During the pandemic, Bianca Puentes turned her cookies into a business, The Desert Patisserie.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
The Desert Patisserie
A roving macaron maker
Bakers looking to launch a business can choose from a variety of sweet specialties — from cakes to pies to brownies to breads — some significantly easier to perfect than others. The most difficult to master: the macaron.
The airy and delicate meringue sandwich cookie made mainly of almond flour, egg white, sugar, and a flavored filling may sound semi-simple, but possible disasters — cracks, bumps, and deflated shells — lurk at every step of the way. Bakers must balance baking time with perfect piping and nail the moisture content and mixing time. That’s before factors like humidity come into play.
No, French macaron-making isn’t easy — and that’s what attracted Indio native Bianca Puentes to the craft. “I wanted to challenge myself,” she says. “Instead of learning easy things, I wanted to go all in. I figured I’d learn the hardest pastry and then work my way from there. This way, if I learned something else, it wouldn’t be as bad as learning how to make macarons.”
Puentes was intrigued by the pretty pastries on social media and began teaching herself to make them six years ago via YouTube videos.
“It’s not a lot of ingredients, but it is really hard,” Puentes says, noting that she bought a separate oven thermometer and keeps a sharp eye on her home thermostat to make sure the temperature is exactly right for each batch. “In the beginning, I couldn’t bake if it was cloudy or rainy; my macarons would never come out. But now I have a recipe that works no matter the type of weather.”
In 2019, after she began posting her cookies on Instagram and sharing her goods with friends and family, Puentes entered a date-flavored macaron into the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival and won the judge’s choice ribbon.
During the pandemic, she turned her cookies into a business, The Desert Patisserie.
Now, a regular at the Indio and Palm Desert Certified Farmers Markets and Indio’s monthly Second Saturday Center Stage concert series, Puentes also pops up The Desert Patisserie at Coachella Valley coffee shops and eateries.
Though she started The Desert Patisserie with basic flavors like a deep, dark chocolate ganache and pale-green pistachio, Puentes eventually began inventing flavors that nod to her own heritage and community with offerings like marzipan and horchata. She also created a tie-dye-looking Fruity Pebbles macaron — with both the shell and cream infused with the classic cereal — and another resembling a mini cheeseburger with sesame seed-topped “buns,” chocolate “patties,” and coconut shreds for “cheese.”
More recently, Puentes added a sweet-and-savory maple-bacon macaron to The Desert Patisserie repertoire and is testing savory styles like brie-and-jam macarons and even a bagel-and-lox version. “For the more unusual flavors,” she says, “I usually give my customers one for free with their orders, so they can try it first. They always come back and buy them, so, it works!”
Dragon Lili Boba Bar
An authentic and homegrown boba shop
Boba — that milky tea-based drink chock full of popping pearls that originated in Asia — is part thirst quencher, part entertaining experience, part Instagram eye candy, and part trend that’s taking U.S. cities by storm. For longtime Coachella Valley resident Joe Enos and partners, that combination adds up to a business idea ripe for the region.
“We wanted to bring something unique to the valley that perhaps hadn’t been here before in this authentic way,” Enos says. “We found this great opportunity to build a brand around boba culture.”
The recent influx of new residents from Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego who are familiar with boba gives the Rancho Mirage shop a built-in clientele. “They tell us they were looking for a boba shop,” Enos says. “There were national chains, but there wasn’t one that was created from scratch here.”
Confident, independent young women — the demographic the owners found most frequent boba shops — inspired the business’s mascot, Lili, a purple-haired anime-esque girl. Lili’s pet dragon, Boba, adds to the fantastic feel of the shop.
The extensive mix-and-match menu features traditional Taiwanese boba milk tea — black tea mixed with a nondairy creamer and served with chewy tapioca pearls — most often sweetened with brown sugar and sometimes flavored with lavender, vanilla, and rose. Then there are the vibrantly colored fruit teas, with a floral green tea base in bold flavors from pineapple to pomegranate, served with the ubiquitous liquid-filled popping boba, offered in a dozen flavors.
“The combinations of the tea, the syrups, and the boba give you this endless combination of drink choices,” Enos says, noting that Dragon Lili receives regular shipments of syrups and powders from Asia and imported its cup-sealing machine from Taiwan. “An important part of the culture is not to have a snap-on lid so that you punch the straw through the seal. It’s part of the experience for the guest.”
In addition to customizable creations, the shop concocts “Lili’s picks,” including five drinks named after local high school mascots, in addition to Technicolor-hued hits like the Green Tea Shot: green apple tea with mango jelly, created last spring in honor of the LPGA’s Chevron Championship at nearby Mission Hills Country Club. Since it became a top seller, the emerald green and sunny yellow blend has remained on the menu.
Finally, there’s the Dragon’s Breath, a bubble gum-flavored tea with a cotton candy topping — a pretty-in-pink drink that was practically born to be snapped by your smartphone. “It’s a total rush for kids,” Enos says. “It’s cute and fun and it flies out the door.”
A niche bar straight out of the ’70s
Rory Snyder has built a career around the kitschy world of tiki between his annual Tiki Caliente festival and Polynesian décor-clad Palm Springs bar The Reef at the historic Caliente Tropics Resort. When he found himself with an opportunity to create a new bar in a vacant space on the property, he wanted to do something the valley has yet to see: a fern bar.
If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone — and that’s the point.
“Fern bar” is a term created in recent years to describe a retro breed of bars that began popping up around the country in the mid-1970s and focused on luring a new market — women — while tracking with the feminist movement, an increase in divorce, and more females entering the workplace and thus with more disposable income.
“It’s a stereotype now, but they were making drinks that were sweeter for women, like grasshoppers, pink squirrels, mudslides,” explains Snyder, who opened Le Fern in June. “Fern bars were fashioned for women to feel comfortable — with foliage, natural woods, brasses, and Tiffany-style lamps. But then, naturally, if you build a bar for women, men are going to come.”
Fern bars are still a novelty, with a few having opened in metropolises like Portland and San Francisco. That, according to Snyder, means opportunity here.
“It’s the same reason I thought The Reef would do well in Palm Springs,” he says. “When I moved here in 2006, the midcentury modern world kind of poo-pooed tiki and also the 1970s. Like tiki bars, fern bars are kind of self-mocking, and there’s a kitsch factor. They don’t take themselves too seriously whereas sometimes modernism takes itself way too seriously. Finally, we’re giving some love to the 1970s.”
Snyder also gives plenty of love to Le Fern, paying painstaking attention to authentic detail of the period. The space is dotted with those namesake live plants, and the venue’s color palette highlights ’70s-style harvest golds and avocado greens in pieces like his groovy hanging light fixtures and massive door panel. The bar leans heavily on liquors popular to the era, including the sweet herbal liqueur Galliano, green and yellow Chartreuse, and crème de menthe, for example, plus a kitschy food menu with grilled cheese layered with red pepper jelly and devils on horseback.
As he’s done with the local tiki scene, Snyder wants to create a community around Le Fern, so he launched the Seersucker Society, a group that gathers on Seersucker Sundays. While everyone’s welcome, any customers who arrive wearing seersucker can indulge in an all-day happy hour. “I always collected seersucker, and I thought it would be fun,” he says. “I love to give people a reason to dress up, so it’s a way for a bunch of like-minded people to get together and dress a little fancy like people used to during the fern bar era.”