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Hey there, you may be wondering where I disappeared on Portfolio of Patisserie for the past three months. Where have I been? I have been failing.

I’m not a professional baker, I’ve not been to culinary school and I certainly have no gift in fine cuisine. I just love exploring new ideas in cake, cookies and sweets. So it’s been incredibly frustrating to be failing every single time. I will post my failures but by the time I bake, decorate and photograph the cake to realize that the taste/texture of the recipe is a little off, I can’t seem to muster enough energy to blog about it. Anyway, here goes:

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Fail 1: Sakura and Green Tea Castella Cake




I bought a box of sakura home from Tsujuki market in Japan but ended up having to throw most of it away because it was startng to rot. This was a failure in part because I was too impatient with the frosting (I don’t even recall what kind it is.. buttercream?) and I should have let it cool down first before frosting a rather overly most and sticky castella cake. I got tired of circles and opted for pyramid forms. Most of all, I wanted to play with color. Punches of pink against cool white with a tranquil green center surprise.

I purchased gold leaf in Japan for an insanely good price:



It’s really funny: when I was in Japan, I asked a salesgirl how to apply gold leaf. Do I need to invest in a tweezer? Her reply: use chopsticks.

Asia for the win.

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Fail 2: Matcha Cheesecake

Laura and I fell in love with the aesthetically pleasing outcome of this cake. I seriously think this recipe, which came from a Japanese cooking site (Laura translated) needs a lot of tweaking but it tasted extremely sour due to heavy amounts of yogurt and sour cream. But the texture and color of the cake is impeccable. As you can see, I added the lace print border around the cake that I got from the Jusco $10 store and it’s the perfect height! The cake knife is also from there too- thought it would look nicer than a fruit knife.

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Fail 3: Matcha Cheesecake (Round 2)

Not soon after Laura left back for Japan, I tweaked the entire cheesecake recipe to contain less sour cream and yogurt and more cream cheese. Anyhow it was better but still not to my expectations. Also the hue changed from emerald green to a duller shade with a brown tinge around the side. The ‘polka dots’ was just an extra touch to my third failure.

Anyway that’s all I can contribute for today. I’ll try to find some time to blog about my long ago birthday (the dessert part!) and Agnes’ birthday cake which was… a semi fail as well. T-T Help! I need a breakthrough!

One of my favourite things about baking in this kitchen is when I can sit in front of the oven with a friend, talking or simply reading magazines while we wait for chemistry to prevail. I can just stretch out my legs and lean my back against the cupboards. It’s so comforting.

Laura and I back in March, reading Japanese baking books and ViVi magazine.

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Hahah this picture was seriously too perfect because it pretty much sums up Nara. First it was three rickshaws on the Philosopher’s Path, now it’s three deer.



First and foremost, thank God for Google translate. I couldn’t find the address anywhere in English so I translated this Japanese sweet store’s homepage until I found it after clicking around the site aimlessly! Whoohoo… go Google translate!





Been distracted by other things that as you can see I am doing quite a poor job finishing this collection of posts. My posts are building up so I’m gonna stop talking so much and let the photos speak for themselves. Life goes on. 😛

Anyway we took a day trip to Nara land of the (lazy, fat) deer. You can feed deer at the park and I was imagining cute Bambis frolicking on the plains. Sadly there were a lot of scruffy, dirty deer that knew how cute they were and how willing tourists would be to walk up to them without having to get up to get a biscuit or two. Seriously they would not even wander outside of the grass to eat as you can see the from deer craning its neck to get food from Agnes.

We have a knack at finding out exactly where the sweet shops are without any recommendations or maps. Or maybe they just find us. Or maybe Japan is just full of the good stuff.

Tenpyoan is also located in Tokyo and peddles a collection of both traditional Japanese sweets and some with a modern twist. If you visit, you HAVE to try their ice cream which comes in flavors like ‘soy bean flour and brown sugar’ or ‘sweet potato’. We got the ‘mikasa’ (aka dorayaki) ice cream which is mashed up dorayaki mixed in with the cream. Agnes got the chestnut and although I’m not a fan of Mont Blanc THIS WAS AMAZING.

But I think the one item that bowled me over was the green tea cake with a layer of white chocolate cream. I don’t think words can describe the flavour and textural harmony that this cake has in your mouth. The cream is slightly crunchy almost as if like ice cream but not cold while the soft layers of cake are moist and bitter with the matcha inside. We ended up getting another each for the ride home. I would die to get this recipe especially the layer of cream.

http://www.tenpyoan.com/

Off we go from Tokyo on a six hour red eye bus to Kyoto, and for some (laura) to go from sakura chasing to matcha overdrive.
This is the bus we took- kinda hilarious.

Above is the #1 spot to see cherry blossoms which we dubbed the ‘devil tree’. I don’t understand how this even made it to the top ten. The ravens perched on its crooked branches just adds to the Halloween-ness. Okay I’ll stop talking about the pink stuff, on to the green stuff!!!



I would like to introduce you all to my favourite green tea snack/dessert/baked good. It’s only available in Kyoto at department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya (although I did spot the store’s cafe at Kyoto Station when I was taking a bus back to Tokyo). The store is called Malebranche and is responsible for this delectable cookie which is composed of two wafer thin biscuits loaded with bitter matcha (they call it ‘OKOICHA langue de chat’)with a slick layer of white chocolate in between. A collaboration between three connoisseurs of tea (Kakuji Kojima), appraiser (Haruhide Morita) and patissier (Yasuhiko Ezaki) gave birth to CHA no KA and one of the reasons why I would trek back to Kyoto. There are three different characters sealed on the surface of the biscuits, I guess, a different signature for each of the collaborators.

Last time my biggest regret was only getting myself a bag of five and a box of ten for relatives (it was sold out in Daimaru this time around! It’s ALWAYS sold out at Daimaru). This time around I purchased a box of 16 for myself, one for my cousin, a box of 10 for other relatives and a bag of 5 for colleagues. I know it was quite selfish but you have to take a look at the packaging which punch suckered me into getting myself a 16-piece box:

Mine all mine…


We were wandering the streets and was SUPPOSED to head to this other matcha sundae place when we got sidetracked by the look of this one (sorry, Laura, next time!). Oku Gallery and Cafe is discreet in its appearance from the outside, resembling a typical house there with only a yellow to pink overhang at the door and a lightbox sign:

Very narrow lobby with their china for sale made by local artist Shojiro Endo:

I really love the first floor dining area where the back wall is sliced in half to let in natural light and to allow customers to enjoy the beautiful mini garden. Lo and behold the interiors of Oku resembles a streamlined, modern cafe of the present. It reminds me of NYC’s MOMA cafeteria and St Mark’s Cha An rolled into one. We had to sit upstairs which was equally as nice with high ceilings and a view of the street:

Oku predominantly serves numerous tea sets that like the architecture/interior, reflects a blend of modern and traditional sweets. The roll comes with traditional Japanese jelly (ok I am in no way an expert on Asian desserts so I won’t hazard a guess). We ended up getting a cheesecake set, a matcha sundae set and a roll cake set. Everything was beautifully presented. I was a little hesitant about the cheesecake at first because the texture in the menu looked dry and crumbly however it yielded a soft, creaminess and definitely was my favourite (not a fan of Azuki or mochi as much). Definitely order a glass of apple juice- it’s delightfully refreshing:


One  of these doesn’t belong….

Nakamura Tokichi is known for seasoning its food, drinks and desserts with green tea. We never got to go to the original cafe however we stopped by a Nakamura stand every night for matcha ice cream prior to taking the train back to Moriyama. Amazing ice cream and if I were to go again, I’d get the hojicha like Agnes!

We also stopped by Lipton’s to get some green tea cake to go….

Many many many thanks to Yuri, our host in Kyoto. I would love to post up pictures of your adorable apartment but that might be a little creepy so I’ll just say to everyone: Yuri has the cutest apartment ever which feels like home! Man there’s such a big difference when you stay in a hotel versus a real home. Everything feels more personal and therefore more warm and inviting. Somehow sleep is better.

Ok so some of the photos aren’t showing again when I preview this page.. I want to kill myself then again trying to upload 35 photos into one entry must be killing WordPress. I can’t be bothered to tweak it now.

http://www.tokichi.jp/english/about/index.php

http://oku-style.com/


What is that I see? Many pairs of eyes staring back at me!

Oh yes, it’s Ghibli time!

My previous visit to Japan the past summer was missing a visit to the Ghibli Studio. Thankfully since I moved to HK, I got to embark on a pilgrimage to see it this time around! We got lost switching trains to Mitaka so whilst we were waiting for the next one to arrive, we ran into this udon/ramen stop for a bowl of curry udon which we devoured in five minutes flat standing at the bar with two minutes to go before the train came. That was our breakfast. Yeye.

WELCOME TO MIYAZAKI WORLD WITH MR ROBOT FROM LAPUTA

This is my boyfrien- I mean my ticket. Exchange the standard ticket for a keepsake film strip from one of Miyazaki’s animations. I just so happened to get one from my favourite film: Howl’s Moving Castle!

Above is the Ghibli’s Straw Hat Cafe (an ode to Sophie’s hat shop?). Unfortunately there was a huge lineup to get in so we decided to skip on it. It’s quite cute isn’t it? My stalker wide angle captures the entire floor! Sorry I haven’t got any pictures of the interior of the Ghibli Studio which doesn’t allow photo taking. It’s really nice inside (though smaller than what I expected)- it resembles a more natural version of Hogwarts.

Anyhow despite the dismal weather, it was quite a lovely opportunity to take photos of the sakura located in the garden next to the studio. Laura read about a patisserie located across the studio from the Chico’s Dessert Tour Guide book so off we went…

Intros.

Me shooting Agnes in the cafe space.

Patisserie du Bois is wedged between two larger buildings right across from the Ghibli so if you ever have the chance to experience a slice of the Miyazaki world, do stop by the cafe for some cake before you head back to the train station. Sorry I can’t find the address in English but as you exit the studio, it’s to your right. This may sound terrible but I forgot exactly what we had (too many desserts, should have written them all down!). From what I recall, mine was a framboise meringue cake and Agnes had a chocolate tart.

So as we wandered back to the train station to meet up with Laura in Harajuku, we passed by a department store and this cake shop caught our eye (note to self: bring blinders to stop self and friend from sidetracking on unnecessary cake ventures). It was housed in the department store that’s right next to Mitaka station; I’m terribly sorry about the vagueness of my directions but Ginza Cozy Corner is actually a chain shop that you can find iat other hotspots such as Shibuya and Shinjuku station. It was really cold and rainy that day so we ended up popping in (again). To be fair, we actually had pork udon after the above patisserie. Yes savoury food comes in intermissions of hot udon noodles:

Talk about a cake explosion. We stood there for a good ten minutes debating what to order. We ended up getting the mille crepe which is a ‘thousand’ layers of crepe sandwiched with cream to make a light and airy dessert. For all New Yorkers I highly recommend going to the originator of this confection at ‘Lady M’. Also got a strawberry shortcake just because it looked too cute.

http://www.cozycorner.co.jp

My apologies for the sporadic, sparse posts…it’s 3am and wordpress has been acting up lately and continues to show ‘?’ whenever I try to upload photos so it’s been highly discouraging when each of my posts contains about 30 photos I have to manually upload. Hopefully all the photos are visible. Anyway, that concludes my Cafe Culture posts! On to the next!!!!

Testing testing,1,2,3.
Dear WordPress, why are you not showing my jpeg collages?! You irk me so. Anyhow apparently my Shibuya Cafe post is not visible to most people, while it works on my macbook and my office computer. Strange. I’ll leave the previous entry and will upload again if it continues to not show up. I guess I will stick with the old format and occasionally make a banner or two. I’m a little disappointed because I love InDesign. Can you see the above banner? Oh well, back to the boring format:

Now we’re off to Osaka and whisked quickly back to Shinjuku, Tokyo. Boutiques go beyond clothing and expand to create the consumer lifestyle through homeware and food. Welcome to Corporate Cafes!

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Calling all girls in Osaka!

I scanned the above page from J-Mag Vivi with an excerpt on the Jill Stuart cafe (as you can see it’s been squashed in my bag). Since my friends are fans of the brand, we decided to stop by the department store to experience a slice of the Jill Stuart life- a life that comes in pale pink and cream stripes:The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat.




The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat. We ordered a berry and mascarpone cream waffle, banana and chocolate waffle and a royal milk tea:

Anyhow the menu is largely made up of waffles, ice cream and various mixed drinks. You’re not really there to experience something original, but tried and true desserts in a pretty environment. It’s safe to say the well-heeled girls that go there go for the brand’s identity and the enticing souvenir shop next door with goodies like these:

The day we arrived back in Tokyo via Osaka (another blistering 8 hour bus ride), we went bleary eyed to the Comme Ca Cafe in Shinjuku which is housed in the Shinjuku Comme Ca Mode store (5th floor). I didn’t take many photographs of the cafe which comes in an austere gray save splashes of vivid-color tablecloths. Images of deities and gods create an ‘other world’ atmosphere.

The majority of the menu consists of tarts and pies. In line with the season, their citrus summer collection is made up of grapefruit, bittersweet chocolate crusts, and slices of oranges. The combinations may sound slightly odd but they were all sold out by the time we got there! We ended up getting a classic chocolate/banana/strawberry tart and an unusual tart that was topped with miniature oranges (if you know the name of the fruit, please share!) which you eat peel and all (after much speculation of sucking the flesh out :P). Each slice is about ¥750-¥850. The orange one was strangely good- eating sugary peels was quite a memorable experience.



Photographer and Patissier’s Note

I forgot to mention in my last post (if you were wondering why I sounded all wound up) that I anticipate to plague you all with about ten entries I’ve drawn up around my trip. It was quite difficult to differentiate and categorize every dessert and sweet but I think I’ve done quite a nice job to distinguish them from one another. Sorry if I spam your Facebook or whatever you use to follow blogs- I hope you find some amusement in what amuses me- whether or not you’re disgusted by my sugar intake. If any of us look fatter/skinnier in the photos, please bear in mind I’ve been relying on my Sigma 10-20mm lens hence the distortion. Links to the following places are included at the bottom. Anyhow, I thought to launch the start of this series by taking a look at my past and present sakura matsuri picnics. O Hanami! Oh Joy!


Nenrinya: http://www.nenrinya.jp/cafe/index.html
Manneken: http://www.manneken.co.jp/index.html

White chocolate gets little attention to its darker, richer counterparts. As some purists would say, white chocolate isn’t true chocolate because it’s derived from cocoa butter than solids. Yet all the same, it’s still part of the cocoa bean.

As a kid living in Toronto, it was a treat when my cousins and I were handed $20 and allowed to walk to Maxim’s cafe after dinner for dessert. We’d always order a slice of cake each and a fancy beverage. From the cake display I would always choose a milk chocolate mousse, orange chocolate cake or the white chocolate cake because I loved how it was frosted and smothered with a blanket of white chocolate curls. I would wash it down with iced chocolate with whipped cream (oh the joys of a child’s metabolism… DANG IT).

Anyhow my Sunday afternoon (a hazy golden day) was spent listening to Stan Getz and white chocolate. This creamy subject resurfaced when a colleague of Belgian descent (who doesn’t like chocolate ironically) requested a white chocolate-base dessert about a month ago. I have no expertise in cooking with it, but after doing some research I ended up making this:

WHITE CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE W. WHITE CHOCOLATE BRANDY SAUCE


Find the recipe here

I made a six inch along with one four inch and heart shaped one to divide between other friends. I made some slight alterations to the recipe according to the reviews and recommendations which you will see in the following:

TIP FOR PURCHASING WHITE CHOCOLATE
I highly dislike the taste of cheap white chocolate which is like eating melted candle wax, so when baking, please only buy the good stuff. Make sure cocoa butter is the first ingredient listed on the bar of chocolate to ensure that you aren’t getting some vegetable oil substitute. White chocolate should not be white: it should be ivory in colour.  I used a random brand (Isis) I found from City Super. Yes, I trust it a little more because it’s chocolate from Belgium so if anyone complains about the taste, I can just blame it on the product origin. =P

TIP FOR MAKING THE CRUST:
In Hong Kong we only have digestive biscuits, but in the States I used graham crackers. To crush the biscuits, use a pestle: hold a stack of cookies firmly in the other hand and work your way from the side and inward. You can see the biscuits look as if they are fused as one. This is A LOT more effective  and thorough than using a plastic bag and banging randomly trying to crush as much as possible. I used to use the back of a Chinese soup spoon, but I’ve realized why Julia Child said a mortar and pestle is so important. Life is a lot easier with this simple instrument. Melt slightly less than a quarter cup of butter, pour it in to the base containing the crushed biscuits and press it into a flat disk to cover the entire surface area.

TIP FOR THE WHITE CHOCOLATE BRANDY SAUCE
Um I made this cake on a whim so I wasn’t really prepared with all my ingredients hence why this took me about 4-5 hours in total. I hate the smell and taste of alcohol but absolutely adore it when it comes to baking. The brandy sauce requires a lot of grated white chocolate (2 cups) so to cut cost, I halved the recipe because I know Chinese people aren’t big fans of alcohol-based desserts and sauces. I must say though, the brandy sauce MAKES this cake by enhancing the white chocolate flavor subtly with a little alcohol. I purchased that small bottle of brandy from Twinsco, a special baking supply shop in Yau Ma Tei. I reused a Japanese pudding cup to store the sauce in. Quite pretty with the touch of green!

I’m impatient so I often let my cakes cool outside after they’ve adjusted to room temperature. This one is sitting perched on my balcony railing and the empty space you see is actually the sea. That cake better not fall, it’s a long way down.

TIP: PRESENTATION COUNTS
So the cake itself isn’t the prettiest thing. I’m not a fan of dousing the whole cake with brandy sauce (I like to leave it up to each individual’s preference), and after failing at making whipped cream (accidentally heated up the cream first for a second and realized it wouldn’t whip up at all),  I went searching for other last minute alternatives. I didn’t want to put fruit on top either because the yellow of the surface would look rather odd with the ivory yellow (pure aesthetics talking). I decided to do it like I did with my previous chocolate cheesecake recipe: grate white chocolate on the top. Use the side of the knife and slowly push against the surface until it starts ‘peeling’. I also found this darling cake wrap with a lace print at my local $10 dollar shop and I like how it echoes the color of the grated chocolate on top! Doesn’t it look pretty pro as if I bought it from a bakery?

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I took it to the office and my colleagues LOVED it. I said it was a successful first try at white chocolate and one of them said it was “VERY successful” As one of them put it, the cake is “above Starbucks and below Mandarin Oriental hotel”. I guess my next goal is to beat Mandarin Oriental. Another tip, as many people have said in the reviews, double the white chocolate if you like a stronger taste otherwise it is quite subtle (I guess that’s where the brandy sauce comes into play). My critics liked it that the white chocolate took a backseat to the taste of the cream cheese so I guess it depends on your palate. Do use a bain marie for both melting the white chocolate and baking the cake. Overall, it’s a safe cake to make particularly because of the flawless surface (no cracks!!!) and the texture of the cake is neither too hard nor pudding-soft. I had to adjust the cooking time depending on the size of the cake. The miniature ones were done in about 50 minutes, the large one took about 1hr 15 minutes because of its height. =)