When she was interviewing for admission to the master’s program she later completed in business at Paris Dauphine University, Julie Le was asked what her dream was.
“I wanted to create a business that would be so successful it will survive my death,” Le told the interviewers, adding: “But I won’t do it until I find the product I will excel in making.”
It took Le 20 years to realize the product was cake. And one week before Christmas 2020, Le finally opened Desseire in the International Management District.
Le is pragmatic about her new business.
“I’m not sure my bakery will survive me. It’s very challenging to launch a bakery during COVID time when other businesses close down,” Le said. “But I have to try.”
Desseire specializes in French cakes with an Asian twist.
You will find pastries with classic and popular Asian flavors like puffs with pandan (a tropical plant), cream and macarons flavored with durian, the potent Asian fruit. In the same bakery case, you’ll also find canelés, French pastries flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust.
Le was born in Vietnam, moved to France when she was 5 and resided there, specifically in Provence and then in Paris, for 27 years.
She visited the U.S. in 2007, met her future husband, and has lived here ever since, which is something she said she never imagined.
Looking at her incredibly beautiful (and delicious) pastries and cakes, you would think Le spent years training as a pastry chef. Yet, Le says she has no background in baking other than being a voracious consumer of cakes.
When she lived in France, Le said, she bought all her cakes. “We had so many great bakeries, why bother making a cake on your own?”
After moving to Houston, she taught herself baking techniques and also drew inspiration from trips back to Paris.
“I was missing cakes so much from there that I started baking and, through word of mouth, I created my home bakery in 2015, and it took five years to grow and move to the store.”
Desseire, with a light pink accent wall, white counter tops and the shop’s name in gold lettering behind a glass case full of mouthwatering pastries, is located at 10600 Bellaire Blvd.
The International District was the most obvious choice for her business, Le said.
“I’m a Vietnamese-born, French and American citizen and I speak four languages,” she said. “I love cultural diversity and mixing the best out of them. I love French cakes, Asian cuisine, and America is the best melting pot!”
Le prides herself on putting her whole heart into the cakes and pastries available at the store, from colorful and fresh macarons to choux puffs to solar cakes (shaped like sun and its rays) and exquisitely decorated celebration cakes.
“We use premium ingredients for quality cakes, balanced taste, just enough sweetness, and a lot of creativity,” she said.
On a wall of the bakery, Le has inscribed: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy cake, and that’s kind of the same thing.”
Sometimes, as in Le’s case, making the cake leads to happiness, too.
Just down the road, another bakery also opened during the pandemic, taking a chance on a dream to serve up Asian baked goods to the local community.
Bánh Bao Ngọc Lan held a soft opening in February and, given the folks knocking on the door even when the sign says “closed,” it seems to have gone well.
Bánh bao (meaning “bun cake”) is a Vietnamese bun based on the Cantonese da bao brought to Vietnam by Cantonese immigrants. It is a ball-shaped bun containing pork or chicken, onions, eggs, mushrooms and vegetables.
At Bánh Bao Ngọc Lan, choose between traditional savory buns and sweet buns filled with egg custard, purple yam, taro cream or mung bean.
The “cutie buns” are sweet in both taste and appearance, depicting various animals or characters.
Bánh Bao Ngọc Lan has saying on the wall: “Sun’s Out, Buns Out.”
Sometimes, according to their social media pages, they also “sell out,” so be sure to call ahead to place your orders.
Desseire French Bakery
10600 Bellaire Blvd., Suite B
Houston, TX 77072
Bao Ngọc Lan
11209 Bellaire Blvd., Suite C-14
Houston, Texas 77072
— by Dorothy Puch Lillig