The Pastry Revelation

No doubt about it.

The Japanese are overt francophile. Just consider the food. To satisfy a craving for Pierre Herme’s Ispahan or Eric Kayser’s walnut bread, there is no need to endure a 12-hour flight to Paris. Tokyo has it all… and more. Displaying their trademark innovation and spirit, the Japanese are fantastic at adopting something foreign where a subtle Japanese touch is added and voila, something unique emerged.

Pastry is one area where the Japanese magic reigns.

While in Tokyo, CH and I made a trip down to Hidemi Sugino’s patisserie in Kyobashi. I have heard so much about his pastry and I just had to try the famed mousse cakes for myself.

My research tells me that his cakes are quick to sell out, so to avoid disappointment, CH and I set out for the patisserie at 8.30am (yes, the things I drag my poor hubby to do to satisfy my gluttony) and reached there about 9.45am. True to what was being said on various blogs, there was already a line snaking outside the pastry shop. About 20 people stood in front of us, patiently fanning themselves, as they listened intently to the store help who came out, presumably to apologise for the wait. (And according to other food blogs, to advise customers to consume the delicate mousse cakes in the patisserie, rather than exposing them to the elements!)

At 10am sharp, the door swinged open and the customers went in orderly. It was a beautiful and elegant patisserie, with a small area in front displaying the pastries (about the size of a small condominium bedroom) and a slightly bigger seating area at the back. Modern, clean lines dominated the design concept. But of course, we were not there for the interior design.

The darling hubby volunteered to stand in line for the cakes, while I looked around for items to bring home for my dad. Flavoured financiers and madeleines were featured quite extensively, together with the most dainty fruit cakes and chocolate grenobles.

Finally, it was our turn to order. Fearing too much of a sugar fest, we ordered 4 mousse cakes to be shared.

While waiting for our orders to arrive, we peeped at what the gentleman sitting next to us was eating. A man of moderate build, he was tucking in 4 pieces of mousse cakes – by himself – at 10am in the morning. Clearly, for him, desserts are not after-thoughts – it is the main event. He ate the cakes slowly, gently slicing a small portion each time and deliberately swirling the portion in his mouth, tasting and appreciating it like fine wines.

He and I… we could have been best friends if we understood each other…  😉

When our orders came, the waitress recommended that we start with the lighter-tasting cakes first. It was such a simple gesture but one that is often neglected at most patisseries, even the high-end ones. The gesture showed the pride and attention to detail the pastry chefs and his store helps dedicated to the fine art of pastry-making and eating.

Here’s what we had:

B-Caraibe – from top to bottom, rum-vanilla mousse, rum-soaked sponge, banana sauce, one more layer of sponge, rounded up with an orange-flavoured chocolate mousse.

The taste of rum was strong. Even with the strong aroma, it blended beautifully with the rest of the components – the vanilla cream and the yummy banana sauce. My take-away lesson from the first bite of Sugino’s cakes – be bold when soaking sponges. His are soaked well and I like the mouthfeel of the almond sponge in my mouth.

Cote’d Azur – A complete jolt to the senses! We were pleasantly surprised at how tart this mousse cake was! A lime and raspberry mousse cake, the mousses almost bordered sour and were refreshingly light, and the flavours extremely bold, clear and upfront. I love it when the pastry chef challenges customers’ perception that desserts have to be only sweet.

What impressed me most was the lightness of his mousse. It was so light that it literally melted on my tongue and left a pleasant aftertaste of lime and framboise. It was also a very pretty cake to behold – light green and pink mousses, decorated with tiny strips of lime peel on top. Pure artistry.

Exotique – One of my favourite! Mango sauce and almond genoise encased by the lightest and most flavourful banana mousse. The cake is finished with a dusting of dessicated coconut which rounded off and complemented the taste perfectly. Again, not overly sweet, so the flavours were clear.

Arabique – The least favourite in our set of 4 cakes. The cake itself is faultless. It’s just that we are both not coffee drinkers nor fan of the aromatic bean. This is a chocolate-coffee mousse cake with a layer of bitter coffee gelee encased inside.

 

With cakes so ethereally light, we felt that we could do with another two more, so these were what we ate:

? – I forgot the name of this one but I love it. It was a grapefruit mousse cake, with a small square of mint mousse encased inside. Who would have thought grapefruit would go with mint! This is a complete discovery on my part and opened my eyes to the possibilities of fruit mousses. Utterly refreshing cake!

Ambroisie – Sugino’s signature. I can’t seem to find the words to properly describe the chocolate mousse – it was rich in its texture but had a light mouthfeel at the same time. Embedded in the luscious chocolate mousse were a layer of pistachio sponge and pistachio mousse, with a thin layer of raspberry puree added to cut the richness. Magic!

 

Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the patisserie. In any case, we were too busy stuffing ourselves to be bothered with the camera. I found a website which features photographs of Sugino’s beautiful creations. Alas, the text is in French – I would figure it out one day, with the help of my English-French dictionary (the only thing I remember from my college French lessons is that the teacher’s name was Serge and boy, was he cute!  😉 )

Before we left, we bought a box of goodies back for my dad. Sugino’s fruit cake is the lightest I’ve ever had.

Having tasted and being inspired by the master chef’s creations, Sugino’s book Le Gout Authentique Retrouve found its way back to my bedside table. The bulk of the book is in Japanese, with only the ingredient list in French.

One day… yes, one day, when I have the time and when I am feeling confident, I will attempt one of his recipes…  🙂

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