At This Oakland Bakery, Filipino Christmas Comes in the Form of a Pie

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Slices of a custard pie on plates, laid out on top of a Christmas-themed evergreen tree backdrop.
The bibingka pie is Sweet Condesa's reinterpretation of the classic Filipino holiday treat. (Rezel Kealoha)

Melody Lorenzo remembers that after Christmas mass every year when she was growing up in the Philippines, vendors would gather outside the church to sell steaming hot bibingka—coconut rice cakes baked over charcoal, in terra cotta pots lined with banana leaves. The vendors would top the cakes with butter, salted egg and freshly shaved coconut. “You’d eat it hot and fresh,” Lorenzo recalls.

Now the proprietor of Sweet Condesa, an Oakland-based pastry and dessert business, Lorenzo wanted to bring that childhood Christmas memory to life for her customers—especially Filipino customers who haven’t been able to travel back to their homeland during the pandemic. But instead of serving the traditional rice cakes, Lorenzo will work in her chosen medium this holiday season: She’s making graham cracker–crusted custard pies inspired by the flavors of bibingka and other classic Filipino holiday treats like queso de bola.

The pies are available for pre-order starting on Dec. 3, with holiday pickup dates in San Francisco and Oakland on Dec. 23 and 24, respectively.

Slice of purple pie topped with shaved coconut on wooden plate.
The puto bumbong pie incorporates black glutinous rice into its custard base. (Rezel Kealoha)

Sweet Condesa first came to prominence last year, at the peak of the pandemic, when Lorenzo released her first lineup of Filipino-inspired pies just in time for the holidays—unique creations like a halo-halo pie, a key lime-like calamansi pie and an ube pie that’ll give any Thanksgiving pumpkin pie a run for its money. (That one remains Sweet Condesa’s best-seller.) “You cannot find pies like this anywhere else,” Lorenzo says—though she says she’s subsequently seen other Filipino bakeries jump on the trend.

The Christmas pies are deconstructed versions of the original desserts with a custard base. The bibingka pie, which she introduced last year, features a coconut custard that Lorenzo tops with cheese and salted egg—“just to kind of mimic that original flavor,” she says.

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This year, Lorenzo is also introducing two new flavors. The queso de bola pie features the iconic red wax–wrapped semi-hard cheese—Edam cheese from the Netherlands—that serves as the centerpiece of a traditional Filipino Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve feast. Traditionally, you’d just cut slices of the cheese and eat them inside a warm pan de sal bread roll, maybe with a slice of good ham. “Queso de bola is the star of Christmas,” as Lorenzo puts it. For her queso de bola pie, she simply grates the cheese into and on top of the custard base, creating a pleasant salty-sweet effect.

Another holiday pie draws its inspiration from puto bumbong, a kind of purple rice cake that’s steamed inside bamboo tubes. Lorenzo’s pie interpretation incorporates grains of black glutinous rice in the custard, and the whole thing gets topped with the traditional puto bumbong garnishes: shredded coconut, muscovado sugar and sesame seeds.

Sweet Condesa’s ube pie—the bright-purple perennial favorite—will also be available.

Given that many non-Filipinos may have never heard of puto bumbong or queso de bola, Sweet Condesa’s customer base tends to be predominantly Filipino. But Lorenzo says she’s taking the holidays as an opportunity to reach out to a more diverse market. 

“Maybe you teach customers about the history or origins of the dish,” Lorenzo says. “The more you educate them about these ingredients, then they say, ‘Oh, okay, that’s interesting.’ Then they’ll be more eager to try it.”

Sweet Condesa’s holiday pies are available for pre-order, in limited quantities, via the bakery’s website. They’re priced at $48–$52 each for a 9-inch pie. Holiday pie pickup will be on Dec. 23, 3–5pm, at Victory Hall (360 Ritch St.) in San Francisco, or Dec. 24, 1–4pm, at Sweet Condesa’s West Oakland commercial kitchen at 3015 Adeline St.