In an era when dessert is often evaluated by its Instagram potential, Los Angeles shines as one of the world’s premier cities for sweet treats. Join Daily Bruin staffers each week as they visit different dessert joints, going behind the scenes to give you an exclusive look into the creation of trending sugary concoctions.
It was a dark and stormy night when I wandered into an unfamiliar kitchen full of tricks and treats.
That is to say, it was an unusually rainy Los Angeles evening when I visited the B Sweet Dessert Bar in Sawtelle to try out their Filipino desserts and signature bread pudding.
B Sweet’s general vibe was cozy and homey, with benches covered in fairy lights and warm lamps. The wood walls, stylized to look like a cabin, housed kitschy art pieces, including a sign with “I love you” scripted out in different languages. Halloween spirit was in full swing when I stopped by, with the storefront decked out in cobwebs and jack-o’-lanterns, and a paper garland of bloody knives hung on the wall behind the register. As I walked in, I was greeted by giant ghouls hanging from the ceiling and black cat statues chilling out atop freezers stocked with nitro cold brew. Altogether, it felt like I walked into a particularly welcoming witch’s kitchen.
I was greeted by Carmen Anaya, the store’s manager, by the register. Anaya and I made our way into B Sweet’s real kitchen from behind the counter displaying monster-sized cookies and ube coffee cake, part of the week’s house-baked specials. Ube, a yam popular in Filipino desserts, is ube-quitous throughout Instagram feeds for its rich purple color.
We began by making halo-halo, a layered Filipino dessert that boasts 13 ingredients. She handed me a cup full of tropical flavors, such as sweet beans, three types of nata de coco and jackfruit. Nata de coco is a jelly made from fermented coconut water and holds a chewier texture than typical jellies, Anaya said.
We pressed ice cubes through a machine that looked a little like a meat grinder, to make shaved ice. In the meantime, I drizzled enough condensed milk into the base until I could no longer see the sweet beans underneath, and then added in a hefty amount of the crushed ice.
After topping that off with even more condensed milk, I added a scoop of flan and halaya, an ube paste. We finished the dessert with a generous serving of ube ice cream, and Anaya stuck a hot-pink spoon right through all of the layers. Anaya explained halo-halo means “mix-mix” in Tagalog, and instructed me to stir everything together once it had time to soften.
Although the process of making the halo-halo really only consisted of scooping various ingredients, Anaya was definitely more skillful in presenting a prettier product.
Nonetheless, my finished product was definitely Instagrammable with its vibrant, rich violets, crimsons and emeralds split into distinctive layers. It seemed like a waste to blend it all together, but I was eager to see how the creaminess from the condensed milk and ice cream would mix with the chewy nata de coco and the pulpy sweet beans.
While we waited for the halo-halo to soften to be able to mix it, Anaya lead me to the bread pudding display. Although B Sweet serves Filipino desserts, Anaya said the bread pudding is what they are best known for.
B Sweet rotates a cast of bread pudding flavors, with a new version of the menu every Wednesday. The flavors during my visit ranged from more typical tones, like salted caramel and red velvet, to seasonal flavors available only during October, such as pumpkin.
Anaya handed me one of their regular flavors, pan de sal, which had bits of ube mixed throughout. Pan de sal is a type of Filipino sweet bread typically consumed as breakfast or an afternoon snack. She served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream so large it was overflowing out of the cup, and drizzled ube frosting until it dripped down the sides.
The first bite of the bread pudding was heavenly, and was the perfect dessert to warm up from the rain outside. The pudding tasted like glazed donuts, but the sweetness was cut slightly by the sour note from the yeast and the savory ube ice cream. However, three or four bites into the dessert, I felt like I had one too many breadsticks before dinner. While the thick, moist texture of the pudding was comforting at first, it soon became cloying and I couldn’t eat my way through even the small size portion.
I turned to the halo-halo to refresh my palate. Mixing it was a fun and interactive, albeit sticky, and it was fascinating to watch all of the colors blend into one pastel purple slushie. Full disclosure, I did not think I would be a fan. I don’t particularly enjoy coconut and when I’ve had ube before, I thought it tasted too much like a potato chip to be a dessert.
But the halo-halo was a compelling argument to have ube in everything.
Every bite was tasty and refreshing. Since the different ingredients all had different textures, from the tender sweet beans to the chewier nata de coco, each spoonful tasted like a new dessert. The combination of the ice, condensed milk and ice cream, along with the occasional hit of flan, helped balance creamy and refreshing textures. I could imagine sipping it by a pool during the height of summer, or even during a chilly, rainy evening in Los Angeles.
Since I already carbo-loaded on the bread pudding, I had a trouble finishing the entire serving again – it didn’t help the cup was as tall as my face. Similar to the pudding, I enjoyed the flavor, but struggled with the ample portion size.
Although the final product wasn’t as picturesque as it started out, the halo-halo was the star of the show. Even the bread pudding, as heavy as it was, would be a comfortable size to share with a friend. The weather outside may not have been all that welcoming, but B Sweet’s spooky and quirky atmosphere had me feeling right at home.