The rise in Dongguan’s local dessert trend

It seems there are some clear differences between Chinese and western desserts and dessert lovers; for a start, we all know that local desserts are much less sweet than the typical western dessert. For example, take a chocolate cake from a Chinese dessert store, and one from a western dessert store, well, we all know which will be sweeter and richer. During this cover story project, we compared our taste buds and also discussed texture. We understood that compared with Chinese people, many westerners are not so on board with jelly-like textures or other textures they may not be used to discovering in their favorite cake or ice cream. Some of us just can’t enjoy those brown sugar pearls! What’s up with those? And the salty cream inside of sweet cake? Actually, that isn’t so bad. And from the Chinese side, they cannot get to grips with carrot cake. I mean who doesn’t love a good carrot cake with a fresh cream frosting? But okay, this one we can understand a bit. Carrot and cake together—it is a little bit unusual when you’re first introduced to it.

Anyway, we decided to meander some of the most famous, unique and established local dessert stores in Dongguan and during our sweet escapade, we discovered a whole host of new things. Some of our preconceived beliefs were smashed into pieces by reality, and we were enlightened by a range of intricate and fascinating new notions. Discussing the motivations and creations with those responsible for the crafting of such fine dessert, as well as the brains behind the operation itself, we got to know many of the founders, chefs and managers that bring their culinary art to Dongguan to satisfy our sweet cravings.

Dessert is no longer just dessert; these local dessert stores are upping their game and bringing to Dongguaners a whole assortment of treats encased in so much more. Offering lifestyle products, education on the best ways to eat what you love, an entire experience and even servings that challenge your taste buds and your mind simultaneously—it isn’t just about presentation anymore. Some of the stores we mention are renowned locally for being trendy hangout spots, plastered all over social media by the youth of our city; however no longer is it just about the face of these operations, for the founders. Judging by our time and conversations with them, now they are more driven than ever to provide a real experience for customers. They are creating and building an empire among the Dongguan dessert industry.

Points: The Most Surprising

The quality of desserts is the most important. Otherwise, customers will only come to try once. I want my desserts to be not only delicious but also special. I have limited expense for the decoration and I am not into popular styles like on Instagram. So, I made my shop homely. When people are attracted by it, they will be more willing to come in and try my desserts.

With desserts using fresh lemongrass and ginger, Points offers something refreshing and positively surprising. Points founder Cha Cha personally enjoys Vietnamese cuisine and seized the opportunity to be the first in the market to create something with lemongrass as a key ingredient. Dusty Planet is the name of the signature striking blue mousse dessert, bursting with true lemongrass flavor, complemented by a blackcurrant center. I am not Ferrero was a unique surprise as beneath the fairly rich chocolate mousse and nuts was an Earl Grey Tea center, adding an almost peppery note. Truly satisfying. Jiang Zhi Shu [姜植树] with fresh ginger and raspberry presented something diverse. Prices ranged between 32-38 RMB. Points opened in 2017 and despite a dinky store, the design maximizes the space with clever elements. At first glance you see the pastel walls, small scale, the youth of the owner; however, after spending time there, you see beyond that.

Dear Chiffon: The Most Sophisticated

I would say ‘academic’. Our desserts look the same as others by appearance, but actually, they are not. We have plenty of layers in our desserts—layers are the key concept of French mousse. There’re a lot of world dessert champions from the school I studied at with expert recipes. I want to bring them to Dongguan and allow people to enjoy world-class dessert.

Offering a modern concept on both dessert and shop design, since last year Dear Chiffon has pushed seasonal produce, and boasts 90% imported ingredients. After discovering her passion for desserts, founder Tracy studied in several countries including France, at famous dessert school Len?tre. Admirably, Dear Chiffon’s three dessert chefs all studied there. First up we tried Star Wars, a black sesame mousse with purple rice filling, deliciously light and creamy and certainly sweet enough. Hazelnut packed with rich and seductive chocolate and hazelnut in different forms, is perfect for a keen chocolate lover. And let’s face it, we all know at least one if not ourselves. With real vanilla custard, the Mille-feuille presented perfectly crisp, handcrafted pastry. Prices were between 38-48 RMB. What’s obvious to us is the sheer importance of required technical skill, and more so, the passion to educate people about dessert culture.

LolitaDee Patisserie: The Most Precise

I keep these two (the mango and lemon) with the authentic flavor I learned from overseas, but I changed some recipes for other cakes—to make them less sweet in order to cater local tastes. To be honest, our dessert prices in Humen might be a bit pricey for local people. However, in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, one of these desserts might be sold at 79 RMB.

Lolitadee made it quite clear orally, visually and in the tasting that quality is their absolute most important focus. Since their inception in 2012, Lolitadee has advanced across Humen, Dongcheng and Chang’an with its three branches. Impressively, all ingredients are imported, mainly from France and Japan. Floral decorations are the “cherry on top” for this cake, portraying a stunning backdrop for some marvelously presented expertise in the form of French and Japanese style desserts. Beautifully crafted French style desserts sat before us, after taking three days to form. The Mango and Lemon desserts, perfected with artistry and delicate hands, uncannily represented the fruits themselves and tasted divine. The lemon style was addictively sour and refreshing—the perfect palate cleanser. The Rose, a gorgeous pink rose flavored with maple syrup and coffee, was delectably light and certainly grand to look at. For between 32 and 48 RMB, you get your money’s worth.

BLANCC PATISSERIE: The Most Stimulating

I would say that our brand BLANCC, is not only our dessert; we would like to output for this society—the ceremonial sense of degustation. We think about the kind of tea or coffee at a certain temperature to match different desserts. Our staff members are always willing to talk to customers about how to taste properly or anything they are interested in.

Founded in 2016, BLANCC focuses on the customer experience, highlighting a sense of “ceremony” with their desserts. Aligning with this, cooking lessons and private chef service are available in the building adjacent to the main shop. Understanding BLANCC’s stimulating flavors and techniques gave us a real sense of curiosity. After tasting the Chilli pepper and chocolate sorbet, our taste buds had been challenged! A series of flavors took place: a hit of chocolate, followed by a pungent spice that was strangely addictive. A fortune cookie on the side added a special touch. The Bell pepper and raspberry sorbet presented a sweeter warmth. Craftily, to the eye it just appeared to be a standard raspberry sorbet. Hot espresso with vanilla ice cream represented a tiramisu of sorts. Pour on the hot espresso to watch the amalgamation of hot and cold, bitter and sweet, to form an irresistible treat with strong flavors. Prices were between 30-33 RMB.

Simply Bakery: The Most Inviting

We would like to focus on souvenir desserts. Ordinarily, HOUSE lends its venue for parties or dinners. On some special days, customers will prepare souvenirs for guests, which we can do instead. Like pound cake or Financier. They are easy to transfer and can be kept at room temperature. When giving these, it’s like sharing happiness.

Simply Bakery is a sub-brand of HOUSE, a tucked-away cafe in Dongcheng offering coffee, food, and a truly warm atmosphere. Since its inception in summer 2017, Simply Bakery has introduced desserts with a concept of maintaining quality by sticking to a simple style. Interestingly, three dessert chefs at Simply study in Beijing or Shanghai each year, under the guidance of prestigious MOFs from overseas. Noticing the tableware etiquette at this place was humbling. Sitting inside the conservatory-like space really transported me back to my UK home, and we both agreed that we really did feel at home. A zingy Pineapple ice cream certainly made our taste buds and eyes pop! Served inside a pineapple, this was a picture-perfect choice to cleanse the palate. The Long strip profiterole presented a deliciously fluffy chestnut cream inside. The Matcha cake combined Japanese techniques and French style cream to produce a moreish cake. Prices between them were 28-55 RMB.

Camille Life: The Most Trendy

It shows our pursuit for a high-quality life. For example, some places might use fruit paste to do the filling, but I insist to use fresh ingredients even if it costs more to do so. Before I release a new item, it needs to have gone through a process. Desserts are not just a product, they’re something you use to share the story behind it with customers and they can feel your heart with that.

A beautiful setting for dining and socializing, Camille Life named after the owners’ daughter, is all about lifestyle. Having opened just earlier this year, the store is the second to its former and presents mostly French style desserts. The special item BB cake, a 72% cocoa dark chocolate mousse with raspberry and strawberry filling, representing a baby, was released by the owner as a gift to his wife upon discovering they were to have a second child. This could be a fashionable way to tell your parents that you are expecting! Something a little novel was the sandwich cake, striking in appearance with their patterned surfaces. Pink leopard included a fruity strawberry and raspberry filling and an enticing crispy layer. Finally, Camille Life’s Cookies handmade by the male counterpart of the husband-wife team, are exceptional when freshly baked. Soft and gooey, with chocolate and nuts, need we say more? Prices varied between 10 RMB and 30 RMB.

Garland: The Most Stylish

To be honest, dessert plays a less important role in our brand gradually. It’s more about lifestyle than only desserts, it’s a comprehensive concept connected to your life. Like now it’s summer, what kind of conditions do I want in summer? I ask myself and delineate a picture at first, then I try my best to reach this state.

Founder of Garland, Tina, first had a studio in 2014 and decided to build her brand with a shop in Nancheng during early 2017, before opening the Dongcheng shop in December 2017. Aiming for middle-high class customers, Garland executes quality and delivers a way to bridge communication between customers, staff, and the food itself. With 80% imported ingredients, Garland’s desserts are influenced by Tina’s ideas, with mainly French techniques but comprehensive in style. Something unique is how Garland now offers “plate desserts” with adjustments based on customers’ requirements. Desserts we tried included their signature Caramel sea salt éclair, an ingenious balance between sweet and salty. The Chocolate mousse was truly tempting, with six different layers of taste and texture. Garland’s Blue cheese brownie—with blueberries and cream cheese, is a great twist on a chocolate brownie. Prices landed between 25 and 42 RMB for the three.

Sunrise Patisserie: The Most Classic

Our concept is to make desserts with natural, no-additive ingredients. When you think of green, you connect with nature and health. Our inspiration for desserts mainly comes from different ingredients. When I try ingredients locally or overseas that I think may be suitable, I will try and use them. There’re a lot of ideas in our daily life.

The first Sunrise store was unveiled in Shipai in 2013, subsequently, the Dongcheng branch opened at the end of last year. Speaking to the founder, Milin was an interesting encounter as she was most unassuming. After taking classes with MOFs in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou, she realized what she wanted to do. She began her creations in Shipai because it was quiet and the rent was inexpensive. Season and ingredients are the catalysts for her menu change. Trying the Matcha mousse with raspberry was certainly a delight, emphasized by the addition of the raspberry center. Second up was the Chocolate cake, rich and appetizing with a true intensity about it. Next was the Cheesecake. Yes, you read that right. We know it’s a struggle to find a decent cheesecake out there after being spoiled back in the west. Baked and creamy, enjoy a taste of “New York” with your favorite tea or coffee. All were priced at 29 RMB each.

Empyear: The Most Unique

The taste of our desserts is mainly adapted to the locals because we need to make money, it’s the basis of whether we can stay long-term. In the meantime, we want to promote British tea culture with dessert culture step by step, which means we need to encourage customers to like us before anything else. Loyal customers and those who enjoy our store will try new things.

With a rather British interior and key focus on tea culture, Empyrear’s philosophy is a take on something classic. With a clean and classy design, and elegant tableware, this place features an obvious simplicity which connotes authenticity. Founder and dessert chef Steven, traveled to Kobe, Japan to further study dessert with master chefs for 100 days. This was the first international intensive course of its duration. Steven travels from time to time to source new ideas for future creations. Avocado mousse, a new addition, was cool, light and creamy and perfectly sweet. Ideal for summer! The creative Caramel sea salt crepe cake presented a combination of caramel, salt and cream, among artistic layers of crepe. We were startled as the Bamboo charcoal crepe cake was placed before us. With a sultry black surface this Star Wars inspired cake really was unique in style and taste, presenting cooling layers of matcha cream. All were priced at 32 RMB.

For details on where to go, scan the QR code to follow our official WeChat account and input the store location as a keyword. E.g. Simply Bakery.