Food & Drink

Edible Art

Check out these elegant practitioners of pastry just in time for Valentine's Day

By Stefanie Ellis January 25, 2024

The strawberry pastry at Petit Pierre, like the rest of the bakery’s offerings, remains true to French techniques.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Whether you like Valentine’s Day because you enjoy celebrating all the ways love exists in your life, or you want an excuse to eat delicious dessert with your girlfriends for Galentine’s, plenty of Seattle pastry shops and chocolatiers will keep you well fed. There are also some under-the-radar and Insta-famous makers who offer truly unique finds through pop-ups or special orders, making you more than happy to go out of your way for a bit of sweetness.

Some of them, like Tokara Confectionary, are so tucked away that they may as well be a speakeasy with a secret password. Since 2008, anyone who has driven down Phinney Avenue near the Woodland Park Zoo has probably stopped impulsively when seeing the welcoming sign outside a beautiful house with a rock garden, wooden benches, and beautifully manicured trees. Usually, a giant sign is there to advertise one thing: come inside. But if you try that at Tokara, 98% of the time the door will be locked. That’s because owner, Chika Tokara, only sells her sweets wholesale to local restaurants, or on special days, which she announces on her website. Items must be ordered by phone or text. But you can usually bet that on the third Sunday of each month, she’ll offer up boxes of three different kinds of wagashi during tohryanse, which means “come in” in Japanese.

Wagashi — bite-sized sweets traditionally taken with green tea — come in many different styles, but Tokara’s offerings are few, showcasing ingredients that are in season, and focus on the beauty of nature.

Tokara features freshly made Japanese sweets known as wagashi.

Chika Tokara

Tokara, who came to Seattle in 1999 after studying wagashi-making in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Sendai, makes all her ingredients by hand, including the sweetened white or red bean paste known as anko that she uses in most of her sweets. Her offerings change each month, and in February you can expect to find the “Waiting Bud,” a beautiful pink parcel made of white bean paste that both feels and tastes like marzipan, holding sweetened red beans like a tiny gift. “A Little Plum” is a pink-hued sponge cake known as ukishima, made of rice flour and sweet white bean and plum pastes, resting atop a layer of sweetened red beans. And the crowning jewels are the mochi hearts, which are lightly chewy and tender, like a gummy bear made of snow. If you’ve had mass-produced mochi from the grocery store, you will be delighted by this silken, slightly sweet rice flour dough that holds sweet red and white bean paste inside.

LITTLE MARKET

Will Steinway was a chef and manager at Café Lago for many years before joining forces with owner Carla Leonardi to open a market and café down the street — then called Little Lago — that has served as a community gathering spot since 2016.

After buying out Leonardi during the pandemic and changing the name to Little Market on Portage Bay, he also developed new recipes for everything, but still serves wood-fired pizza. Though the pizza is why people keep coming back, it has some sweet competition: the olive oil cake.

This incredibly simple recipe can still (shockingly) get messed up, so it’s not a slam dunk just because someone has it in the pastry case. Here, it’s a true showstopper: indelibly tender, slightly crunchy on top, and a subtle, though ever-present whisper of citrus in both the nose and on the back of the palate.

“Baking is a science, and once you start doing things on a commercial level, it takes time and teamwork to perfect (a recipe) so it’s a well-oiled machine and you get a consistent result out of it,” says Steinway, who has been working in restaurants since he was 14.

For the week of Valentine’s, Steinway usually puts out a two-layer or threelayer frosted cake, a tart of some sort, cupcakes, and two or three single-layer cakes, which are predominantly olive oil cake. Customers can place full-dessert or special orders 48 hours in advance.

“During Covid, with so many restaurants being forced to close, it wasn’t my envisioned ownership kind of scenario,” he admits, “but luckily we’re in a really great neighborhood, and it was and continues to be very supportive to this day.”

PETIT PIERRE BAKERY

If you haven’t made it to Magnolia recently, you may not have known that, in 2020, pastry shop Petit Pierre was struggling mightily during the early days of the pandemic.

Owners Joanna Chau and her husband, Pierre Poulin — who met as pastry chefs at New York restaurant, Aureole — always dreamed of having a shop of their own, but certainly didn’t imagine the circumstances that would accompany their entrepreneurial leap. Chau says being in a neighborhood made a huge difference for their success.

“It was hard watching so many businesses struggle, but everyone was home, and people would come and do pickups,” she says. “Some people would even come once or twice daily, and other customers would come in the snow, bringing their blankets and sitting on benches outside.”

Given the success of their neighborhood bakery during a tenuous time, Chau says they were not at all looking to expand. But when they were approached by the former owners of Celine Patisserie in Phinney, the lure of another neighborhood bakery seemed to beckon.

They took over the space in August 2022.

“A lot more businesses are coming into Phinney and Greenwood, and people want more options,” she says. “The neighborhood has been really welcoming to the changes we made.”

The desserts are among the best in the city, with standouts being the kouign amann and the pan Suisse — a brioche with a seasonal compote (the plum was particularly good).

The pastries change each month with the seasons, but lemon curd tart with berry compote and meringue, vegan croissants, cruffins, and a chocolate mousse bar with raspberry compote and chocolate glaze are always on the menu. There will be at least five different Valentine’s themed desserts, including red-tinged, bicolor croissants with raspberry or strawberry filling, tarts with fresh strawberries and vanilla cream, and the visually stunning lychee rose — a rose-flavored macaron blanketed in a rose-shaped mound of lychee mousse.

COCOPANDAN

When Michelle Chandradinata (who goes by Chan) was a flight attendant for Singapore Airlines from 2014 to 2018, she never imagined that, a year later, she’d be married and living in Seattle. And when she had her son in 2020, she never expected Covid would prevent her from seeing her family in Indonesia, where she is from.

And she certainly couldn’t have anticipated another unexpected life event brewing beneath the surface: her career as a pastry chef for her company, CocoPandan.

After having her son, her interest in sweets changed.

“I like to cook, but don’t like to bake,” she admits, “but after I gave birth, I suddenly got into it, and started making bread out of postpartum boredom.”

She started posting photos of her creations, and her 64 followers have now morphed into 3,500. In those early days, people found her through the hashtags she used.

“A Singaporean woman from San Francisco sent me a (direct message), and asked if I sold pandan chiffon cake,” she recalls. “I was in the R&D stage, but I said yes, so she ordered some because she never saw any in the area. And now it’s one of my best-selling items, and I make it all the time.”

Her kaya jam might be the most fitting representative of her brand, as it’s made with coconut milk and pandan, a plant whose leaves are used widely in southeast Asian cuisine. Chan describes them as “very fragrant and grassy, with a touch of vanilla on the nose.”

The jam is more like a supremely rich egg custard that begs to be eaten straight out of the jar with a spoon, but Chan says it’s most commonly slathered on toast with a pat of butter in places such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Her kueh, though, might just be the most Valentine’s-worthy, as the beautiful pink and white layers are as photogenic as they are labor intensive.

CocoPandan’s delicious putu ayu is a steamed pandan cake with savory grated coconut.

Courtesy of CocoPandan

Each of the 13 layers takes Chan five minutes to steam, and one layer gets poured on top of the other until it resembles a piece of art.

“In Indonesia, we have a lot of different types of kueh,” she says, “and there are sweet and savory kinds, but I make sweet. Kueh usually requires steaming, and they all have the same rice flour and coconut base, and can be made layered, or formed into a ball or a pudding.”

What started as a curiosity slowly became something that connected her to her roots, allowing her to feel less alone on this other side of the world. Today, however, CocoPandan has grown into a thriving pop-up business that Chan one day hopes to turn into a brick-andmortar store.

“When people eat my desserts and say it feels like home,” she says, “I feel very fulfilled.”

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