Stock’s Bakery, in Port Richmond, has had a lock on pound cake in Philadelphia since the 1940s. Slices of the dense, rich, perfectly square loaf are slicked with chocolate or vanilla frosting that’s so neatly and narrowly applied, it appears the pound cake has a crew cut.
That’s right. This pound cake has purple swirls.
The marbled ube-vanilla bean pound cake is the work of pastry chef and gelato maker Melanie Diamond-Manlusoc, as she and her fellow co-owners (her wife, Liz, and longtime friend Maggie Lee) puzzle their way through the pandemic.
Pre-COVID, the coffee shop/coworking space/gelateria had gained a following for Filipino Friday, the one day a week Diamond-Manlusoc would pause from Flow State’s regularly scheduled programming: from-scratch paninis, pastries, and gelati for its cakesicles and pizzelle ice cream sandwiches. Instead, she’d take that day to get in touch with her Filipino culture — something that was downplayed in her youth — and make a dessert that had a Filipino flair. It led to creations like ube babka, buko pandan sorbetto, and Filipino cream puffs.
“This was a low-risk way of me kind of dipping my toe in once a week,” Diamond-Manlusoc said. “It ended up turning into a bigger thing because so many Filipinos in the area identified with my story of not knowing how to be Filipino, or ‘Is this Filipino enough?’ or how to coexist with the American culture and the Filipino culture.”
Filipino Friday became so popular, items would sell out in one day, leaving Filipino American fans who couldn’t make it to Flow State on Fridays empty-handed.
Diamond-Manlusoc felt bad turning away customers but also wrestled with not wanting to pigeonhole herself. (She’s worked as a pastry chef and gelataia in Michelin-starred restaurants.) She contemplated making bigger batches of the Filipino Friday specials, then flash-freezing them so they could be picked up over the weekend. But the idea stayed on the back burner — until the pandemic struck and Flow State’s daily crowd of coffee-shop dwellers evaporated.
To survive, the trio pivoted to selling half-gallon batches of cold brew and chai tea lattes, pints of gelato, whole cakes, and pastry boxes for preorders. Diamond-Manlusoc also took the opportunity to enact her flash-freezing plan.
That’s how the ube-vanilla bean pound cake came about. The original thought was to make an all-ube pound cake, but ube’s floral-yam flavor — provided via ube extract — was too overwhelming. So Diamond-Manlusoc married it with the base for her jam-filled pound cake muffins, made with Greek yogurt, vanilla bean paste, and salt. She alternates scoops of the two batters when she fills the loaf pans.
The cake bakes for an hour, giving it a crunchy, deeply caramelized, golden-brown crust that belies what’s inside: a vibrant pattern of pale yellow and deep purple that varies from slice to slice.
Diamond-Manlusoc bakes 14 cakes at a time and sets one aside to test herself.
“I’ve been making it for how many months now,” she said, “and still, every time I take that one cake to check it and I cut into it, I’m wowed each time.”