Cakes, pastries and so much more

Jo McGarry
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Friday - June 13, 2008
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You’d think that after 11 years in business, Panya owners Annie and Alice Yeung might be running short on new ideas for cakes and pastries. One look at their new hamburger cake or a quick bite of a sweetly seductive guava mousse proves that the sisters are as creative as ever.

“We can’t really believe it’s been 11 years,” says Annie.“It’s gone fast and we’ve learned a lot, but we’re still always looking for new techniques and new ideas.” As you read this, Alice is in Hong Kong trying new products and gathering goodies to bring back to the bakery headquarters on Queen Street. This weekend you’ll find a golfer’s cake appropriate for dads with a sweet tooth, along with a number of new gourmet cakes created by Panya bakers.

“There’s a taste and impression that customers expect from Panya,” says Annie. “Our customers expect certain things from our bakery.” Those certain things include cakes as light as air, creamy fillings, soft, sugary doughnuts, fresh breads, sandwiches and a range of gourmet cakes. Latest offerings include a gorgeous guava mousse that’s tart on the initial bite and sweet, smooth and creamy on the palate, and a decadent Black Forest mousse based on the famous German cake but filled with chocolate mousse instead of sponge cake (they’ll do a traditional version if you prefer) and whole, dark, ripe cherries bursting with sweetness and flavor.

Every few months Alice and Annie introduce a new line of cakes, but signature items in the bakery stay the same.

“Everybody loves our Hokkaido bread,” says Annie.“We won’t ever change that recipe.”

Panya Express on Queen Street serves as the main bakery for all operations (there’s Panya Bistro at Ala Moana as well as a busy catering division). Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, and for lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Panya Express has a small dining area, a full bakery selection and a lunch menu that includes salads, soups and panini. With more than 1,000 baked items a day coming out of the ovens here, the corner of Cooke and Queen streets may be one of the sweetest-smelling spots in town.

“We bake here from early in the morning,” says Annie. “About 10 times a day there’s someone rushing freshly baked goods over to the Ala Moana store.”

And while the more than 80 bakery items and dozen desserts that include strawberry shortcake, tiramisu, bread pudding, crème brulee and caramel custards are reason enough to stop by, a diverse menu at the Ala Moana location often has customers returning to try new dishes.

“We offer so many different kinds of food on the menu at Panya Bistro,” says Annie, “that a lot of our customers are really surprised when they come for the first time.”

The small European-style restaurant (next to Longs at Ala Moana) is framed by a bakery counter in front and a stylish bar beyond. On the menu you’ll find homemade gyoza ($7.95), Vietnamese summer rolls ($5.95), Steamed Clams in White Wine ($11.95) or Sautéed Black Pepper Rib Eye ($15.95). At lunchtime, salads and sandwiches take the same cultural detours, and there is a wide variety of soups, noodles and desserts. This culinary cultural crossover works incredibly well, and never at any time do you feel that Panya has lost its identity. Dan Dan Noodles are as expertly executed here as Char Siu Ramen, Singapore Curry Fried Noodles or New England Clam Chowder - each dish leaving the kitchen with the same light, gentle touch the sisters apply in the bakery.

“It’s the Panya way,” says Annie.

Panya Bakery & Express 711 Queen St., Honolulu 597-8880 Panya Bakery, Bistro & Bar Ala Moana Center, second floor 946-6388

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