I love Japanese takes on European desserts because Japanese versions are usually lighter and less sweet. Take for example a strawberry shortcake, the most iconic European-style cake in Japan. The Japanese sponge is less dense than its European counterpart, and the cream is lighter and less sugary, which in my opinion enhances the flavour of the strawberries. I also enjoy ingredients such as matcha (Japanese powdered green tea) or hojicha (roasted green tea) often used by Japanese patissiers. I am thinking about writing a separate blog post about Japanese desserts in London to expand on this topic.
However, I didn’t know that you can use things like miso paste, wasabi or sanshō (Japanese pepper) in Japanese desserts. I didn’t know until I went to an event organised by the Japan Society last Thursday: Japanese inspired desserts by Suzue Aoyama.Suzue Aoyama is a renowned chocolatier and patissier. She was born in Osaka, where her family ran a noodle restaurant and also sold rice cakes. But Suzue always wanted to make desserts. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, she worked at the Savoy and Claridges, and then had a patisserie business with her then husband, William Curley. She now runs her own chocolaterie and patisserie business (www.suzueaoyama.com). She offers various dessert-making workshops, and provides consultations for brand and product development.
The event took place at the National Baking School (I didn’t know that there even was one). It wasn’t strictly speaking a sake event, but sake was served at the beginning. I think they actually gave us two different sake. The first was a Junmai Daiginjo and tasted very nice. It was a bit sweet but crisp, very clear in appearance, and didn’t have any particular aftertaste. The second, however, was not as good. The taste was more earthy and coarse and the colour was tinted a bit yellowish. It was still OK but not my type.
First, Suzue served rather controversial from my point of view canape, which consisted of smoked salmon with cream cheese on top of a sweet sansho biscuit. The sweet biscuit part was the unusual part for me. However, it surprisingly worked very well. The sweetness of the biscuit accentuated the delicate saltiness and the smokiness of the salmon and softness of cream cheese.
The second canape was something that seemed like potato salad on top of a small wasabi puff pastry swirl topped with a small piece of prosciutto and some black caviar, which was also delicious. The small bit of caviar just added a nice kick to it. Both canapés went nicely with sake and set the mood of the evening. The anticipation was high and Suzue didn’t let us down.
The savory nibbles were followed by a palate cleanser of Prosecco jelly with raspberry sauce and a flake of gold leaf served with a shot of delicious hot chocolate Suzue made in front of us using Amedei chocolate chips and hot milk. Can’t say that gold tasted anything but looked great on jelly, which was very refreshing. It reminded me of a raindrop cake, but with nice delicate taste of Prosecco.
As I understand, Amedei is a famous Italian chocolate company based in Tuscany and considered one of the best chocolate producers in the world. Suzue was talking a lot about chocolate, how it is grown and produced. I didn’t know that there are three varieties of cacao beans: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. Criollo beans are rarer and considered a delicacy. It was a predominant cocoa bean only two hundred years ago, but lost to Forastero due to a smaller size and lower resistance to diseases. Trinitario (from Trinidad) is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered to be between the two in terms of quality and yield. While the chocolate made of Criollo beans has more complex and exquisite taste, it considerably differs from the taste of more common chocolate made of Forastero or Trinitario. So not everyone might like it.
Suzue showed us the different parts of the cocoa bean and and let try the roasted seeds, which is the raw material for chocolate making. Her hot chocolate was less intense than you usually get in France but more flavoured than in coffee shops in London. Suzue said that she prefers it this way because she believes that flavours should be subtle but still pronounced. I have to admit, it was one of the best hot chocolate I have ever tried.
Back to Japanese desserts! After the palate cleanser we were served a miso financier, a light almond sponge cake with miso paste mixed into the sponge batter, topped with a salted caramel chantilly cream and roasted sesame seeds. I didn’t taste miso in the financier, but the cake had a bit of saltiness and the flavour was more intense than usual. The miso probably added some umami (savory taste) to the cake. The chantilly cream provided some moisture to a generally slightly dry financier.
Next was hojicha sablé sandwiched with Amedei Gianduja cream. It was a very interesting dessert. First of all, I’ve never tried Gianduja cream before. It is a sweet chocolate cream containing hazelnuts. Apparently, the best hazelnuts come from Piedmont (Nocciola del Piemonte), a region in northwest Italy. Piedmont hazelnuts have fine and delicate flavour, with a very crisp pulp. Suzue said that they are much tastier than the hazelnuts sold here, which usually come from Turkey. So the cream was very delicate and not overpowered with chocolate. Sablé biscuits were also very good. They were crispy but soft enough to bite without crushing them and hojicha’s bitterness well complemented the sweet Gianduja cream.
The last dessert (or should I say a cherry on top), Japanese Forest Gateau, was essentially Suzue’s take on German Black Forest Gateau. It was a layered cake with Amedei chocolate ganache and a layer of cherry sauce sandwiched between two layers of Spanish sponge with matcha cream on top. The gateau was decorated with a chocolate swirl and golden leaf flake and had some of the cherry sauce on the side. It was served with hojicha.
There were a couple interesting things about this dessert. I think that the Spanish sponge (bizcocho) used there was slightly firmer than sponge typically used in classic Black Forest Gateau. It gave the cake a slightly different feel. Also I didn’t know that the beautiful chocolate swirl is quite easy to make. It is made by pouring a thin layer of tempered chocolate on an acetate and combing the layer of chocolate with a comb and then rolling the acetate into a tube. In my opinion, the swirl made the gateau look beautiful.
Suzue said that she really likes German cakes and especially Black Forest Gateau. She believes that it is better suited for afternoon tea as it is light and actually travelled across the Black Forest region to try Black Forest Gateau in different cafés and restaurants to study the dessert better.
The gateau was really scrumptious and very delicate, exactly how I like my desserts. The sponge was very soft and airy, while matcha cream gave the cake a nice edge. The cherry sauce was a link to the original Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, which is German name of the dessert.
Overall, I really enjoyed the event. Suzue’s presentation was interesting, the desserts were fabulous and innovative, I found out a lot about chocolate and there was some sake involved. It was the first event in a series of events about interesting Japanese people living in the UK organised by Japan Society. Hopefully they will organise something more sake-related event in the future. I will be definitely looking out for it.