Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Though there are few cakes in this world that don't grab my immediate attention, I have to say that the Giotto counter, whenever I've passed it in a fancy department store food basement, is even more attractive than most. Their cakes are taller than average, some of them of unusual geometric design, and most topped with something distinctive, whether a hard, clear disk like a piece of bottle glass crowning the mont blanc or an infinity-sign-shaped nest of nuts and chocolate atop the chocolate cake. But for some reason, I'd never actually taken one of these creations home before. Now that I have, I'm pleased to report that Giotto is just as good at pleasing the palate as the eye.

Built on the model of Japan's favorite cake, the strawberry "shortcake", and reminiscent of those fabulous east-meets-west matcha parfaits they served all over Kyoto, the Koi Cha, pictured above, is three layers of green tea spongecake spotted with sweetened black beans the way an English cake might contain nuts or raisins (the bean has a bit of the flavor of both - soft and sweet, but with a savory depth almost like a candied pecan). There's a layer of thick whipped cream, a layer of soft matcha cream, and a topping of both, plus two slices of gilded candied chestnut. This dessert is both light and rich at the same time, like the buoyant atmosphere at a street festival on a humid Japanese summer night.

Giotto's eponymous take on the strawberry cake is a straightforward exemplar of the form. Three layers of lightly lemony sponge brushed with a pink but not noticeably flavored syrup and sandwiched with an equal thickness of strawberry-slice-containing whipped cream, it has a decorative swirl of cream around the four glazed and somewhat overbearing strawberry halves on the top.

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi
Basement 1st Floor

and other locations in Japan

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