Make a list and check it twice, because it’s time to search for the best Christmas desserts in Manila! With the holidays only a few sleeps away, the sweet tooth cravings will soon follow. So for this trip, we scour the streets of Manila in search of the finest treats to make the holidays feel special.
The best Christmas desserts in Manila for traditional treats
While not entirely originating from Filipino holiday tradition, roasting castañas on steel woks usually marks the beginning of the holidays. Vendors would tirelessly toss these nuts with small volcanic stones for heat retention. Their enticing smell would attract people commuting in the middle of the day. As long as the smoke from these roasted chestnuts becomes more pronounced, expect the festivities to follow not long after!
These treats, aside from being a quick and nutritious snack, are versatile in the kitchen. Some use their sweetness as an additional ingredient to fruitcakes. Mandarin chestnuts are also popular additions to a few Chinese dishes.
Most people can easily find these delicious treats anywhere on Manila’s busy streets. But to acquire castañas at their best, head downtown to Chinatown in Binondo. Aside from the roasted chestnuts, they are also available as raw ingredients in the district.
One of the best gifts that the Philippines gave to the world is none other than the bibingka. This glutinous cake made of rice flour is a soft and fluffy treat that begs for indulgence. The combination of coconut gratings, muscovado sugar, cheese, and salted egg balances out the sweetness, making for an addictive cake while enjoying the countdown to Christmas.
There are a few makers of bibingka who can sincerely say that they can give the best Christmas desserts in Manila. We can’t blame them, really, because all of them are good. The choice may come to preference, so here’s what to expect when buying from these shops.
The bibingka legend Felymar’s in the busy streets of Tayuman comes alive during the holidays. For most Manilenyos, this eatery is almost synonymous with the rice cake itself. They display pride in the traditional way of cooking these delectable cakes. Felymar’s makes use of tin containers to bake their bibingka.
Diners get to see how Felymar’s cook their bibingka: A coal fire cooks the rice flour mixture in a tin container. The result is a dense but soft cake with aromas of roasted banana leaves wafting through the air. It is then generously topped with coconut gratings, a bit of butter, and brown sugar. Salted eggs would cost an additional fee, but they are definitely worth it.
A fusion bibingka, while conceptually reasonable, tends to be rare. Fortunately, the bakers in Cravings are bold enough to heed the call. Cravings uses the souffle as the base for this take on the traditional Christmas delicacy. The expected flavours are there: cheese, salted duck egg, and coconut, all magically complementing one another on top of the cake. But what’s mesmerising about this dessert is the lightness of the souffle. Bibingka is traditionally dense and can be quite filling at a moment’s notice; Cravings’ version is easy to eat. So, you’ll have to remember to leave some for the family!
For a truly classic experience of the bibingka, drive down to Provenciano in Quezon City. This restaurant’s bibingka honours the time-tested traditional recipe at its full potential. The cake is dense but uncompromising in flavour. It has the right amount of smoothness when it comes to texture as well. It is only logical to think about Provenciano’s bibingka after simbang gabi!
Puto bumbong usually pairs with bibingka during the holiday countdown. Since the servings aren’t as big as bibingkas, puto bumbong is a more affordable alternative. But make no mistake, these purple rice cakes, topped with coconut gratins, butter, and muscovado sugar, are still some of the best desserts in Manila that foodies can easily indulge in.
The best puto bumbong can be easily found where the best bibingkas are. But there are a few notable exceptions to this rule!
Puto Bumbong Republic
By now, we can comfortably say that the best Christmas desserts in Manila are often dense in ingredients and flavour. Puto Bumbong Republic takes this concept and runs away with it with their speciality. The puto bumbong de leche has the usual purple rice cake roasted inside a pipe laid out on banana leaves and topped with the usual: coconut, cheese, sugar, and butter. But to make things a little more interesting, Puto Bumbong Republic adds another popular dessert as a topping.
Generous slices of leche flan wrap up this indulgent delicacy, and the result is simply mind-blowing. The combination might not make sense at first, but it definitely works once tasted. Can’t get enough? They cater bilao orders for this special too!
Mila’s Puto Bumbong
Mila’s PutoBumbong is a classic among locals of Muntinlupa City. This creative bakery hosts 13 different variants of puto bumbong, ensuring loyal customers can enjoy diversity and consistency. Try out their delicious creations with salted duck egg, among many others, as the topping!
Possibly one of the most accessible Christmas desserts ever, the leche flan is available in most restaurants at any time of the year. However, this creamy delight gets a lot of attention during the holidays. It can be strange to imagine the holidays without seeing leche flan on the table, and that’s reason enough to look for the best one in Manila.
The best leche flan in Manila should have sophistication. Sweetness and tartness play in a delicate balancing act while remaining dense but airy. If that description sounds delicious, Cafe Juanita in Kapitolyo is the textbook example of leche flan and more. Their leche flan strikes the perfect balance, adding dimensions to the traditional dessert as it melts in the mouth.
The best Christmas desserts in Manila to experience the holidays from around the world
Gingerbread cookies are fun little treats that make for some of the best Christmas desserts in Manila. They’re easy gift choices, too, since they’re compact and pretty to look at. It almost makes it a shame to eat because of how cute they look!
Ready to make that gingerbread house? Kuukii offers its customers DIY gingerbread cookies in all kinds of shapes. From gingerbread houses to the famous gingerbread man, Kuukii is happy to join the brewing excitement during the holiday countdown. Once they arrive though, the question remains: Are they decorations, or are they the next snack?
True to the Eraserheads song, there really is a fruitcake for everybody and everyone. While we might know the traditional fruitcake contains nuts, brandy, and preserved fruits, there are also variations of this Christmas staple. The traditional Filipino crema de fruta is even considered as its variation. Regardless of preference, we can all agree that this ingenious dessert elevates the Christmas table.
While the crema de fruta is a simpler version of the fruitcake, Half Saints’ approach to the dessert is nothing short of excellent. Half Saints uses a slew of contrasting flavours of fruit and other ingredients, such as custard, kiwi, pomelo, and mangoes, just to name a few, to create a simple dessert with so many dimensions.
The fruit topping on this crema de fruta is beautiful enough to feature in an art exhibit. The various tropical colours of fruit shine so brightly, almost resembling stained glass artworks. With these impressive visuals and taste, it seems Half Saints created a modern version of the fruitcake that brings out festivity in every bite.
Casa San Luis
Casa San Luis definitely earns its spot on the best Christmas desserts in Manila. This bakery goes to extraordinary lengths to create the perfect fruitcake. The fruits they incorporate in their soft, luscious cakes are in preservation for at least a year! Maturation provides a richer taste and a deeper colour for the fruits, ensuring that the cake is delicious and pretty to look at. It’s safe to say that Casa San Luis’ fruitcake is a worthy contender as a table centrepiece next to the Christmas ham.
The world-famous pavlova has its origins in honour of the historic Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s tours in New Zealand and Australia. These circular cakes are best known for their festive colours resting on a bed of cream. Because of this, the pavlova seamlessly made its way among the best holiday desserts to serve. Needless to say, they are as good as they look when baked perfectly.
Fortunately, pavlova has a branch right here in Manila! Appropriately named Pavlova MNL, this bakeshop helped propagate the dessert’s popularity. Their constant exploration of the dessert and its components constantly produces exciting combinations of the cake. They also bake these lovely treats periodically throughout the year, so new tastebuds can try them out even when it’s not Christmas. Just make sure to reserve a slot!
Babka bread is popularly known as a traditional Jewish dessert coming from Eastern Europe. Because of its eye-catching appearance, the bread usually makes an appearance on holiday tables. Spiced with cinnamon and baked with nuts, braided babka is also shaped into wreaths, providing a complex texture in every bite.
Much like the pavlova, the babka’s popularity is on the rise. Tilde Bakery & Kitchen serves some of the best Christmas desserts in Manila in the form of delicious babka. Their chocolate babka, in particular, possesses perfect balance. It has crunch and just the right amount of sweetness. It is heavenly when smeared with light marmalade or fruit jams.
The best Christmas desserts in Manila aren’t difficult to look for, especially since new artisans pop up every so often. It’s actually quite commendable; these impassioned creators are on a mission to bring joy and cheer to the table every year. Head to their shops and check out what gifts they have in their socks for the holidays!
Featured image credit: The Paul Ricafrente Collection via Canva Pro