For sisters Ada and Carla Chavez, ensaymadas taste like the summertime. When they were kids growing up in Southern Oregon, the two would go to Southern California and load up on the little swirls of pastry; it was there, in California, where they would get to experience their Filipino culture outside their own home. “We both grew up in... (a) predominantly Caucasian, little town,” Ada Chavez says. “There’s definitely no Filipino food there, besides my parents’ house.”
Years later, the Chavez sisters now make their own ensaymadas — vegan ones. After Ada Chavez lost her bartending job due to the pandemic, she started working on baking with her new free time, including a vegan ensaymada recipe. Carla had the idea to turn the hobby into a pastry pop-up, Kumare. At their first pop-up in early January, within the Eastside vegan Vietnamese deli Mama Dut, the sisters sold four-pack boxes of various ensaymadas for pre-orders, in flavors like dulce de leche and jackfruit jam. The pop-up sold out to promising success.
Ensaymadas, similar to brioche, resemble cupcakes from afar but have a texture and shape akin to cinnamon rolls. Traditionally, ensaymadas are smothered with butter and sugar on top, or a combination of butter, sugar, and shredded cheese. Instead of butter, Kumare uses Earth Balance to achieve the remarkable similar taste and texture to the non-vegan version.
Kumare’s soft and pillowy ensaymadas are double-proofed, and require lots of patience. After mixing the dough, they wait an hour or two for it to rise, divide it up, and do a snail roll. “It looks like a snail on the shelf,” Ada Chavez explains. “I guess that’s why it may be similar to a cinnamon roll because of the way we roll it out.” Then, the sisters proof the dough again for another one or two hours, before they hit the oven.
To start, Kumare PDX is offering four standard flavors: a dulce de leche with vanilla buttercream (with Earth Balance) drizzled with caramel. “The vegan dulce de leche is a long and slow process of heating up plant-based milk on low for several hours,” Ada explains. Another standout is the vibrant ube, which gets a triple dose of ube in its buttercream, crumble, and ube halaya filling. “Ube is really popular in the Philippines as a dessert,” Ada says, who recalls stopping at Asian markets to pick up tubs of ube ice cream and trays of ensaymadas while on family road trips to Southern California.
The sweet jackfruit option, with vanilla buttercream filled and jackfruit jam, is satisfying and sweet, slightly reminiscent of pineapple. “Within the plant-based community, [jackfruit] is usually used in savory dishes like pulled pork or using it as a meaty texture,” Ada says. “And it’s funny because in the Philippines, I’m only used to it being a dessert... So we wanted to showcase that jackfruit can also be sweet.”
And finally, the one that inspired the sisters to launch Kumare, and referred to as Ensaymada Especial in the Philippines: a sweet-and-salty pastry topped with a buttercream spread and shredded cheese —specifically, Violife sharp cheddar. “We did a lot of research on trying to find the perfect [plant-based] cheese that was comparable to what is on the non-vegan ensaymadas and using my mom as the taste-tester for all of the cheese,” Ada Chavez says. “And she’s like, ‘This one. This is the one that tastes exactly like it.’”
Ensaymadas are based on ensaïmadas, the traditional sweet bread of the Spanish island of Mallorca. Spain, which colonized the Philippines for more than 300 years, left an imprint on the country’s social, political, and culinary identity, causing cultural ripples even after the Philippine Revolution that ended its occupation in 1898. “We wanted to showcase a little bit more of the Spanish influence that the Filipino culture had,” Ada says. The pop-up’s name also has ties to Spain’s fraught relationship with the country: The name Kumare (koo-mah-reh) is a Filipino term of endearment that translates to best friend, and is derived from the Spanish word comadre. “I’ve heard [kumare] before, used all the time, but hearing how [my mom] and her friends use it towards each other, it’s just so sweet: Being like, ‘Hey kumare, what are you doing today?’” Ada Chavez says. “And so, I wanted [the name] to be like a representation of us potentially being your kumare, like, ‘We’re here for you, to provide food,’ because that’s how we know to show our love, good relations, and affection towards each other.”
Now, as Kumare PDX, they’re being the change they wish to see in Portland’s food scene. “I really wanted to create something that represents my Filipino culture in Portland, because I feel like growing up here in Oregon, we both lacked a visual identity in media and definitely in food,” Ada says.
While Kumare PDX aspires to own a brick-and-mortar someday, the flexibility and financial benefits of a pop-up is working for now. In the future, the Chavez sisters and business partners look forward to trying out new flavors as the seasons change, including various tropical fruits that are popular in the Philippines. “We just really wanted to create so that we could share and see a representation of Filipino American culture, and that, you know, it exists.” Ada says.
Prospective customers can follow @kumarepdx on Instagram for upcoming pre-order dates and pick-up times.