Category Archives: Tokyo

a very baumkuchen holiday

we arrived in berlin on a gloomy grey afternoon.  soon after checking into our hotel, hubs and i walked over to gendarmenmarkt to see its famous christmas fair.  we wandered around the many nostalgic stalls selling everything from pizza to christmas ornaments to cookie cutters, when lo and behold, after rounding a corner, we came upon a rustic wooden sign with the words “BAUMKUCHEN” painted onto it.  OMG OMG OMG! i felt my heart race as i leaped around the corner to get my hands on some authentic german baumkuchen, the root etymology, the grand-daddy of all the japanese baumkuchen versions i’ve been obsessing about for years.

the baumkuchen stall we came across at the fair bore the signage: baumkuchen backstüberl.  i’m not sure if it was a famous brand of baumkuchen in germany or not?  i have a rather limited knowledge base when it comes to germany baumkuchens, unfortunately.  when i entered the word into google, it took me to the website of some traditional pastry shop in wien, austria.

unlike the slick japanese baumkuchen enterprises i visited that were manned by an army of white clad pastry chefs and salesgirls, baumkuchen backstüberl is a one woman show.  the proprietor made a single baumkuchen cake log at a time (the japanese machines will make several logs at once) on her rickety gas powered machine.

she sells her baumkuchen by weight.  there are two varieties:  fresh baumkuchen and baumkuchen coated in dark chocolate.  you can buy a segment of the log intact.  or she can slice it up for you into little cubes, which she then places in a paper cone.  it reminded me of eating popcorn out of cone.  now imagine if movie theaters in the US started to sell buckets of baumkuchen when you went to the movies instead!

in terms of taste, the german baumkuchen i tried is a bit different.   it is less dense, a bit more spongy in flavor, a tad sweeter, more vanilla-ey, and less nutty.  if i had to guess, it probably contains a lot less almond paste in its batter than the japanese baumkuchens.  i’m not complaining though.  i popped that baumkuchen cone in mouth in about 30 seconds flat.  happy christmas to me!

and just, when i thought i was done with new baumkuchen finds for the season, when i got back stateside, my friend G, who had spent his vacation in tokyo, presented me with a matcha flavored baumkuchen from kyoto based sweet shop sho-ayana (匠、彩菜).

Oo la la! what a way to end 2010 and kick off 2011! thank you G!

hidemi sugino’s financiers

S came over early on thanksgiving to “tablescape.” i literally turned around after i saw what he did, and said, omg, who is getting engaged!  i’ll post more S tablescape pictures in a bit, but his floral arrangements and tablescapes were romantic, artistic and stunning.  personally, i think he should start his own tablescaping enterprise.

as the title suggests, this post is really about hidemi sugino’s chocolate financiers.  while in tokyo earlier this fall, i picked up a little cookbook  because the front cover contained a picture of a financier that looked very much like those sublime ones i tasted at Victor & Hugo in paris.  the book itself is titled, Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers, and contains chocolate related recipes written in french from some of the most famous pastry chefs around the world (though weighted towards those in europe).  [note: if sugino’s recipe is any indication, the recipes are not by any means beginner.  you do need an understanding of pastry fundamentals to decipher a lot of the recipes — assuming you can read french.  on the other hand, most french recipes are written assuming the cook knows something about what they’re trying to cook.]

while sugino isn’t the pastry chef at Victor & Hugo (he has his own shop in tokyo where he’s famous for mousse cakes), his recipe for financiers turns out a velvety morsel that is shockingly similar to the Victor & Hugo financier.  S, who had recommended the V&H financier to me initially, took a bite and excitedly agreed that this was in fact the V&H financier.

the rise in sugino’s version is achieved by whipping egg whites into a soft meringue; no baking powder is used.  having looked at several other financier recipes, i think it’s this technique that enables sugino’s financier to achieve that peerless velvety texture.  he doesn’t stop there though.  he goes on to add a rich nutty encore behind the chocolate curtain through the use of browned butter. all this packed into the petite body of a simple financier. so genius!

sugino’s original recipe also calls for morello cherries and raspberry jam.  having run out of steam cooking 16 dishes and 6 desserts, i decided to simplify his financier a bit by baking with fresh raspberries instead.  (And yes, i don’t have a financier pan, so i suppose, technically, i didn’t make financiers, but you get my drift…)

Simplified Sugino Chocolate Financier
(makes about 30 one-inch round financiers or 20 small rectangular financiers; modified and translated from the original recipe publishes in Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers )

Almond Flour 150g
Sugar 150g
Cornstarch 25g
Cocoa Powder 15g
Egg whites 5 egg whites
Honey 30g
Butter 90g
Raspberries 1 pint
  1. Butter the financier molds and place it in the fridge until ready for use.  Pre-heat oven to 320ºF
  2. Sift together the almond flour, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder into a bowl and set aside
  3. In a small saucepan, brown the butter and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Add egg whites into the bowl of your standmixer and beat until you reach soft peaks. You can add a bit of cream of tartar as a stabilizer.
  5. Very gently, fold the almond flour mixture (from step 2) and honey into the meringue
  6. Transfer the meringue mixture into the molds.  Place a raspberry in the center of each.  Then bake for 12-15 minutes, remove to cool on rack.
  7. When cool, you can dust with powdered sugar or coat the raspberries with a bit of strawberry jam.




nenrinya (ねんりん家) baum kuchen

tokyo is in the throes of a full-fledge baumkuchen explosion.  i swear, in the last six years in which i’ve traveled there, the baumkuchen craze seems to have reached the same frenzied crescendo as cupcakes in nyc.  fortunately, i happen to ADORE baumkuchen (more on my baumkuchen ravings here).  walking around the pastry aisles inside tokyo department stores, i felt sheer joy (or was that the adrenalin putting thru my veins?) i witnessed baumkuchens in every permutation.  there was even a baumkuchen that resembled a cupcake of sorts — tiny baumkuchen roll on the bottom, and topped with some sort of frosting or buttercream.

while waltzing down ginza, i came across the nenrinya baum kuchen boutique, nestled in the ground floor of the giant matsuzakaya department store.  i’ve never tasted baumkuchen from this company before, and thought i’d get in line behind the 30 other baumkuchen crazed tokyo-ites.

nenrinya sells baumkuchen in two flavors: original (which is kind of a vanilla/almond) and chocolate.  they also sell two styles of baumkuchen: straight and mount. the former is softer, less sweet, lightly coated with glaze, and is only available in the original flavor.  i purchased a small ring of the straight baum that had been made fresh that day and meant for same day consumption (they also sell a version of the straight baum that is vacuum packed to last longer).  of course, it still tasted delightfully moist about a week after i purchased it, even without the fancy packaging. i’ve learned to ignore japanese expiration dates (basically add a few days and up to a week to any date they’ve got stamped on).

i also picked up a quarter sliver each of both flavors of the mount baum kuchen.  the mount baum kuchen (pictured above) is more heavily coated with glaze, dusted with powdered sugar,  and denser with a ridged exterior.   i prefer the straight baum kuchen, but it’s nice to mix things up every now and then.  plus, the mount baum is just cool looking.

it was a bit hard to take photos inside the jam packed store, and there was  a no photo sign, which i didn’t see until i got up to the counter). that said,  i did pick up a brochure and scanned in some of their lovely photos for your viewing pleasure. . .



pomme pomme inspiration

i have this habit of picking up pretty brochures and things from pastry boutiques and restaurants while i travel.  i stuff them into some deep dark corner of my bag, along with the hotel folios and ticket stubs.  i tell myself that one day, they’ll make for good material if i ever take up scrap-booking. of course, i never actually do and i end up throwing out the whole lot.

i finally decided to tackle my “vacation” pile last night and came upon some of said brochures.  thought i’d post the one from joel robuchon in roppongi hills.  it’s filled with all sorts of delicious ideas about pastry and apples from normandy and brittany (and if you jump on a plane to tokyo now, you can still catch the last 2 weeks of joel robuchon’s normandy and brittany pastry offering!!!)

there’s a better picture of the pithiviers á la pomme that i had posted previously (and mislabeled as a chausson aux pommes).  the cake au caramel, noix et pomme pictured next to the pithiviers is kinda calling out, “make me, make me,” right now . . .


sesame seed puff pastry sticks

while i ogled away at the marvellous desserts at sadaharu aoki’s shoppe in tokyo, hubs zero-ed in on these sesame seed covered puff pastry sticks (they are kind of like an untwisted version of cheese straws in texture). i think he found the only savory item in the entire shop and tossed a bag of them into our shopping basket.  at some point while we were crossing the pacific ocean on our flight back home, hubs got hungry, located the sticks, and started to munch away on the plane.  he finished the entire bag before i had a chance to photograph them for your viewing pleasure.  they came expertly gift wrapped, of course, with ribbons, sashes and all.

puff pastry is a pain to make, and as i have grumbled many times in the past, costs an arm and a leg.  on top of that, when you’re cutting circles out of puff pastry, like i did for the chausson aux pommes recipe, about 40% of the ludicrously expensive puff pastry sheet you purchased ends up as scraps.

fortunately, physics and the puff pastry gods are kind.  these scraps can in fact be re-configured into light and crunchy edibles, such as sesame seed puff pastry sticks, and no one would be the wiser that you had just served them re-purposed “leftovers.” hubs ate one last night, and he claims that they taste just like the ones we bought in tokyo!  hurrah! i can bake like master aoki-san!

Sesame Seed Puff Pastry Sticks
(quantity tbd, but with ~5 to 6oz of puff pastry scraps, i got about a dozen or so 8 inch sticks)

[nb: probably the most inexact recipe i will ever write]

Puff Pastry Scraps Whatever you’ve got on hand.  Yes, you can buy fresh puff pastry expressly for this purpose too.
Egg Wash 1 whole egg, mixed with 1 tbsp of milk and a sprinkle of salt.  You may need to make more or less depending on the scraps you’ve got.
Black and White Sesame Seeds A small mixture of each, ~1/4 cup total
  1. Okay, this is IMPORTANT, very very important! Do not, I repeat, do not clump the leftover puff pastry pieces into a ball.  If you do so, you will not get the characteristic layered effect of puff pastry.  INSTEAD, take each scrap and layer them on top of each other. If the scrap block is too soft, place it into the freezer for a few minutes.
  2. Then, roll the scraps out again into a slab about 1/8″ thick.  I got  a 9×12 inch slab out of my scraps.
  3. Transfer the slab back into the freezer and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes.
  4. Take the slab back out and slice it into strips about 1/2 to 3/4″ wide, and 8″ long.  Although, you can really make the sticks as large or small as you desire.
  5. Pick up each semi-frozen stick and brush it generously with egg wash.  Then sprinkle sesame seeds on top (the seeds should adhere to the egg wash).  It’s easiest to sprinkle the seeds on over a bowl, so that the excess will just fall back into the bowl to be re-used.
  6. Place the seeded sticks onto a parchment sheet lined baking sheet and let rest in the freezer, while pre-heating the oven to 350ºF.
  7. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.

étude de chausson aux pommes

exhibit a above: chausson aux pommes from l’atelier de joel robuchon in roppongi hills (picture taken in bad lighting in a hotel room, moments before i consumed it).  notice the glistening exterior, slightly browned towards the edges,  intricate spiral vents, and even rise of the puff pastry shell. such perfection can be had for about 450 yen.

correction 10/15: i started digging thru stuff from my trip, and it turns out that exhibit a is actually a pithiviers à la pomme.  still made with apples and puff pastry, but it’s got some almond paste inside as well.  oo la la!

exhibit b below: my attempt at making chausson aux pommes at home . . . pale, not glistening, uneven rise, lack of intricate spiral vents. . . homey

having gone apple picking a few days earlier, i found myself with a lot of apples on my hand.  i decided to slice and dice them up and make a rather large quantity of apple compote (i’ve still got a quart or so left in my fridge).  rather than make an apple tart, as i’ve done in the past, i decided to recreate the chausson aux pommes (aka. french version of an apple turnover, more intricate, prettier, less sweet, flakier crust) from joel robuchon in tokyo (see exhibit a).

i went to new york cake to pick-up a 4 inch fluted dough cutter.  tried looking for a spiral vent cutter with no luck — the closest thing i found was the spiral kaiser roll indentation device.  i picked that up as well, but it didn’t work so well.  i could have sworn that i’ve seen something more suited for making intricate spiral vents at dehillerin in paris; i’ll have to burrow through the aisles again the next time i’m there.

i’ve deduced a couple of things to be improved on for my next round of  chausson aux pommes experimentation:

(1) even spiral vents are key to creating the uniform rise as seen in exhibit a.  without the even events, you’ll get more of a dome shape. until i find a spiral vent cutting device, i think the next best alternative is to attempt making the vents by hand with a round pastry wheel.

(2) one must really slather on the egg wash.  i brushed my chausson aux pommes rather lightly with egg wash, and in some cases left it off entirely.  to get that caramelized glistening effect, i think that a heavy hand should be used when applying egg wash.

(3) working with puff pastry is all about finding the perfect temperature.  the best state is when the dough is defrosted enough to be plyable but non-sticky and wobbly, i.e. when you cut the pastry, you should be able to pick up the cut-out disc easily without it losing its shape.  might have to put the puff pastry back into the freezer if the pastry is too warm.

Chausson Aux Pommes v. 1.0
(makes about 8 four inch pastries)

Puff Pastry 14 oz.; 1/8″ thick (I use Dufour; yes, it costs an arm and a leg. I’ve made my own in the past, far more economical, but time consuming and hard work!)
Apple Compote 1 recipe, yielding about 2-3 cups
Egg wash 2 egg yolk, 1 tbsp of milk, a pinch of salt, beaten until uniform
  1. Prepare apple compote a day in advance; and defrost puff pastry 2-3 hours in refrigerator before using.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 325ºF.
  3. Place a piece of parchment paper on your work surface, and unroll the puff pastry pastry.
  4. Dip your 4″ fluted round pastry cutter in some flour, and cut out 16 circles.  [save the leftover puff pastry scraps for another recipe. . . see sesame seed puff pastry sticks]
  5. If you have a spiral vent cutter, make 8 indentations with it; otherwise, do the best you can with a pastry wheel to mimic the spiral vents.  Or, skip the spiral pattern entirely and make vents of your own accord.
  6. Spread about 2 tbsp of apple compote onto 8 unvented pastry rounds.  Brush the edges with egg wash, and then place the vented pastry rounds on top. Press down around the edges to secure them. Place the assembled pastries onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  7. If the dough is started to get too soft, return the unbaked chausson aux pommes to the freezer for 15 minutes.
  8. When ready to bake, brush a lot of egg wash onto the tops of the pastry.
  9. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.

anpan found!

while taking my walk down memory lane, i realised that i wrote one of my very first posts on the anpan — a soft, sweet bread stuffed traditionally with red bean paste.  yes, i waxed on and on about how the bread reminded of breakfast as a kid, and even tried to make the bread at home (yes, very pathetic wrapping techniques; i’ll need to wrap a 1,000 before i get it).

while strolling down ginza a few weeks back, hubs and i stumbled upon the headquarters of kimuraya (木村家), the original sakadane anpan purveyor.  they’ve been kicking around since the 1860s, even as multi-story depachikas and temples to Cartier, Bulgari and all sorts of foreign brands grew up around them. to be fair, kimuraya has expanded too.  they’re now in an 8 floor building (with a few other locations throughout Japan).  the takeaway bakery is on the first floor.  floors 2-4 house 3 separate kimuraya restaurants of varying degrees of formality.  the bread factories are located on floors 7 and 8.  we didn’t have time to explore the rest of the kimuraya complex beyond floor 1, but lemme know if anyone has and would like to report on them?

they’ve got all sorts of breads, red bean paste treats, luxury gift sets and of course many varieties of the anpan in the store.  i purchased two: one stuffed with red bean paste with the traditional navel indentation (see bagel shaped object below), and one stuffed with lotus seed paste. they were both absolutely scrumptious, so moist and so kawaii!  i didn’t know, before going to the store, that kimuraya’s anpan were quite so petite.  that’s my hand, holding a kimuraya anpan — about 3 inches in diameter.  maybe i should have gotten hubs to hold the anpan instead, so as to provide a better sense of scale.

kimuraya’s anpans keep surprisingly well.  i ate one about 1 week later, and it was still rather moist.

Ginza Kimuraya (銀座木村家)
4-5-7 Ginza, Chuuou-ku
Tokyo, Japan 104-0061
(above exit A9 of Ginza Station on Ginza or Hibiya line)

kimukatsu キムカツ: thousand layered tonkatsu

pork tonkatsu, by itself, is a guilty pleasure — a piece of tenderized pork loin, breaded in panko and then deep fried and served with a fruity and caramelized tonkatsu sauce. now, kimukatsu’s rendition of pork tonkatsu, with its thin layers of pork stacked on top of your choice of garlic, scallion, ume or cheese is as  fashionista rachel zoe would say, “beyond, just so beyond, i die, i mean, i literally die.”  i kinda like to think of kimukatsu as the love child of a mille-crepe cake  pastry artist and a traditional tonkatsu chef.

so which flavor to get? i ordered the scallion flavor (in the picture above), and i quite enjoyed it.  when we sat down, our waiter recommended garlic and cheese as his favorite.  my dining companion elected for garlic — they all seemed to gulf it down before i could ask for a sample.  G, who recommended Kimukatsu to me, said he really liked ume.  i did see quite a lot of customers ordering what appeared to be sampler platters, container one of each flavor.

the mille-pork is also served with a never-ending bowl of shredded cabbage (which is delightfully refreshing when dressed with their house sesame sauce) and a bowl of japanese rice.  we got refills on the cabbage about 3 times.

what can i say?  happy eating!

[there are various kimukatsu’s in japan. i visited the one in ginza; G went to the location in Ebisu]
Ginza branch (slightly different name ゲンカツ)
東京都中央区銀座4-6-18  銀座アクトビル3F
Tel: 03-3567-1129
(near the Mitsukoshi Ginza)
approximately 2500 yen/pp for dinner

sadaharu aoki grand opening in tokyo midtown

on our last day before we departed from tokyo, hubs, K and i headed over to tokyo midtown to grab some lunch.  while wandering around looking for a place to eat in the complex’s glorious gourmet lower level, we came across, yes, hold your breath, the grand opening of sadaharu aoki’s tokyo midtown boutique.  to be fair, sadaharu always maintained a kiosk presence at tokyo midtown. on the 18th, he upgraded to a full fledged store, complete with spotless white seating and elegantly illuminated pastry counters. he has on offer the usual suspects: delicate cakes, cookies, color chocolates, tea cakes, chocolate dipped dried fruit and (not pictured) flaky green tea croissants which i had not seen at any previous sadaharu aoki location.

prices appear to be slightly higher than in paris, but that may have to do with the yen being at an all time high.

earlier in the week, i visited the sadaharu aoki counter at shinjuku isetan and picked up a lovely cassis chocolate cake. absolutely divine!  it consists of layers of thin chocolate genoise soaked in some sort of liqueur or syrup and layered with cassis mouse.  he’s got something in between that provides a bit of crunch. while my sadaharu obsessed friend G has raved endlessly about the le bambou (green tea) cake, i think i’ve become smitten with le cassis!

check-out the packaging!  my small sliver of cassis cake came wrapped with two mini-ice packs and two cardboard bumpers to keep it from moving around while in transport.  the japanese are master packagers!!!

travel + leisure’s food issue

over the weekend, i received travel and leisure magazine’s food issue in the mail. as i flipped through the pages, i found quite a number of items that i’ve both written about and obsessed over in the past year. i thought i’d share some of the magazine clippings, as it adds another perspective, and serves as a bit of a trip down memory lane at least for myself.

the magazine also covered a lot of new food places in different parts of the world that i’m putting on my list of things to do.  it’s an action-packed, taste bud overloading issue filled with all sorts of food porn. . . i’m glad i have my copy.

the japanese kit kat is becoming a bit of a “where’s waldo” exercise for me.  i hit the mega load back in january when i went to tokyo, and then spied some new flavors in london a few months later. according to the t+l article above, the folks at nestle japan have been busy concocting new and more exciting flavors!  i wonder if they’ll ever go the bertie bott’s (of harry potter world) route and create “rotten egg and bacon” flavored kit kats. . . although my guess is that that goes against japanese sensibilities.

remember this place?  the t+l photographers captured a great interior photograph of the pastry display at la pâtisserie des rêves.  the accompanying text in the article gives shout-outs to chef conticini’s tarte tatin.

so i’ve been noticing that i seem to write more about places that i visit while traveling, rather than ones that are close to home.  locanda verde is one of my favorite restaurants in new york city.  the food is rustic, homey, well-made, and it’s also a stone’s throw from where i live.  they have, amazing fig crumb muffins and a to die for sheep’s milk ricotta — happy sheep creamy, spiced with cracked pepper, herbs and orange truffle honey, and oh my god so addictive.  i really can’t stop myself when i order it, which is why, i must now stop ordering it.  and now that i’ve spilled the beans (again), i’ll probably never get a reservation!