First up, five bakeries and five different types of cakes in Ho Chi Minh City.
[For Hanoi, scroll down to the bottom.]
Sweet & Sour Bakery (HCMC)
This bakery is the kind of place you would go just to look around. As you walk in the front doors, party pink and rainbow sprinkles welcome you in a shower of indulgence.
There is a range of cakes, pastries, tarts and sweet kiddie treats on display, and some shiny tables to sit at each with a little cupcake napkin-holder. Behind the front room, staff bake and decorate today’s new treats in an on-site kitchen.
Perhaps the highlight of a Sweet & Sour experience is their cinnamon roll, a buttery balance of soft and doughy insides and a light, flaky crust. It’s satisfying but not heavy and sweet with a slight hint of cinnamon.
Another dessert to try is the apple pie. This little gem with its rich crust and tangy filling comes in just the right size for one filling portion, perhaps with a serving of ice cream. It’s not too sweet and the apples on the inside are cooked to perfection; tart as they hit your tongue but with a soft, slightly cinnamon aftertaste.
Sweet & Sour Bakery is at 9 Ngo Quang Huy, Q2, HCMC and is open Monday to Sunday, 8am to 8pm. For info go to facebook.com/cupcakesbysweetandsour
Chez Nana (HCMC)
This one-room bakery is tucked away at the top of a building with no indication on the street below that it even exists, let alone directions to get to it. But it serves a tantalising range of both aesthetic and delicious creations, so if you can find it, it’s well worth it.
If you want to visit their shop, leave your motorbike down a hem just up the road towards Ben Thanh Market and walk around to number 252, then through a narrow alleyway and up the stairs to Chez Nana. Alternatively, you could simply check out their Facebook page (see details below).
Buttery, sweet, salty goodness aside, arguably the best thing about Chez Nana’s cakes is the delicate art with which they are covered. Intricately iced flowers, beautiful pastel colours, deep glazes that catch the light and elegant text saying whatever you have asked for it to say.
This is the kind of bakery where you would order your wedding cake or your daughter’s next birthday masterpiece complete with swirls of bright pink buttercream and a pretty, fondant tiara.
Chez Nana is at 252 Le Thanh Ton, Q1 HCMC and is open Monday to Sunday, 8am to 9pm. For more information, go to facebook.com/ChezNana.Cake or call 0919 486786
Vanilla & Butter (HCMC)
Vanilla & Butter is one of those ingenious coffee hideouts that are now all over Saigon. The kind of place where you would go to get some work done and end up devouring five slices of cake, three drinks and a jug of iced tea before you even type your first word. It’s the ideal working environment — minimalistic, spacious, quiet — but full of temptation.
Two of their best sellers are their matcha cake and their red velvet cake. Both of these sweet, fluffy creations are layered vertically in alternating stripes of sponge and cream. The matcha cake is covered in a thick layer of white, topped with a strawberry and a bud of whipped cream. The sponge itself is nicely moist with a slight hint of matcha flavour — a light, sweet treat, and perfect with coffee.
In contrast, the red velvet is just as heavy and chocolatey as it sounds. This indulgent dessert comes with a beautiful maroon dusting and a sprig of mint on the side. It is not too sweet and the icing is a similar frosting to the matcha cake rather than a dense cream cheese.
Vanilla & Butter is at 51 Tran Quoc Toan, Q3, HCMC and is open Monday to Sunday, 9am to 10pm. For info click on facebook.com/vanillaandbutter
Pacey Cupcakes (HCMC)
If you like your cupcakes bite-sized, obscurely flavoured and served in one of the cutest little nooks that Saigon has to offer, this is your bakery. Pacey sells a wide range of flavours freshly baked every day, from mainstream strawberry and chocolate concoctions to the more exotic chilli chocolate and almond salted caramel.
Advertised as a “chocolate cupcake with red bell pepper and chilli”, the first of these exciting creations has a spice to it and an almost dusty flavour. The cake itself is soft and moist, heavier than the typical Vietnamese sponge and deliciously rich and tasty. It’s iced with fluffy, apricot-flavoured icing and dusted with chilli flakes that give it a satisfyingly hot after-taste. The whole experience is a mix of butter, sweet, tang and rich, spicy earthiness.
By contrast, the almond salted caramel tastes exactly as you might expect — salty, caramelly and lightly sweet. Its sponge is simple, providing a nice sweet base for the main event — the icing. A rich, dense curl of gooey indulgence that hits you with a wave of caramel and butter with even just a nibble.
Pacey Cupcakes is at 53G Nguyen Du, Q1, HCMC and is open Monday to Sunday, 9am to 10pm. Click on facebook.com/paceycupcakes for more info
Une Journee A Paris (HCMC)
The displays at Une Journee A Paris are a generous mix of the artistic and plain, ranging from a delicately iced and perfectly rounded edelweiss cake to a chocolate brownie that looks like an honest lump of absolute heaven.
The edelweiss, advertised as a cream and raspberry cake with white chocolate, is a misleadingly sweet circle of sponge and cream hiding a centre full of tart, bright berries. Take a knife and cut through it all, and the white will be stained with red.
The top of the cake is dusted in white chocolate curls and beautiful little rose buds and its base is a slice of soft cake. There seems to be chocolate running through it too, and everything maintains a light, fluffy texture that leaves you wanting more simply because you want to and you can.
Une Journee A Paris is at 234 Le Thanh Ton, Q1, HCMC and is open Monday to Saturday, 7am to 7.30pm. For more information, go to facebook.com/unejourneeaparis or call 0838 277723
O’Douceurs is owned by a French pastry chef with over ten years’ experience in the industry. They’re renowned in Hanoi for their top-quality cake making — the peak of their expertise can be sampled with the opera cake.
Originating in France in the 1950s, Gaston Lenôtre’s bittersweet delight got its name from opera goers stopping to indulge on it between performances. Layers of joconde biscuit, coffee syrup, coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache are piled on top of each other to create this treat.
O’Douceurs have made this classic in their own way, reducing the amount of sugar used while maintaining the perfect balance between the sweetness of the sugar and the bitterness of the coffee. The result is a cake with a remarkably well-balanced finish. The cake is best served cold; cracking the solid chocolate on top with your fork, or breaking it off and dipping it into your coffee is a pleasurable experience.
If you appreciate coffee in a cake, then for VND42,000 the opera cake is a must-try. For an extra caffeine kick, enjoy it with an espresso.
O’Douceurs is located at 91A Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
C’est Si Bon / Olive Studio (Hanoi)
The Olive Studio was established in February as an online cake delivery service, and before long customers wanted a spot to enjoy their treats, leading to C’est Si Bon in Dong Da.
The cakes they make are classic, but with a modern twist, like their matcha cheesecake, and all the ingredients are the highest quality, whether locally sourced or imported.
If a good cake is made better by where it’s eaten, then C’est Si Bon is a fine space to indulge. Flooded with natural light, the olive wood floors, tables and elegant pictures on the walls create an atmosphere where stress is minimalized, and attention is turned to the cake in front of you.
With a mouth-watering selection of cakes to choose from, for us the matcha cheesecake (VND65,000) remains the showpiece of this bakery. A chocolate biscuit base acts as the foundation for the matcha-cheese topping, which is topped with a small swirl of cream.
The cheesecake melts in the mouth, slowly giving you a full appreciation of the taste, and as you make your way through it the matcha flavour becomes increasingly evident. By the time you’re finished you’ll be weighing up getting a second slice.
The Olive Studio have built their reputation through quality cake making, and this is their work showcased at its best.
C’est Si Bon is located at 276 Thai Ha, Dong Da, Hanoi. For info on The Olive Studio click on facebook.com/olivestudiovn/
Panna Cotta (Hanoi)
Some things defy expectation; banh bong lan trung muoi is one of them. A Vietnamese cake hailing from Vung Tau that mixes tradition with influence from overseas, it’s made from sponge cake, cream cheese, shredded dried pork and salted egg yolks — which are made by the owner’s grandma and are left to dry for up to two months before being used to top the cake.
The result is a cake with a creamy hit, and a peculiar taste that leaves you wanting more. The shredded pork somehow replaces the sweet element usually present in a cake, and it works well.
Panna Cotta currently doesn’t have a sit in bakery in Hanoi, and orders can be placed via their Facebook page for delivery. A small cake costs VND110,000 and the larger version goes for VND210,000. They also serve up a range of other patisseries.
Their workshop is about the size of a small café and is constantly moving. While we are there seven people are busy mixing, baking, cleaning, packing and answering the phone. The atmosphere is one of dedication and each cake has a professional finish.
If you’re looking for something a little different to spice up your next brunch, look no further than Panna Cotta’s banh bong lan trung muoi. Perhaps not the cake of choice for the sweet tooth, that said, this savoury treat is delicious.
You can place orders at their Facebook page facebook.com/Pannacotta.hanoi/
La Patisserie Chez Moi (Hanoi)
Chez Moi is owned by Vietnamese pastry maker Nguyen Tu, who studied the art of pastry making in France, and then worked in the kitchen of The Sheraton before swapping the hot kitchens there for the air-conditioned one in his bakery.
What makes Chez Moi unique is that all the majority of the ingredients used are imported to ensure that only the best quality cakes are made. The chocolate is from Belgium, the cream and butter from France and New Zealand. As Tu says, “The passion is Vietnamese, the rest is imported.”
We try the mango cake (VND38,000), made from mango mousse, chocolate sponge for the base, and mango puree. It’s common to use puree over fresh fruit in pastry making to negate the changing of the seasons, and thus to ensure consistent quality year-round.
The mango cake is a sweet sensation, topped with a layer of jelly and finished with slices of strawberry and kiwi.
Chez Moi is located at 19 Ngo Hang Chao, Ba Dinh, Hanoi. For info click on facebook.com/LaPatisserieChezMoi/
Donkey Bakery (Hanoi)
Established in 2009 by Luyen Shell and Marc Stenfert Kroese, Donkey Bakery is a social enterprise that staffs people with hearing or physical disabilities in order to give them the independence and confidence not provided by society.
While the bakery doesn’t specialise in small cakes, their selection of larger cakes and pies is worthy of note, particularly their apple pie (VND120,000).
The pie is filled with fresh apples and berries and is bursting with flavour, while the pastry is soft inside with a satisfying crisp on the outside. Perfect to be shared between up to four people, this is an ideal choice to bring along to a party or gathering.
Donkey Bakery takes pride in their social contribution, and their cakes are proof that it’s well placed. This is top quality, socially responsible baking.
Donkey Bakery is located at 8 Nguyen Hoang Ton, Tay Ho, Hanoi. Click on facebook.com/DonkeyBakery/ for more info
Ho Chi Minh City photos by Mike Palumbo. Hanoi photos by Julie Vola