Patricia Loison on Japanese cakes
Based in Kobe with her family, French journalist Patricia Loison discovers the magic of Western cakes, given a Japanese touch.
It was raining, and yet it seemed to me that under umbrellas, a line stretched for ten meters, from the entrance of the shop all the way to the next block.
The crowd waited Japanese style - patiently, politely, perfectly equipped to withstand a chilly September day in Kobe.
They weren't waiting to get tickets for a band's last show, no, they wanted to eat just one more cake... at the must-visit patisserie in Mikage.
Mikage is the Kobe neighborhood we live in.
Between the station, the electric poles and the gray houses, it's not particularly charming. We live on a slope approaching the hills. Wild boars sometimes wander down when food is scarce in the forests above. A river rushes down from the mountain. In the spring it thunders, making almost more noise than the cars on the nearby road.
It's in Mikage that the most famous cake shop in the city is nestled. Or one of the most popular, in any case. And when it comes to the place to be, the Japanese don't mess around - especially when it's the last chance to visit. The cake shop was going to close! The rumor was passed among residents in the local konbini, at the hair salon... the founder of the shop couldn't find a buyer, and his son refused to take on the business.
"Ooooh! So desu ne!" they sadly exclaimed.
Aficionados flocked to enjoy one last treat in homage to the creator of the place. Out of curiosity... and greed, passing in front of the shop with the children, I murmured:
"We never managed to go there... it's such a pity!"
We had often thought about it, but the opportunity just never arose. And as the last days neared, we started to notice crowds gather in front of the establishment in the middle of the afternoon, the time many Japanese like to eat dessert.
Anko paste is sweet like jam - here it is on toast, a speciality of Nagoya called "ogura toast"
A matcha latte and cupcakes, yum!
Matcha melon pan
Credit: © 2017 FIX FEAST FLAIR. THIEVING IS BAD http://www.fixfeastflair.com/home/matcha-melon-pan-japanese-sweet-bread-buns
During our scouting trip to Japan, biting into a sweet rice cake as I was leaving a temple in Kyoto had reassured me about my addiction to sugar. I could still satisfy my sweet tooth on the other side of the world! I'd find alternatives to chocolate!
I never imagined that a few months later in the supermarket, I'd come face to face with mont-blanc, garnished with chestnut cream, glistening strawberry slices, cream puffs filled with airy whipped cream, and even the good old black forest gateau with its classic chocolate curls. They look just like those seen in France - perfectly lined up behind immaculate windows.
To read : Wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets
Gluttony here goes hand in hand with precision.
Unimaginably detailed, often cakes are displayed along with a detailed cutting plan and description: sponge cake, red fruit coulis, blackcurrant whipped cream, sponge cake, whipped cream...
The famous Japanese service is pushed to the extreme. Personally, I'm drawn to the appearance of a cake, its color, its texture, in short its beauty! It definitely isn't also necessary to know the exact ingredients... what a way to curb the biggest gourmet impulses! Japanese department stores are a sweet temptation: row upon row of counters where all the desserts imaginable are on display. From American cheesecake to French financiers and specialist German apple pies.
I saw dancers in pistachio cream skirts. Cherry blossoms strewn on light pastry. Baumkuchen, German roll cakes that the Japanese are very fond of, illuminated with bright colors and presented like jewels in a gift box.
"Shashin ii desu ka?" Can I take a picture? Some, fearing recipe theft, refuse...
Others accept with pleasure.
My sweet photo collection has grown exponentially since moving to Japan...
A cake from a tearoom at a Takashimaya department store
Thick, "souffle" Japanese pancakes at Matsudo (Chiba, Japan)
An assortment of cakes by Sadaharu Aoki, the famous Japanese pastry chef
And then there's the cute neighborhood shops, where the waitresses wear immaculate aprons and hats, gently put the chosen dessert in its box and ask if you want a small ice pack to keep it cool. In my neighborhood, there was a patisserie just 100 meters away, before the oldest closed.
The Japanese are enviously slim, but love to enjoy a cake at teatime.
To avoid turning myself into a cream puff, I just admire these wonders through the window. They don't just look delicious, they are pretty and refined, just amazing! Round and white, garnished with a nose and two chocolate panda eyes. Cube cakes for children, each decorated with a festive figurine for Christmas: an elf, a fir tree, carefully drawn with cream and colored frosting.
I still remember something I ate at a friend's, without knowing what was waiting for me within the ubiquitous mochi, usually a traditional Japanese dessert.
What genius had filled it with a rich whipped cream? A surprising treat - the East and the West in one bite!
Don't feel guilty: the Japanese eat in small quantities. You'll find portions of cakes ready to eat, even at the supermarket. For me, a chocolate eclair on my lunch break. Not perfect... but not bad! The more trendy a store is, the better the cake is... My latest craze for Christmas: two little chestnut cream puffs, carefully packaged in a plastic box in the self-service department. In this holiday season, everyone here orders a Christmas cake, a cake that's not originally Japanese but has now become a must: a sponge cake, topped with whipped cream and crowned with strawberries. Posters advertise them in all konbini. In the evening, the parents put it on the family table ceremoniously. The family sings some "Christmas Carols", and hello dessert!
Bon appetit, and happy holidays!