When Joy Cho Pastry showed up in my Instagram “Explore” page nearly three months ago, I immediately knew I had to order Gem Cakes. I’m a complete sucker for pretty desserts, as well as expansive flavors that go behind the classic vanilla and chocolate. It actually took me a while to get my hands on a box of Gem Cakes—mini bundt cakes that do, in fact, look like gems. After several tries over several weeks (because they sell out insanely fast), I succeeded in putting in an order! And I can confidently say that these glazed mini bundt cakes were 100% worth the wait for me.
Like many other culinary professionals during the pandemic, Joy started baking and selling her creations from her home kitchen in Clinton Hill. Previously, she was a pastry cook at Gramercy Tavern and attended the Institute of Culinary Education. When she was developing Gem Cakes, her goal was to create a product that was completely hers. Gem Cakes use a batter that has a 50-50 ratio of all-purpose flour and sweet rice flour, which makes for a springy texture that’s untraditional for a bundt cake. She says her intention was to make something different and new, but still familiar using the classic bundt shape.
The fun part of Gem Cakes—aside from their bouncy texture—is the flavored glaze that tops each little cake. Gem Cakes come in a box of six with three different flavors in each box. Each Gem Cake collection has a unique name and a set of three flavors that are decided by the chef herself. Joy says that Gem Cake varieties are not necessarily based on seasonality; rather, they’re based on flavors and ingredients she is most excited about. For example, she frequently uses misugaru, a Korean multigrain powder that she loves, in her cake glaze. (And as a Korean American who grew up having misugaru mixed into a glass of milk instead of Nesquik powder, I understand the obsession.) The name for each collection is a bit more random; many of the names are street names from her hometown of Columbus, Ohio or street names in Brooklyn, but the recent Luna collection was named after her family dog.
I bought a box of the Harper collection a few weeks ago, due to clicking very, very fast on the Joy Cho Pastry website. The three flavors included were earl grey, black sesame, and milky corn with toasted coconut. So what did I think of them? It was love at first bite. The mouthfeel of these cakes is insane; the cake is moist and walks the perfect line between dense and light. The cake itself isn’t too sweet, which is great because it balances out the sweetness of the powdered sugar and milk glaze on top. Even though I wasn’t in a restaurant or out at an event, I would say that trying Gem Cakes is something of an experience. It also left me wondering why I hadn’t bought two boxes instead of one.
If I’m being honest, I do think part of my fondness of Gem Cakes comes from my own background. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and rarely tasted Korean or Asian desserts unless I was visiting relatives overseas. The black sesame flavor reminded me of all of the 깨강정 (sesame brittle) that my grandma would mail thinking we couldn’t find it in Chicago. The milky corn brought back memories of creamy corn soup that I’d get to eat when I was overseas (and the corn chowder in the US never really measured up). The earl grey made me think of the first time my best friend took me to get bubble tea in college after I said I’d never had it before. Yes, Gem Cakes are exquisite. But for me, there’s an added element that makes them even more special. They taste of nostalgia.
Joy hopes to continue baking Gem Cakes for pickup, but she’s also considering baking them for weddings or baby showers down the line. If you’re a fan of cake, fun flavors, pretty things, or just dessert in general, go get yourself a box of Gem Cakes from Joy’s next drop. I promise you don’t want to miss it, and it’s worth taking the G Train even when it’s running on a weekend schedule. She also has some limited R&D items such as cookies and while I haven’t tried them, you should probably get those as well. My pro tip? Get on Joy Cho Pastry’s email list and you’ll get an email for when drops go live!