Established during the summer of 2020, amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 global pandemic, a cozy shop in New York Chinatown, called Pinklady, is the latest home for the irresistible ooze of sweet molten cheese in Japanese Cheese Tarts, which has been spreading around the globe. Founder Jean Lim grew up in Malaysia, where shops selling individual Japanese cheese tarts had been very popular with her friends and family for years. It was only in 2019, on a trip home from New York City, that she tasted one for the first time. “It was okay,” she said, “but it could have been cheesier.” The attraction of these cheese tarts is that eaten fresh out of the oven, their creamy middles offer an alluring molten melt of cheese, making them an instant Instagram darling.
Lim had moved to New York for a Master degree several years previously but realized that wasn’t the path for her. She had always imagined running a business. Armed with 5QT Kitchenaid mixer and an oven at home, Lim started testing her recipes for 6 months. Neighbors, friends and family all agreed that the cheese tarts were delicious before Lim she took a giant leap in 2020 and opened the petite Pinklady. “Life is short,” says Lim, “you have to go for your dream.”
This particular dream presented quite the learning curve for Lim, who had no previous experience in food businesses. “When you don’t have experience, Google is your best friend,” she says. She turned to YouTubers to perfect her recipe and technique and became a student at the school of trial and error. When a large machine she purchased to measure ingredients for the crust dough turned out not to be what she needed, the resourceful Lim sold it on eBay.
PINKLADY’S JAPANSE CHEESE TARTS
Lim’s version of Japanese cheese tarts is she says, “less sweet, fluffier, easy to eat, and not heavy.” All 200-300 a day are made in the tiny kitchen at the back of Pinklady. Lim started with the original cheese flavor, which is still the most popular, adding 7 more options in a range of natural flavors and hues, (green matcha, purple ube, cocoa chocolate, silvery black sesame, original with blueberry filling, fruit flavors such as lemon and pink strawberry). The name Pinklady came to her in a dream.
Lim refrains from revealing her recipe secrets, but confesses it contains, “white cheeses, cream cheese, and cream, just a little sugar, but not too much.” (On YouTube, you can find recipes featuring cream cheese, mascarpone, and parmesan.) Pinklady’s menu describes the petite treats as actually having three variations, depending on the temperature at which you eat them: warm has an oozy center and is like eating a fluffy cloud. At room temperature, it is still soft and creamy. When cold it is firmer like cheesecake, but all are light and not too sweet.
In Pinklady, a steady stream of customers come in, many of whom have learned about Japanese cheese tarts from Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Almost everyone takes a bite and snaps a photo of the enticing oozing middle. In 2021, Jean Lim’s twin sister, Jen, joined as co-owner. The 32-year-olds hope their buttery cookie crust tarts filled with fluffy, oozy cheese in natural flavors are the start of their own successful spread.
An excerpt from cheeseprofessor by Anna Mindess with some addition.