‘Mayumu:’ a fresh take on Filipino American desserts

Blogger and baker Abi Balingit discusses her FIlipino fusion desserts and the inspiration for her new cookbook, “Mayumu.”


(Courtesy photo by Nico Schinco)

Olivia Condell, Contributing Writer

Abi Balingit sat in her Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment, clad in a mustard yellow graphic tee, thick winged eyeliner and dangling, plush pizza earrings. She is as intentional with her recipes as she is with mixing colors and patterns into her wardrobe. With bright pink hair and silver gemstones glued onto her front teeth, Balingit fully embodies the whimsical nature of her eclectic new cookbook, “Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed.” 

Balingit’s book contains bakes such as double chocolate chip cookies topped with pink peppercorn — both delicious and visually appealing — and lychee flavored madeleines, coated with a hibiscus glaze and dried pink rose petals.

“My style translates well into my food because a lot of recipes are very colorful and punched up in both flavor and looks — but it’s practical, too,”  Balingit said. “For example, regular peppercorn is a little too spicy and harsh, but pink peppercorn is slightly fruitier, so it works better with the dessert.”

Balingit mastered balancing a vast array of flavor palettes when she started experimenting in her kitchen during the pandemic.

“There was a comfort about going into the kitchen and making things and sharing them,” Balingit said. “New York is so busy with so much stimuli most of the time that I didn’t really get to do it as often as I would have liked to before the lockdown. It was so rewarding to do something with my hands.”

According to Balingit, she “Frankensteins” many of her creations, sourcing ideas from other bakers, as well as her own flavor preferences. Her sweet recipes with savory kicks, which sometimes include ingredients like soy sauce and fermented shrimp, introduce a playful twist to traditional desserts. 

“When you add small amounts of these stranger flavors, a little goes a long way,” Balnigit said. “Seeing how they play with certain fruits and glazes makes the flavors more approachable.” 

A perfectionist, Balingit felt immense pressure to nail her experimental bakes on the first try, and often became frustrated when they required more time. Her tumultuous relationship with confidence in baking led her to begin “The Dusky Kitchen” blog, through which she would share her trials, errors and triumphs in baking other bloggers’ recipes and eventually her own.

Balingit’s candid posts gained her a close-knit following, and her online success prepared her to venture into print with “Mayumu” — an extension of her blog. Balingit’s history as a blogger is evident within the style of the cookbook, which includes personal anecdotes and short stories about her life alongside the recipes.

“I want people to understand who I am,” Balingit said. “It is so important to have context. I wrote a whole story about me in high school trying out for varsity tennis. I don’t think that matters too much, but it gives people a sense of who I am and it’s why food is so personal.”

The diverse collection ingredients included throughout “Mayumu” can be attributed to the melting pot of cultures that Balingit has encountered throughout her time living in California, New York and the Philippines — where most of her family resides. Balingit’s personal favorite combinations translate effortlessly into her imaginative desserts, suitable for those who crave the candy and salty junk food prevalent in Balingit’s own childhood. As a Filipino American woman, Balingit’s fresh take on Filipino cuisine carries significant weight in the communities she represents. 

“Mainstream media is so finite in showing faces that I recognize in myself,” Balingit said. “Growing up, I didn’t even have Filipino bakers that I looked up to really, besides my family and mom and local bakeries.”

Balingit continues to bake in the same apartment where her first concoctions came to fruition. As a home baker, she encourages others to be fearless in their own food journeys.

“Any kind of baking, any kind of cooking is valid,” Balingit said. “It doesn’t have to be elaborate for you to be happy. A lot of obstacles are self imposed. Please feel free to tweak things however you want, and remember — it is never too late to start baking.”

Contact Olivia Condell at [email protected].