A quick search on the Internet confirms my suspicions, that I am not the first nor will I be the last person to pine for a delicate, just-sweet-enough confection created by the hands of a Japanese baker.
My family and I have recently relocated to the U.S. after spending several years in Japan. There are many things I miss about our time abroad but one of the most prominent are the aforementioned light and airy desserts to be found in Japanese patisseries. I tell you, after you have indulged in cream puffs, mocha flavored custards and the tiniest sliver of raspberry cheesecake, the super-sweet and heavy delicacies found in American bakeries seem mildly offensive.
The difference, in my opinion between Japanese and American pastries is portion size, amount of sugar used and some technical cooking technique that creates an almost otherworldly lightness to crusts, pastry and creams.
I don’t mean to gush but these treats are sooo good. My husband and I were almost ritualistic about going to our favorite bakery. After two weeks of healthy eating, we would ‘reward’ ourselves with a visit to the Japanese bakery. We would be excited like little kids on Christmas morning. First we’d make sure we had at least five thousand Yen which was approximately fifty American dollars. And then we would go to the bakery. We were always slightly amused heading into the door because we were sure the Japanese inside made jokes about the gluttonous Americans who always left with several packages filled with desserts.
Like a traditional bakery, the desserts are lovingly presented behind glass and we’d spend several minutes deciding which ones we wanted. It went something like this: “I want two of those, three of those, one of those…what is that? Okay, four of that, two of that…”
Keep in mind that approximately three of these desserts equals, say, one large slice of apple pie in calories, fat and sugar. The pastries were carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in beautiful little boxes and wrapped exquisitely with ribbon.
My husband would drive home nervously glancing at the boxes on my lap: “Don’t drop them, honey!”, he would say, as if we were bringing home a newborn from the hospital. (This is ALL true by the way.) Finally we would arrive home and he would take all of the desserts and lay them out on the table and very briefly we would admire the delicate beauty of each dessert, ruminate on how good it was all going to taste…and then we dived in.
And no, we did not light candles or listen to Chopin but it was as close to a gourmet religious experience as we have ever been. And those days are missed. Fortunately, we live in an area where there are a few Japanese bakeries about an hour away. We have not made the trek yet but when we do, I will be sure to post.