How One Home Baker Is Adding Generosity into Her Filipino-Inspired Treats
Plus a recipe for how to make banana and jackfruit linzer cookies that taste just like turon.
Since stay-at-home orders were given in March, it feels like every person stuck inside has baked loaf after loaf of banana bread or actively kept a bubbling mason jar of sourdough starter. Baking has been an activity many have turned to as a form of comfort or creative expression during the enduring months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The same is the case for Abi Balingit, a live-music-professional-turned-home-baker who started her baking blog, The Dusky Kitchen, this past summer. The Dusky Kitchen celebrates Balingit’s Filipino heritage while also paying homage to nostalgic flavors from her childhood with experimental concoctions like pork floss and white miso caramel brownies, pandan polvorons, and black sesame cinnamon rolls with matcha glaze.
Creating The Dusky Kitchen has been on Balingit’s mind since before the pandemic. “It was like, ‘I want to do this’ but I never had an opportunity,” she explained. “It [was] the commuting, and being distracted by New York; I was always going to shows and plays and hanging out with friends. I let a lot of the stimuli of New York guide me.”
But after a trip home to California, where she lugged her Kitchenaid mixer in her carryon baggage to take a place in her small Brooklyn kitchen, she knew she had to commit to her passion for baking. It just so happened that the pandemic hit not too long after.
“I think quarantine has provided lots of opportunities to experiment and also focus on the blog. I finally had time to sit down and settle with creativity,” Balingit said. “It was just like I needed an outlet… I think I was so sedentary that baking is my only form of creative release at this point.”
But Balingit doesn’t just bake for herself. In fact, the treats she’s baked—and sold—have always been in support of non-profit organizations. In July, she created what she calls a pasabulong box, which translates to souvenirs in Tagalog. The pastries are inspired by the desserts she gifts to her own family. Her first round of sales in the summer supported Bed-Stuy Strong, an organization that buys and delivers groceries to more vulnerable members of the Brooklyn neighborhood’s community. In October, 100% of the proceeds made from her pasabulong box went to Send Chinatown Love, which uplifts small businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown that have been without pandemic relief. Her most recent endeavor has been a pasabulong box of Christmas cookies, and 100% of the money raised has gone to typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines through Kids for Kids and For the Future.
“It’s hard because we’re in a millennial generation where we’re so into side hustles and monetizing [our] hobbies,” she said of her pasabulong boxes. “But I think every time I’ve done this it’s been for a good cause and I’m lucky to be working a full time job at the same time to pay for ingredients. The work that I’m doing is more a challenge for me personally and it is nice to give back and see people enjoy [it]. I’ve been super happy—beyond ecstatic about everything.”
In a few short months, Balingit has not only been able to raise thousands of dollars for charitable causes close to her heart, but she’s also begun writing a cookbook in honor of the fusion Filipino flavors she’s been cooking up—like her turon linzer cookies, a tropical new take on the traditional jammy shortbread.
“If you’ve ever had lumpia at any Filipino party, [turon] is like that but it’s with banana—like a banana fritter,” Balingit explained. Though Balingit loves the creamy and caramelized flavors that come from turon, she hates frying foods. “I hate things that splatter; I’m very afraid of knives,” she said, laughing. So instead of a deep fried eggroll shell filled with banana and jackfruit, she turned the comforting dessert into a cookie. “The crunchiness of the cookie and the delicateness of the butter and all the flavors of the jackfruit and banana all interact in the same way [when] you would have a bite of turon. It was the cookie I was the most excited about; finally something that feels like the essence of something without it being the actual turon.”
Although Balingit won’t be able to return home to California for the holidays this year, she is comforted by the foods she’ll be able to make and the baked good recipes she will continue to develop. She assured me that she’ll still be sharing her creations with her family and friends—even if at a distance. “In the diaspora we’re kind of used to always doing telephone tag with each other but I feel comforted by the fact that we do have technology that will let us connect,” she said, grinning. “So, yes, I will be showing off cookies on a Zoom call probably.”
Turon Linzer Cookie
Makes 24 cookies
Prep Time: 1 hour, plus chilling
Cook Time: 10-12 minutes
For the cookies:
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 cup caramelized banana jam
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
For the Caramelized Banana Jam:
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 5 medium-sized ripe bananas
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 8 oz of minced sweet jackfruit
For the cookies
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, kosher salt and baking soda. Set aside.
2. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg yolks, one at a time, until each egg is fully incorporated. Mix in vanilla.
3. Add half the flour mixture and beat on low speed, pouring in the milk-lemon juice mixture. Add remaining flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined, then increase speed and beat until dough starts to clump together. Scrape the bowl and divide the dough into two equal balls, flatten into disks and chill for at least 1 hour in the fridge.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Generously flour your work surface and rolling pin. Place one disk of dough in the center. While the dough is still cold, roll the dough until it’s about ⅛-inch thick.
6. Flour two cookie cutters (I used a 2-inch flower shape and smaller 1-inch circle cutter), one larger than the other. Using the larger cutter, cut out shapes from the sheet of rolled out dough, flouring the cutter frequently. These will be the bottoms of the cookies. With a floured spatula, transfer these cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Make sure there’s at least an inch of space between each cookie. After lifting off excess dough, knead the dough into a ball, chill and re-roll for more cookies.
7. For the cookie tops, repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining dough disk, using the larger cutter. Place cut-out cookies on another lined cookie sheet. Then, using the smaller cutter, cut a window or a center hole in the tops of each cookie. Make sure you have an equal number of solid bottoms and window tops.
8. Bake the cookies until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let them cool a few minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
9. Dust the window tops with powdered sugar. Place the cookie bottoms on a lined baking sheet, flat-side down. Using an offset spatula or small spoon, spread 1 teaspoon of caramelized banana jam on each bottom cookie, and top with a windowed cookie.
10. Store in an airtight container or tin between layers of parchment or wax paper until serving. Cookies will keep at room temperature for 1 week.
For the caramelized banana jam
1. Thinly slice 3 cups worth of bananas and set aside in a medium bowl.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water and cook over medium heat. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture is a golden brown color, about 4-6 minutes.
3. Immediately pour bananas into the pot and stir until combined with the caramel.
4. Cook banana mixture on medium heat till bubbly then reduce heat to a constant but low simmer and cook till jam is thickened and bananas begin to break down and become translucent. This usually takes about 15-20 minutes.
5. Add the salt and remove from the heat. Stir in the minced jackfruit, lime juice and vanilla. Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to clean jars.
6. The jam will keep in the fridge for up to 1 month. Yields about 3 cups of jam.