From Brooklyn to Bangkok
Partsopar Tanjaitrong’s Brooklyn-inspired cakes have shaken up Bangkok’s bakery scene and it only takes a bite of her perfectly moist, astoundingly beautiful creations to understand why.
Partsopar Tangjaitrong's no-frills Mudpie stands out in the Brooklyn Baker cake case in comparison to its decadent neighbours that are stacked high with toppings like cookie dough bites, succulent slices of mango, or chunks of candy bars. But don't mistake its simplicity for lack of flavour. If it isn't the chocolate cookie crust that gets you, one swoop of a spoon through the layers of airy whipped cream, dark chocolate pudding, and splendidly dense flourless chocolate cake and you'll be reassured that uncomplicated does not always mean unflavorful.
Tangjaitrong left her hometown of Bangkok at the tender age of 10 to study in the UK. It was there, in a mandatory home economics class, where she was first captivated by baking. "I loved learning how to create and to be able to share and connect with others through baking," says Tangjaitrong.
After attending high school and college in the US, Tangjaitrong found herself in New York City where a croissant from Balthazar's Bakery led her to make a major life decision: she would enroll as a student at the International Culinary Center (previously known as the French Culinary Institute). "Seeing the interior of that croissant for the first time—the web of dough, how the soft structure unravelled so beautifully, and the crust outside flaked all over my lap— was life-changing."
But that's not to say that the Tangjaitrong's other creatively decorated cakes don't pack a serious punch. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn't make your taste buds dance in satisfaction. Her creations put your average cake to shame, from her Coconut Deluxe, which is made with chiffon cake, coconut milk filling, and toasted coconut flake cookies crumbs, to the Snickers, which combines half-baked chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream, topped with peanut butter cups and homemade caramel. So it's no wonder why, in a city spoiled with cafes and bakeries, Tangjaitrong has been able to make a name for herself and her humble cafe in Bangkok, Brooklyn Baker.
A year later, with bread and pastry baking basics under her belt and an elevated passion for the craft, Tangjaitrong began working at two of the city's most beloved bakeries: first at Levain on the upper west side, and then Bakery in Williamsburg.
The no-bullshit culinary approach of the Big Apple planted the seed of Tangjaitrong's loyalty to the tenets of artisanal baking. "Consumers in New York have high standards and are quality-conscious. People are much more focused and devoted to their work," she says. "Bangkok is a lot more laid back. Culturally, we Thais have to take our friends and family into account, and attend to their desires, whereas people in NY can just be their individualistic selves."
When Tangjaitrong's decided to open up her own bakery in Bangkok, she quickly learned that not only was she to deal with the usual struggles of a business owner, but also take on the challenge of blending two very opposing cafe cultures.
"New York has a lot more energy than Bangkok. There’s this buzz of excitement. The food scene was this phenomenon where people lined up for 40 minutes just to get a burger, or whatever it was! You felt like you were a part of something larger than yourself. In the end, it was worth it because materials were meticulously sourced and the makers were masters of their craft--that's what people would line up for," says Tangjaitrong. "Unlike the food scene in Thailand, in New York people were so at ease and took total comfort in themselves that they weren't concerned with their appearance in public. You can see the sharp contrast as Thai people tend to dress up for such casual occasions like meeting up and getting coffee."
At aptly named Brooklyn Baker, there are no neon signs, gimmicky decorations, or items on the menu that look prettier than they taste. Tangjaitrong remains loyal to her French culinary upbringing and has one goal in mind: to make damn good bread and cakes.
Come to the cafe, which also serves a mean brunch with a menu that boasts the classics like waffles and pancakes and a crispy but oh-so tender chicken and waffles dish, and you'll see that Tangjaitrong is undoubtedly living out her goal. With custom cake orders at a nonstop and cafe that buzzes with enthusiastic brunchers, it’s safe to say she has overcome the challenge of familiarizing Bangkokians with a Brooklyn style bakery.
Brooklyn Baker, which started off as a two-man show, now has eight full-time and two part-time staff members. Tangjaitrong's role has fallen heavier on the business side as the cafe has gained traction, but that doesn't mean her days being covered in flour are over. "Baking is extremely meditative for me," she says. "It brings me joy to be able to inspire others and make customers happy with my creations while still fulfilling my creativity needs."