Cream buns have long been a favorite treat in many parts of the world. It’s practically comfort food for a lot of people: sweet yeast buns split or punctured on one side and filled to the gills with clotted cream, custard, creme patisserie, or clouds of insanely decadent buttercream. Here in the Philippines, the closest thing we have to these heavenly treats are pastel.
Not to be confused with the Spanish-inspired local version of chicken pot pie, pastel is a specialty of the island of Camiguin off the northern coast of Mindanao Island in the southern part of the Philippines. The most common version is a rich, brioche-like bun filled with a large glob of yema (eggy caramel custard). It’s usually sold in boxes of six and twelve and ferried off by tourists as a rather tasty little pasalubong (homecoming gift/souvenir) to the folks back home. The most popular pastel are those made by the VjANDEP Company of Camiguin. Aside from the classic yema-filled buns, they also have variants filled with cheese, chocolate, guava jelly, jackfruit compote, mango jam, candied pineapple, pumpkin cream, strawberry jam, and ube (purple sweet potato).
Since these little rolls are a touch on the decadent side, a company in nearby Cagayan de Oro decided to add a healthy element into the standard recipe: malunggay (moringa) leaves
Malunggay (Moringa oleifera) leaves have long been touted as a superfood, being rich in Vitamin B6, Pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene), Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It is usually added to soups, particularly clear broths made with chicken or shellfish, and may also be cooked with smoked fish (tinapa), onions, and coconut milk for a particularly savory main dish. In this particular case, the leaves have been dried and ground into a flour which is then mixed with regular wheat flour to make the buns.
But as healthy as these buns claim to be, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating. Alas, compared to the high standard set by VjANDEP’s scrumptious pastel, these malunggay buns don’t exactly fare well. The bread is rather dry and the custard within more sugary and grainy than the yema filling I’m used to. I’m not sure if I just got a bad batch, but this pretender – as healthy as it claims to be – is not for me.