Friday, December 4, 2009

December Pastries

When I was teaching English in Kyoto elementary schools, I had a set of flash cards with pictures of food on them to teach the English words for things like cake, cookies, hamburgers, and oranges. Coincidentally - or perhaps not so coincidentally - all four of those words are English loan-words in Japanese, as were almost all the words on the flash cards, making it a favorite unit among the kids (they already knew what the words meant and enjoyed laughing at the strange way that I pronounced them). The illustration on the cake flash card looked almost exactly like the photo above, because that's the quintessential cake in Japan. It's known as Strawberry Shortcake, though the cake is really a sponge, covered in very faintly sweetened cream and filled with slivers of strawberry. Like the Mont Blanc, the Strawberry Shortcake is found in every Japanese pastry shop you will ever see, and was always the number one favorite when I asked my students what kind of cake they liked. (Incidentally, chocolate cake in Japan almost always goes by its French name, gateau chocolat, for some reason.) The Strawberry Shortcake from Petit Decorer is lovely, but does nothing to distinguish itself from the thousands of others like it - it's sweet, fruity, and very light, which is all you really want from a cake like this anyway.
This one, also from Petit Decorer, goes by the Frenchified name of Gateau Fraises, and is giving Laduree a run for its money with that fancy swirl of cream over a split glazed strawberry sprinkled with silver sugar dragees. The two thin layers of pistachio cake are sandwiched around vanilla custard cream and slightly macerated strawberries. There's also a dollop of custard underneath the cream swirl, holding together the strawberry on top. I should mention that in both these cakes, the strawberries were perfectly ripe, sweet, and delicious, which isn't always the case with pastries even in fruit-obsessed Japan. The Gateau Fraises is elegant, attractive, and a bit richer, like the grown-up sister to the sweet, simple Stawberry Shortcake.

Petit Decorer
Minami-azabu 1-4-21

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