Big Joy Family Bakery & Café
4176 Convoy St. Kearny Mesa858-627-0888
There's very little wiggle room in baking. It isn't like cooking, which has more latitude; measurements aren't absolute, and flavor missteps can often be corrected. Baking is a pretty precise science, with a small margin between success and failure.
My grandparents owned a restaurant in the '60s, serving the Americanized Chinese fare of the era, along with authentic Northern Chinese favorites like buns and dumplings. Their specially developed recipe for Chinese sesame bread became so popular that in the late '70s, they converted their New Jersey restaurant into a bakery, and demand for their bread spread to New York City and beyond, all the way to the West Coast. I have a special fondness for family-run bakeries; I know that it's a life of late nights, early mornings and much physical labor and sacrifice.
The Kim family has owned and operated the Big Joy Family Bakery & Cafe in Kearny Mesa for five years. Soyoung Kim manages the cafe floor and helps customers. Her dad is the head baker, and her younger sister, a trained painter, decorates all the cakes, which are intricately beautiful, but not gaudy, and come in 30 flavors of filling, from mango to pistachio and hazelnut, with different cakes and icings to mix and match.
The café serves homemade soups, from chicken noodle to pumpkin, and has a $4.99 lunch special that includes a decent sandwich on pastry bread (a croissant-like loaf) and iced tea or coffee. But you'd be better served here by something sweet, alongside tea or a slow-brewed, hand-drip coffee in a china cup. There is free wifi, and it would be very easy for me to spend the afternoon in the quiet room, slowly making my way through the huge assortment of desserts (and I have).
Nearly everything, from spiraled palmiers to powdered-sugar-dusted Mexican wedding cookie and fruit tarts, is made daily. In fact, the family will usually steer you away from purchasing treats that have yet to be replaced by the day's fresh batch. Of their pastries, the croissants are exemplary, often still nice and warm from the oven. The almond or chocolate croissants are great, but I most love the buttery, flaky pastry when it's filled with a dollop of rich, eggy custard.
Many Asian-style desserts have a mousse-like consistency that I'm not fond of, so although Big Joy's mousse cakes—passion fruit, strawberry, even green-tea tiramisu—are visually beautiful, I skip them because of my texture issues. The red-velvet cake with cream-cheese frosting was too cloyingly sweet for my taste, but I do like the coconut cake, with layers of fluffy cake sandwiching a light whipped-cream filling and plenty of shredded coconut.
My 94-year-old grandmother, who joined me there for a tea date, liked Big Joy's angpang, circles of sweet yeast dough filled with a red-bean paste or sweet-potato and chestnut puree, which reminded her of the date-filled Chinese breads that she often eats.
But the most popular sweets aren't only of the baked variety. Coffee klatches of ladies, both young and old, gather to share big glass bowls of Bing Soo, a Korean dessert that tops flaked ice shavings with chopped fresh fruit, chewy bits of mochi and ice cream. They come in red-bean or green-tea flavors.
Among the artisan breads, the petite loaves of raisin nut are my favorite. Full of fruit and walnuts, the bread is leavened naturally—not from store-bought yeast, but from a raisin fermentation in which the wild yeast of the raisins is combined with water and flour to produce a starter, resulting in a dough and bread that is easier to digest than traditionally leavened breads and keeps its chewy texture longer. It's the best of both worlds, healthy yet totally delicious.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.