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MANILA, Philippines – It’s easy to hear about adobo chocolate chip cookies and be absolutely bewildered by the idea of it. It is an unlikely pair, but that’s what makes it so intriguing. It sat in the same part of my brain that fried frogs did, begging the question: what does it taste like?
The recipe published on NYT Cooking is taken from Filipino-American food blogger Abi Balingit’s cookbook, Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed. I first came across the book on one of my Twitter doom scrolls, just shortly after its release in March 2023, but it only really caught my attention after it received acclaim from Vogue and The New York Times.
And so, after clearing my schedule as a college student, I got to baking.
Time to bake
Balingit’s recipe calls for the usual chocolate chip cookie ingredients: all-purpose flour, baking soda, unsalted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar (this is very important), large eggs, vanilla extract, dark chocolate, and flaky sea salt.
The adobo part comes with the addition of bay leaves, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and pink peppercorns.
As I was buying the ingredients, I dropped three things from my shopping list: pink peppercorns, sea salt, and granulated sugar. The pink peppercorns and sea salt weren’t available at the local grocery store, so I decided not to include them. I did find them on Shopee, and as of writing, I wait for them to be shipped to my address. My biggest mistake was not including the granulated sugar, but more on that later!
It was exciting to see the ingredients come together in a way I hadn’t imagined possible. The earthy scent emerging from the saucepan as I melted and browned the butter with bay leaves is something I never knew I’d associate with desserts, but there it was, filling the kitchen as I prepared the cookies.
Mixing the butter with the brown sugar, which I added more of in lieu of the granulated sugar, I pictured what would come out of the oven: those thin, gooey chocolate chip cookies, sans the pink peppercorns and sea salt, as seen on Balingit’s social media posts.
However, 45 minutes later, with the dough chilled and then shoved in the oven with walnuts sprinkled over, my cookies came out very different. Not only were they semi-burnt, thanks to my neglect, but they were also not thin and gooey like I’d imagined. I would learn later on that this is because of the sugar.
Granulated sugar absorbs liquid, so when put in dough, it slows down the development of gluten, resulting in thinner cookies. But because the gluten in my cookies developed, the dough held a round shape and kept the chocolate from melting into a bittersweet pool. And of course, because the test batch was burnt, the cookies left a strong, salty taste and almost numbing feel to the mouth. The learning curve is tight for an inexperienced baker like me.
But after the flop rain comes the slay rainbow.
The following morning, I popped a second batch into the oven and set my timer to 10 minutes. And this time, though they still looked nothing like Balingit’s cookies, they were much better than the ones I had baked the previous night.
These cookies surprised me, but not in the way I expected them to. I was waiting for the savory and sweet to battle it out on the palate, an explosion of too-strong flavors that would have me scrambling for water. Instead, it was rich, possessing a sweetness deepened with umami. I ended up having at least half of that batch before remembering to save some for the family.
The beauty of fusion desserts
Abi Balingit was raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in New York City. In 2020, she started her blog, The Dusky Kitchen, where she posted recipes of other fusion desserts like kare-kare cookies and pumpkin pie hopia, as well as Filipino classics like buko pandan salad and pandesal.
In her Vogue interview, she recounted being asked in 2020 if she was interested in writing a cookbook. “They were just so on board and excited about what I was doing, and I was like, ‘I think I would be really interested in writing a Filipino-American dessert cookbook of some sort.’ What I was making, even at the start of the pandemic, was always kind of fusion stuff, Asian American and mostly Filipino, because that’s what I know best,” she said.
Balingit also said that if she had to choose one recipe to make forever, it would be the adobo chocolate chip cookies. “I feel like it captures the spirit of the book in terms of having fun and experimenting with aspects of Filipino cuisine outside of ‘savory only’ or ‘dessert only,’” she said. “There’s room for all those interesting dynamics to come together.”
Truly, the adobo chocolate chip cookies epitomize fusion, not only of American and Filipino tastes, but also of the salty and sweet. So with nothing but praise for Mayumu and its take on fusion desserts on my Twitter timeline, it was so surprising to see it reach viral status with hate.
When the New York Times published a video on social media featuring the cookies in April 2023, Filipino netizens were aghast at the idea of this strange new fusion dessert. Negative reactions ranged from “Yuck” to one Twitter user saying “Gosh, now I understand how Italians feel about bastardized pizzas.”
To this, Abi said that she wanted people to approach her recipes with an open mind and try them before passing judgement. In an interview with Teresa Tran for Joy Sauce, she said, “I really urge people to come to desserts and recipes with an open mind. I think there’s a lot of clickbait of ‘Oh my God, what is that? What abomination is that?’ I think the shock value of that was not really my intention. Read a recipe and try tasting it before you make assumptions about that recipe.”
When it comes to fusion cuisine, we worry about what it means to elevate local and national dishes to international standards and pander to the Western palate. Balingit is not preoccupied with this.
Instead, she takes the chocolate chip cookie and gives it a twist that caters to the Filipino palate, in a way that just sits right with the soul (and the stomach). The adobo chocolate chip cookies fulfill the promise made in Mayumu’s blurb: it is both nostalgic and excitingly new. It evokes the coziness of freshly baked cookies and adobo hot out of the pot — what’s not to love about it?
Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed is currently available at National Book Store. – Rappler.com
Sophia Gonzaga is a Rappler intern.