Hong Kong-Australian Chef Jessica Chow had the idea to explore plant-based pastries during her time in Berlin, the vibrant vegan-friendly city that she describes as a “place where anything can happen”. After moving back to Hong Kong and working with Chef Peggy Chan of the beloved Grassroots Pantry and Nectar, Chow said she has “never looked back since”. Now, she has opened the doors to Bien Caramélisé, Hong Kong’s first-ever 100% plant-based pâtisserie (and as far as we can tell, Asia’s first retail 100% plant-based one), offering locals a butter- & egg-free taste of traditional French-style pastries.
Tucked away on the first floor of a building on Prince Edward Road West, near the Mong Kok Flower Market, Bien Caramélisé is the newest addition to Hong Kong’s growing plant-based dessert scene. But the café isn’t offering just any type of dessert – it’s the first in the city to offer a whole array French-style traditional pastries like mille-feuilles, éclairs, choux and tartes au citron that are made entirely from only plants.
“Everyone is really curious about what this is,” Chow tells Green Queen. “So far, some hotels and bakeries might have offered one or two vegan-friendly options, but none so far have offered people a whole line of 100% plant-based pastries. And when I ask people what they miss on a plant-based diet, they almost always say it’s the lemon tarts and the napoleons and so I thought it was a good start.”
So far, some hotels and bakeries might have offered one or two vegan-friendly options, but none so far have offered people a whole line of 100% plant-based pastries.Chef Jessica Chow, Founder of Bien Caramélisé
While the classic recipes always call for eggs, dairy, white flour and refined sugar, Chow’s creations are crafted from a range of plant-based ingredients, many of them more nutritionally dense. In terms of the types of flours alone, Chow couldn’t be quicker to point out the diversity in her ingredient list.
“I use so many flours – buckwheat, sorghum, different ancient grains, brown rice flour and chickpea flours,” she lists. “Even with wheat flour, I use stoneground French flours like rye, and I don’t use any refined white flours or sugar.”
This doesn’t mean that Bien Caramélisé is offering “healthy” pastries as is quick to specify. “I’m not trying to sell low calorie or low sugar food,” explains Chow, who shared that she is a dietitian-turned-chef. “This is indulgent food, but the ingredients I use are high-quality and better for you. There is more here for you nutritionally.”
I’m not trying to sell low calorie or low sugar food. This is indulgent food, but the ingredients I use are high-quality and better for you. There is more here for you nutritionally.Chef Jessica Chow, Founder of Bien Caramélisé
Cooking with plant-based ingredients also means getting creative with different applications of ingredients. “People always ask what I use to replace eggs, for example. It depends on what I’m making,” Chow tells Green Queen.
“When I make lemon cream, I replace eggs using kudzu, a Japanese starch extracted from the roots of the kuzu plant. But I wouldn’t use it when making a sponge cake. That’s the thing about plant-based, it isn’t just one ingredient that can be used universally, it totally depends on what I’m making.”
For the chef-owner of Hong Kong’s first plant-based pâtisserie, creating her favourite authentic French desserts with a plant-based twist comes with the added benefits of giving her pastries an added depth of flavour.
“The variety of ingredients we use means we can add a lot more flavour. I actually prefer making a gluten-free tart base, for instance, as opposed to the conventional butter and flour base, because I can use a mix of different flours like sorghum, giving it that depth. Even with the fats I use, from cacao butter to olive oil, the range means we get a different flavour that is better.”
The variety of ingredients we use means we can add a lot more flavour…Even with the fats I use, from cacao butter to olive oil, the range means we get a different flavour that is better.Chef Jessica Chow, Founder of Bien Caramélisé
At the moment, Bien Caramélisé’s menu ranges from lemon-bergamot tart and other fruit tarts made with regionally-sourced seasonal fruits like longan and mangoes, to mille-feuille, which comes in three filling flavours – pure chocolate, creamy vanilla and a decadent hazelnut praline – that take 6 hours to stone-grind into a rich paste.
And while her creations are very French from a technical point of view, she indulges in local flavours, offering cakes like banana pandan lucuma and Hong Kong lemon tarts, sourcing locally grown as much as possible. “I get all my local fruits from the Sham Shui Po market,” she says, “It’s a fantastic spot to support the city’s organic farmers.
For those with dietary restrictions, Chow is happy to adapt her menu, which already includes a fair few gluten-free options, including the éclairs and the Paris-Brest. She also makes sure to underline that she makes everything to order. “You need to eat the cakes when they are fresh, these don’t keep.”
Starting mid to late September, customers can visit the café during weekends to browse the selection and dine-in or participate in one of Chow’s plant-based workshops, where attendees can learn and bring home some of her top tips in the kitchen, but for now, it’s online order only.
Looking ahead, the Bien Caramélisé founder wants to increase the range of offerings to include plant-based breads, sourdoughs and perhaps even frozen tart doughs. “Eventually, I’d like to venture into B2B but ultimately, the goal is to make plant-based more widespread and mainstream, especially with pastries.”
For enquiries and orders, WhatsApp: +852 5239 5198 or visit Bien Caramélisé’s website. Note: at the moment, the shop is not open for walk-ins. Make sure to check their Instagram page for the latest product and news updates.
29 August Update: This article was updated to reflect that Bien Caramélisé is currently not open for walk-ins, and the pastries are available by online order only.
Lead image courtesy of Bien Caramélisé.