Piaya Bonbon is namit-namit

Kalamay’s most liked Facebook post shows gilded trays of what looks like white chocolate truffles, or some cookies and cream confection. But at first bite, brows furrow, like when something is too good, one can’t put a finger on it: “Is this chocolate?”

“Wait, it’s piaya!”

A bonbon is any piece of chocolate that has a non-chocolate center like liqueur, fruit, nut, or in this case, muscovado!

This intriguing speckled mound of candy is, ladies and gentlemen, the Piaya Bonbon, available only in Kabankalan’s most exciting dessert stop, and only when pre-ordered for special occasions.  The artist behind the Piaya Bonbon is pastry chef Kaye Bello who, armed with a decade of Michelin-star training, makes magic daily at the Kalamay Artisan Pâtisserie.

Chef Kaye’s Piaya Bonbon is finely molded chocolate encasing a soft center of muscovado and a light piaya dough.  The first bite is a velvety chocolate flavor, and as teeth sink into the filling, a warm, piaya sweetness oozes out to remind you of home.

Watch Chef Kaye Bello’s video of making the Piaya Bonbon and see how her talent marries art, science, creativity, and technique.

It’s like that moment-of-truth scene in the film, Ratatouille: the most formidable, scrawny, and scathing food critic in all of Paris takes a condescending sniff of the lowly vegetable dish, tries a forkful, and is transported to vivid memories of childhood, the warmth of home, and a mother’s cooking that can comfort any heartbreak and soothe any restless soul.

At Kalamay Pattiserie in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, you are assured of the highest food safety standards, from hygiene to proper temperatures.

Chef Kaye’s creative take on the piaya is very much an ode to her heart and home. When the Negros Season of Culture team challenged her to recreate heritage food, the piaya struck her first. “This is my dad’s favorite pasalubong and we would buy boxes of them to bring with us over to the UK!”

But Chef Kaye knew that coming home to the Philippines wouldn’t be all pleasant and sugary sweet, and there would be days as bland as dough.  This patisserie owner has been ready to face that, including deviations like the recent typhoon Odette that ravaged Kabankalan. “I practice non-attachment in my daily life. When things happen, it is what it is and some things are just not in our control and not worth stressing about.” Thus, part of the poetry of the Piaya Bonbon is the toasty and sober piaya dough that balances out the sweetness of muscovado and chocolate.

Making the Piaya Bonbon

“I have a ground rule in my kitchen,” Chef Kaye reveals. “If you don’t want to eat it, do not assume the customers would. Simple as that.”

These coin-size discs of toasty piaya dough complete the Piaya Bonbon experience.

That’s why it’s not enough that Chef Kaye’s desserts are delicious. Trained and tried in the United Kingdom’s top-rated restaurants, Chef Kaye upholds the highest food safety standards. Her workspace is spic-and-span, and there is a method and precision to her cleaning and her every move. “It’s a bare minimum.”

The Piaya Bonbon's pearlized finish is achieved through the delicate process of tempering chocolate, quite a challenge in the tropics.

She starts by wiping each crevice of the chocolate mold with a lint-free pad soaked in food-grade ethanol.  Once the mold is dry and squeaky clean, the sorcery of Chef Kaye’s Piaya Bonbon begins.

Prepare the ingredients.  To make the bonbons, Chef Kaye’s ingredients seem to be pretty basic: white chocolate, flour, muscovado sugar, glucose, sesame seeds, cocoa butter, oil, and salt. But the secret that distinguishes this dessert lies in the techniques, tools, and culinary science that Chef Kaye has mastered through the years.

Ribbons of white chocolate drop from Chef Kaye's candy mold.

Spray the chocolate mold with colored cocoa butter in Eclipse Black.  Airbrushing is quite a novel technique in chocolate-making, and Chef Kaye, seasoned in pastry competitions, has it in her arsenal.  This is done with black cocoa butter on the empty mold to achieve the speckled effect on the smooth white chocolate dome. These, Chef Kaye says, “represent the burnt bits of the piaya”.

Make the bonbon filling. While the airbrushed mold is set aside, Chef Kaye combines muscovado sugar, glucose, and water in a pan, bringing the mixture to a boil, until it reaches the “soft-ball stage”.  In candy making, the soft-ball stage is achieved when boiled sugar is gooey in texture.

The soft-ball muscovado mixture then goes to a piping bag, and is set aside to cool down.

Knead the piaya dough. The piaya dough, after kneading, frying, and cutting, will serve as a thin, textured layer lodged between the muscovado and white chocolate medley.

Lightly fry and cut the piaya dough. Chef Kaye flattens the mound of dough she just kneaded until it resembles the typical piaya disc. She fries the dough in a pan until it obtains the burnt, toasty spots characteristic of the piaya.

While the cooked piaya is still warm, tiny circles the size of the chocolate mold are cut out of it.  

Temper the chocolate. Tempering, the crucial process of heating and cooling chocolate so it becomes a firm but silky-smooth shell, is where Chef Kaye displays her prowess as a pastry chef.  She melts chocolate to a certain temperature, and, straight off the pan, pours chocolate on her stone table. With the grace and power of a Wushu artist, Chef Kaye works the hot white blanket with a chocolate spatula, constantly moving and folding on the cold surface.

Pastry Chef Kaye Bello spoons sesame seeds on top of the muscovado filling, making the Piaya Bonbon an interesting play of texture, taste, and structure.

Cast shells on the chocolate mold.  Chef Kaye transfers the cooled chocolate from table to bowl, and once the desired temperature is achieved, she casts the creamy white shells on the airbrushed chocolate mold.  As each mold is filled, she then taps on the tray to get rid of air bubbles and ribbons of excess chocolate.

Pipe in the muscovado and piaya filling. This is how the heart of the Piaya Bonbon is filled: Chef Kaye pipes in the dark, elegant muscovado to occupy three-fourths of the chocolate mold, sprinkles sesame seeds, and tops this Negrense section of the bonbon with the small coin-sized piaya discs.

Cap the bonbon molds with chocolate.  Finally, the whole Piaya Bonbon enterprise is sealed with the remaining tempered white chocolate and is set aside for cooling.  By now the drooling intensifies.

The dark speckles on the bonbon's white spherical chocolate dome are the charred parts of the piaya dough - definitely a conversation starter!

“Is it chocolate? Is it piaya? It’s chocolate, and then it’s piaya again!”  Chef Kaye Bello is amused, recalling the pleased but confused reactions of people after trying her impressive Piaya Bonbon.

But the confusion doesn’t matter.  Just like how “bonbon”, the confectionery term for molded chocolates filled with a non-chocolate center, is the French word for “good” said twice, the Piaya Bonbon of Kalamay Artisan Pâtisserie is simply namit-namit.

Text by: Krystel Marie Santiago
Video by: Bakunawa Films

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