The weekly market Smorgasburg L.A. debuts in downtown’s Alameda Produce Market on June 19, and among local vendors like Sticky Rice and Donut Friend, you’ll find Raindrop Cake, a New York City–based operation run by food industry newcomer Darren Wong.
What exactly is a raindrop cake? As the name might suggest, the large, translucent dessert is shaped like a tear. But its simple aesthetic isn't an entirely new one. Wong, who is Chinese-American and grew up in Atwater Village, likens the treat's texture to any number of jiggly, jelly-like dishes in Asian cuisine.
“Another way to think of it is like shaved ice,” he explained. “The ice acts as a base, and it’s far more about texture than flavor. It’s silky smooth and dissolves in your mouth. Then the syrups and toppings complement the base’s texture.”
Wong had virtually no cooking background when he began toying with the dessert, pulling late nights in his kitchen after coming home from work at digital marketing agency 360i. He'd recently read an article about mizu shingen mochi — a “water cake” from Japan made with agar (the algae-derived ingredient that gives the dessert its jiggy texture), sugar and water — and he couldn’t get the concept out of his head.
“I’m a person who likes to make things himself, so I treated it like a science experiment,” Wong said. “I’d try a new formulation and I’d write it down exactly — how much agar, what mold, what water — then I’d look at the results in the morning. Luckily my roommates were cool with it.”
Initial trials weren't exactly successful. Wong says he began with a mold that was more globe than disc, and the density of the cake was way off, bricklike and sliceable. But after weeks of fine-tuning, he achieved the look, translucence and texture he was aiming for. When his friends vouched for the taste, he hired a photographer to take quality images of the tricky-to-capture dish, then pitched his product to Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. Raindrop Cake debuted there last March, and that relationship allowed for an easy jump to the upcoming Los Angeles market.
The $8 cakes come with a few different choices of topping: There’s kinako, or roasted soybean flour, and kuromitso, or sugar-cane syrup. A sweetened matcha green tea sauce also will be offered at Smorgasburg L.A. Can't make it to the market? Japanese fondue restaurant Yojie has got you covered. The downtown restaurant and sake bar will be dropping Raindrop Cake onto its menu sometime this month.
Yojie, 501 W. Olympic Blvd. #102, downtown, (213) 988-8808; yojie.com