The science of the beautiful, weird dessert known as “raindrop cake”

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The clear, dense jelly used in New York City chef Darren Wong’s “raindrop cake” may be new to Brooklyn foodies—who are lining up by the hundreds to buy it at his weekend stall—but it’s very familiar to people from Japan. Gelatinous desserts and savory foods made with agar, a substance derived from algae, have long been popular in Japan, where the unflavored jelly is used as a vehicle for other flavors—edamame milk kanten, anyone?

Wong came across a story about the jiggly substance in a food magazine in 2015 and decided he would try to make it himself. After two months of experimenting, Wong came up with his ”raindrop cake“—and copyrighted the name. He tops his beautiful, calorie-free creation with roasted soy bean flour and brown sugar cane syrup to give the flavorless ”cakes” some taste.

“At first, it was just ‘this seems really fun,'” Wong says. “I bought a bunch of ingredients and started experimenting.” Now he’s churning them out, selling 600 to 700 at $8 each every weekend at the Smorgasburg food market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a hipster haven where many a food trend has been launched. He recently moved the operation out of his apartment and into an industrial kitchen in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and he plans to launch a raindrop cake operation at the Smorgasburg in Los Angeles soon.

The process of creating a “raindrop” of solid agar jelly, described and demonstrated in the video above, is actually quite simple. Chef Jansen Chan, who heads up the pastry department at New York City’s International Culinary Center, sat down with us to explain the science behind Wong’s magical dessert.

I tried the “cake” before Wong added the sweet and nutty-tasting toppings. Alone, it tastes just like a drop of water, with a texture reminiscent of a soft gummy bear. With a bit of light chewing it dissolves, leaving a little puddle on your tongue before you swallow and it’s gone. “I once called it the Snapchat of desserts,” Wong says.

Wong is also looking forward to playing with new flavors and ingredients. Next up? He’s thinking about an alcoholic “raindrop cake” cocktail.