San & Wolves Is Filling the Vegan Filipino Pastry Void With Delectable Treats

Kym Estrada wants to show people that vegan desserts can still be decadent.

Kym Estrada has been vegan for over a decade now, but noticed there were never any vegan pastries available that reflected the Filipino flavors she grew up on: ube pandesals, pandan putos, and cheesy ensaymadas. So she decided to make them herself. 

The results include a black sesame frosted cake flecked with ground sesame seeds, looking akin to cookies-and-cream; haupia poptarts—inspired by Filipino diaspora living in Hawaii—are filled with a coconut custard and glazed with rich, purple ube frosting; the ensaymadas are topped with a tangle of shredded vegan cheese for a salty and sweet experience. 

But that’s expediting the story a bit. Originally, Estrada had ambitions to become a journalist and worked at a digital agency firm in New York City, and somehow ended up managing social media for celebrities. For someone naturally introverted, Estrada felt unfulfilled by that career, and would use her time off to bake as a way to decompress. 

“I just got super into it. And then I started baking bread. It was really impulsive when I decided to quit,” she explains. “I didn't have any backup plan or something lined up.” From there, she decided to venture to one of the few vegan bakeries in New York City, Peacefood Cafe, and asked to work—while honestly sharing that she had no professional baking experience. “I guess they liked me,” she laughs. 

Estrada found herself at Peacefood from 6 am to 3 pm, learning a lot about vegan baking along the way, before returning home to continue baking her own Filipino-inspired recipes. She would watch YouTube videos of Filipina aunties to replicate traditional techniques, parsing through the Tagalog to the best of her ability. 

For her first pop-up in 2018, she had her sister design a logo and used a Doc Marten shoe box as a cash box. A year-and-a-half later, she committed to her pastry project, San & Wolves, full time and moved her baking operations to Long Beach, California.

To Estrada, baking using only vegan ingredients isn’t a challenge because it’s all she has ever known, but she finds it “more creative because it’s trying to figure out [ingredients] that aren't traditionally used.” Estrada has developed her own coconut-based butter recipe, which she uses in most of her pastries. “All you’re mostly doing is replacing the milk—there are so many different types of milk like oat milk, coconut milk, hemp milk,” she explains. “A lot of times [the bakes] don’t ‘taste vegan,’ whatever that means, because baking is baking and what’s making it good is the sugar.” That, and the fat content. Estrada’s philosophy is that if there’s enough sugar and fat in the recipe, regardless of animal product or not, it’ll probably be delicious.  

In terms of the name, San & Wolves is inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. Within the animated film, San is a human raised by wolves who fosters resentment against the ways in which humans devalue and exploit nature. “I always saw myself as her,” Estrada explains. “[The name] has to do with my ethics about being vegan. The whole movie talks about how humans, animals, and nature have to coexist in order to survive.” This sentiment is something Estrada wants to continue folding into her baking, which yes, is vegan, but is also soy-free, nut-free, and palm oil-free. 

Estrada still operates as a weekly pop-up but has aspirations to own her own storefront in the future. Her bakes have also evolved from the first couple of recipes she developed in New York—like buko pop tarts and pan de coco. She continues to celebrate childhood favorites, like cheesy ensaymadas and fluffy pandesals, but also bakes cakes flavored with ube, pandan, and black sesame. Right now, she is experimenting with pandan-flavored pretzels and bibingkas—fluffy rice cakes—infused with mango or cornbread. 

“I've discovered that there are people just like me: they’re vegan, and Filipino, and a lot of them miss out on their foods because they don’t have that vegan option,” Estrada says of her mission with San & Wolves. “I want to be able to give them that option for them because it just doesn't exist.”

Additionally, Estrada wants to be vocal within insular and white-dominated vegan communities. “I think taking up space in places we weren’t traditionally in already is important,” she says. “I want to represent the Filipino community.”

cheesy cheese ensaymadas ensaymada recipe
The cheezy ensaymadas from San & Wolves are completely vegan. | Photo courtesy of San & Wolves

Cheezy Ensaymada Recipe

“Ensaymada relies heavily on the flavor of the butter. I make my own butter and I’m really proud of the butter I’ve developed. Growing up, this was my favorite thing to eat from Goldilocks bakery.” 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups milk (I use coconut milk.)
  • 6 cups flour (+ a little more for kneading)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • grated cheddar cheez. (I use Violife's Epic Mature Cheddar Block)

Directions

1. Combine yeast mixture. Let sit for 5-10 min or until it's doubled in size.

2. While you're waiting for the yeast mixture to proof, combine the liquid mixture. Mix sugar and melted butter until sugar is dissolved. Add milk. Mix.

3. In a larger bowl, combine dry ingredients; flour and salt. (If you're using a stand mixer, put dry ingredients there).

4. Once yeast mixture is doubled in size, (you'll know the yeast is active if the mixture is bubbled and there is a yeast aroma), add to liquid mixture. Mix.

5. Combine liquid mixture to dry mixture. Mix then knead for about 10 minutes. This recipe doesn't require much kneading. The dough should still be slightly sticky. 

6. Grab a large cambro container or larger bowl, and brush oil throughout. Place dough in container and let rise for 2 hours or until it’s doubled in size. You can also do an overnight refrigerator proof. 

7. Once the dough is ready, punch it down to let the air bubbles out. Lightly sprinkle flour on table and roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Now roll the dough to form a long log.

8. Cut into 3 ½-ounce pieces. 

9. Now form the ensaymadas. Grab a piece and flatten it into a long rectangle. Spread softened butter and roll into a log. Form the log into a spiral shape and place in brioche mold. (If you don't have a mold, that's fine. Just place the ensaymadas on a parchment lined baking pan.

10. Repeat until all pieces are formed. 

11. Loosely cover the shaped ensaymadas with plastic wrap or clean towels. Let ensaymadas proof/rise for about 30min or until it's doubled in size.

12. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. 

13. Once ensaymadas are completely cooled, spread softened butter on top of each ensaymada and dunk in grated cheddar.

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn
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