Oakland, Calif., is another story of a pandemic pivot, coming into its own via Instagram when pastry chef Joyce Tang, who honed her skills at the Michelin starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, saw her wholesale pastry business plummet when restaurants and cafés shuttered at the beginning of the pandemic. She rapidly built a following for creative pastries featuring nostalgic and fun flavors in unexpected ways. Available at-first only by the box, people could discover the classic Chinese scallion pancake transformed into a croissant, Japanese okonomiyaki (a typical Japanese savory pancake with cabbage, meat or seafood) reimagined as a Danish, ube flavored milk buns and regularly changing flavors of Hawaiian butter mochi — chewy sweet cakes made from glutinous rice flour and coconut milk. The venture was successful enough for Tang and her team to open their own brick-and-mortar location as they continue to expand hours and production.
Courtesy of Cafe Mochiko
Cafe Mochiko in Cincinnati specializes in Yōshoku cafe fare, a term that means “western foods” in Japanese cooking. While the dinner menu may feature more typical Japanese dishes, the pastries flex culinary boundaries. Here the croissant acts as a blank canvas, with its flaky pastry as the vehicle for showing off kimchi, cheese and a whole egg baked on top, or filled with ube jam and sweet yam cream. Leaning on Japanese ingredients, chewy mochi makes the base for a gluten-free coconut mochi doughnut topped with hard-crack caramel glaze. Even the seemingly traditional chocolate chunk scone or peanut butter cookie come with an accent; the first inflected with floral earl gray tea and the latter offset with savory miso.
Rose Avenue Bakery in Washington, D.C., describes itself as an Asian-American bakery, offering pastries that are fun, inventive and damn delicious. Having built a loyal following for their creative flavors in both savory and sweet applications, pre-orders sell out a week in advance for the filled doughnuts, cookies, cakes and other baked goods. Products range from the sweet guava mousse doughnut or champorado croissant based on a Filipino chocolate rice porridge typically eaten for breakfast to the savory Chinese sausage biscuits or Spam musubi croissants. Cookies come in matcha chocolate, Saigon cinnamon banana and black sesame swirl. Another popular treat is the ensaymada cruffin, a play on a soft Filipino bun usually topped with butter, sugar and grated cheese for a sweet and savory flavor, but Rose Avenue Bakery reinterprets it as a croissant in muffin form with cream cheese frosting.