"'It will change your life,' they said. We had to try it."

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Four cakes in one! [Photo: Sara Markel-Gonzalez]

Woodside in Queens is home to the only Red Ribbon Bakeshop, a Filipino bakery chain, in all of New York State. It is almost always packed full of people buying bread, snacks, and most importantly, cake. I've been curious as to why the shop is so popular, so this week a few friends and I got together for the ultimate Red Ribbon cake-off: six kinds of cake, five people, lots of fun.

First up: the sampler cake. Red Ribbon describes it as A delightful combination of 4 different cakes: Black Forest, Choco Mocha Crunch, Ube Cake and Pandan Macapuno. A sampler cake is a great thing—four different flavors and, at $20.99, perfect for the indecisive cake buyer. If it sounds like a strange combination of flavors, it is—but after enough cake, anything makes sense.

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The black forest cake had chocolate layers, filled with cherries, and covered in whipped cream, then topped with chocolate curls and maraschino cherries. The key to these Red Ribbon cakes is the softness of the cake itself; it is of utmost importance to Red Ribbon cake-buyers that their cake be soft and moist. This cake was definitely that. The chocolate curls added a nice textural contrast and crunch.

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Sampler cake, as displayed. [Photo: Robyn Lee]

The Choco Mocha Crunch was called a medley of rich chocolate chiffon cake and mocha marble cream. Two of your favorite flavors made even more unforgettable with sinful honeycomb crunch. Chocolate and mocha may not be my favorite flavors, but this was one of my favorite slices, because of the crunch part. Imagine slicing through a soft piece of cake and hitting a crisp, crunchy, sweet candy center, so crisp you can hear the knife crunch through it. The cake was the same as the black forest. The cream was sweet, coffee with a hint of caramel, but the honeycomb crunch was the very best part. Sweet, crisp, light, like the center of a malt ball, it crumbles on contact. How nice to find a surprise inside your cake.

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Next up, one of the more uniquely Filipino flavors, pandan macapuno. Pandan is a tropical plant, and the leaves are used to wrap food or flavor it. Macapuno is a variety of coconut with a jelly-like texture. The cake was white, with a hint of pandan flavor; the cream green, with bits of macapuno throughout the filling. The taste of pandan brings to mind words like floral, fresh and green; and the cake, again, was soft as could be.

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The last slice, and the most colorful, was the ube, or purple yam. Beautiful, bright, purple color, but not much ube at all. Soft, creamy, and pretty, but no distinct or discernible flavor, sadly.

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Not content with just the sampler, we also got a slice of the mango cake. Of the fruit cakes, the mango was the winner. White cake, mango cream, tiny pieces of mango in the middle, it really was filled with mango flavor. And of course, a soft cake and smooth, creamy filling. Slices cost $2.69 and the flavors rotate daily.

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And finally, we tried a roll cake, Brazo de Mercedes, for $10.99. Two of our group of five, both from the Phillipines, would not let us leave the bakery without this cake. It will change your life, they said. We had to try it.

It's such a simple looking cake, and we eyed it after enduring slice after slice of flavors and fillings, not quite believing that a roll cake could be any good. But one bite into the brazo and the room was suddenly silent. This was not just any cake. It was an airy, barely-there layer of sweet, soft, marshmallowy meringue, surrounding a thick, lemony, creamy custard. Compared to the lightest, fluffiest angel food cake, the Brazo de Mercedes is even lighter, even softer, even fluffier. All of our lives were changed that day.

The cakes at Red Ribbon are delicious; they are from a chain bakery, and there may be something a bit manufactured-tasting, but in the exciting, unfamiliar sense of something manufactured in a different country. The flavors are interesting and unique, and the products are fresh.

There was a definite consensus in this cake-off: of the chocolate cakes, although the black forest was tasty, the choco mocha won for flavor and sound effects. Of the fruit flavors, the mango was the obvious choice, with pandan coming in second. And then the Brazo—in a category of its own—won hands down for showing us what a cake could be.

Red Ribbon Bakeshop

65-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside NY 11377 (map)
718-335-1150

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