Sadaharu Aoki’s Valencia – a feeble attempt
The world of pastry making is undoubtedly dominated by the French patissiers. Big names like Pierre Herme, Gerard Mulot and Phillippe Conticini easily comes to mind. Last year, I read a listing for the “10 Top Patisseries in Paris” on another blog and two things struck me the most. Firstly, Pierre Herme is missing from the list. “OMG!!!??” I exclaimed to myself. Why was the Picasso of Patissiers left out from the list!? Only upon reading further did I realised that the author had done that after much deliberation, as names like Pierre Herme, LaduRee and Lenotre would be stating the obvious. I couldn’t agree more.
The other entry which made me look twice is the inclusion of Sadaharu Aoki, and for obvious reasons of course. Aoki san is is the only pastry chef in the list of non-French origin. And this speaks a lot in a realm dominated almost exclusively by the French, a race known to take great pride, to the extent of exhibiting a certain level of pomposity, in things they do best. In other words, Sadaharu Aoki must be truly great, to be flanked amongst the grandmasters.
I enjoy Japanese inspired French pastries, vis-a-vis the blue blood French renditions. From the use of ingredients like matcha, azuki, kurogoma and yuzu, to the incorporation of wagashi techniques into the art of french pastry making, Sadaharu Aoki is probably not the first to have done so. But he’s certainly a very strong advocate and to many, a champion in this field. From a matcha themed Opera named “Bamboo”, to yuzu infused macarons, Aoki san astounds the world with his numerous wonderful creations. Purists frown upon these and blatantly called them “Frankensteins”, only to find themselves joining the long line of converts outside his shop along rue de Vaugirard every morning before the opening time.
Honestly speaking, I’d never tried Aoki san’s creations before. I’m certainly looking forward to doing so this coming May when we visit Taipei. But impatient me couldnt possibly wait another 2 months! So I started looking around for recipes in attempt to recreate some of his works. I stress heavily on the “attempt” part! Unlike his other esteemed colleagues like Hidemi Sugino who has some of his works in print, Aoki san’s works are still much of a mystery in some sense. I’d only managed to find a small handful ofr others who have tried to recreate his masterpieces; one for Bamboo, his Opera The Vert, whose recipe had most regrettably been taken down by the blogger citing personal reasons, another for macha madeleines, and finally a delightful entremet using the chocolate-orange combo and thus aptly named, “Valencia“. I’d always loved the marriage of these two flavours, the deep and rich warmth of chocolate against the light citrus tang from oranges. So I’d decided to challenge myself a bit to try to recreate this at home!
Evan’s Kitchen Ramblings’ blog entryprovided most of the backbone on details and technique. Evangeline is an entirely self-taught baker and very creative in both pastry making and photography. Very impressive bakes and photos on her site if you have not already been there already. I also had “help” from Adam of Paris Patisseries and Laura from Oishiness whose reviews gave me a better idea on the Valencia’s composition and textures.
So here I am, a “mm kia si eh gin-na” (hokkien for 不怕死的小孩) , embarking on a Don Quixote like quest!
Collage of several things to prepare for this entremet. Preparing the hazelnut praline feuilletine, incorporating the milk chocolate mousse, layering the praline feuilletine in the square mousse ring. I’d forgotten to take pictures of the dacquoise layer . Argh!
layering milk chocolate mousse in top of the praline feuilletine, followed by almond chocolate sponge, and finally the zest flecked orange mousse.
One thing I’d learnt to make for this recipe is the almond paste. I’d hoped to get pre-fabbed almond paste from Sunlik but its rather pricey for me. Following Jacques Torre‘s recipe, I made my own in a blitz, quite literally! Happy with the results using just available items at home.
All the layers assembled and chilled until firm. Keeping fingers and toes crossed meanwhile!
After 3 long hours of anticipation, the cake was unmoulded using a blowtorch and cut into rectangular slabs! Despite the imperfections, I’m quite pleased with the outcome. But still a lot of improvement!!
The multitude of layers from the bottom - hazelnut dacquoise, hazelnut praline feuilletine, milk chocolate mousse, almond cocoa sponge laced with cointreau syrup, orange zest flecked mousse.
Intermingling of textures, so lovely. Despite the possibility that this recipe might be just an attempt to replicate Aoki san’s masterpiece and not the original, I think its really very good already.
The chocolate mousse just oozes out when sliced with a fork. Simply ethereal!
Here is the recipe from Evangeline’s blog produced in its entirety. Basically its a quarter downsizing from the one at eG forum.
Ingredients (makes one 6″ square entremet)
for the hazelnut dacquoise
125g egg whites
90g ground almonds
30g ground hazelnuts
100g icing sugar
10g roasted hazelnuts, halved or chopped
for the hazelnut praline feuilletine
30g milk choc (I used a mixture of Jivara and Guanaja)
125g hazelnut praline paste or nutella (I used nutella)
12.5g butter, melted & cooled
25g roasted hazelnuts, chopped
62.5g pailleté feuilletine (feuilletine flakes)
for the milk choc mousse
31g whipping cream
13g egg yolks
112.5g milk choc (I used a mixture of Jivara and Guanaja)
125g whipping cream
for the orange cognac syrup
50g cognac (I used Cointreau)
for the almond cocoa sponge
115g almond paste
65g icing sugar
52.5g egg yolks
82.5g egg whites
26.5g butter, melted
25g cocoa powder
13g corn flour
for the light orange mousse
50g orange marmalade (I used the blood orange confiture made a couple of days back)
30ml cognac (I used Cointreau)
105ml orange juice
25g orange puree/blended orange flesh
5g orange zest
2g lemon zest
3g milk powder
15g sugar (A)
45g egg yolks
5g gelatine (2.5 sheets)
20g egg whites
30g sugar (B)
(1) to make the hazelnut dacquoise - whisk the egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks. sift together ground almonds, ground hazelnuts & icing sugar and fold it into the egg white mixture. pour mixture into a 7 inch baking tin, smooth the surface and scatter the chopped hazelnuts. bake in a preheated oven of 180C for 15 mins or until golden.
(2) to make the hazelnut praline feuilletine - melt the milk chocolate in a bain marie and mix with the hazelnut praline paste or nutella followed by melted butter. add in the hazelnuts and feuilletine flakes and mix gently.
(3) to make the milk chocolate cream – make the creme anglaise by boiling the whipping cream & milk in a saucepan. in another bowl lightly whisk egg yolks & sugar together then pour the cream-milk mixture over while whisking constantly. return mixture to pan and cook until 84C. pour mixture into milk choc, mix well and fold in whipped cream.
(4) to make the cognac syrup – boil together water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved completely. leave to cool then add in the cognac.
(5) to make the almond cocoa sponge – sift the cocoa powder, flour & cornflour together and set aside. beat the almond paste and the icing sugar in a bowl until well combined, then add the egg yolks and the whole eggs and whisk until pale and fluffy. in another bowl whisk together egg whites and sugar to make the french meringue, then fold the two mixture together. add the melted butter followed by the flour mixture. pour it into a 7 inch baking tin and bake in the oven of 200°C for 15 minutes.
(6) to make the light orange mousse – mix marmalade & cognac together in a bowl. strain & freeze. to make the creme anglaise, combine orange juice, concentrated orange puree, orange zest, lemon zest, milk powder in a saucepan and heat until boiling. in another bowl lightly whisk together sugar (A) and egg yolks and pour the orange mixture into egg yolks while stirring constantly. pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook until 84C. soak gelatine sheets in cold water for a few secs until soft, squeeze off excess water and add into the above and mix well. to make the italian meringue, cook the sugar (B) and water until 120C. in another bowl whisk the egg whites until foamy then pour in the hot sugar syrup and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks. mix frozen jam into the custard, then fold in the meringue.
(7) Montage et finition - trim the dacquoise to fit the base of 6″ square mousse ring or removable baking tin. it should be 1cm in height. place it at the bottom of the ring, then spread the praline feuilletine evenly onto the dacquoise. pour the milk choc mousse over and smoothen the top with a pastry scraper or palette knife. trim the sponge and slice it into 1cm in height and place it on top of the milk choc mousse. brush the sponge generously with the cognac syrup until the sponge is damp and well-soaked. pour the light orange mousse on top and smoothen the top. refrigerate until firm. to remove the cake, heat the sides of the mousse ring with a heat gun, hair dryer or blow torch, then slice and decorate as desired.
Here’s the recipe for the almond paste from Jacques Torres. Evangeline adapted it for pistachio paste. So clever she is! I’d produced her adaptations here in completion.
ingredients (yields approx. 200g) :
125g ground almonds or pistachios, blanched & skin removed
few drops of almond extract & green food coloring (for the pistachio paste), optional
1. place the sugar, honey and water in a saucepan and bring to a strong boil. remove the boiling sugar from the heat and pour over the almonds/pistachios. add in the almond extract & coloring, if using and blend until smooth. this may take 10 minutes or more, depending on the strength of the food processor. remember, food processors are not usually strong enough to yield the same consistency as the almond paste that you can buy. if your mixture is too thick and the food processor is straining, you can add a little Kirsch or simple syrup to the processor. add the liquid slowly and stop when the processor is moving more freely. the quality of almond or pistachio paste is determined by how smooth the consistency is. wrap the almond paste in plastic wrap and allow it to cool. when you are ready to use it, knead in the butter. the butter makes it smooth and not so sticky. refrigerate in the chiller compartment of your fridge for up to a month.
Personal notes and reflections
(1) Like what Evangeline suggested in her blog entry, I “built” the entremet up from the base, starting with the dacquoise layer. That makes the entire workflow smoother.
(2) The recipe called for cognac and Evan replaced it with Grand Marnier which she found too overpowering. So I used Cointreau instead and found the taste quite acceptable, with hints of the orange liquer but not taking over the tanginess from the orange juice. I guess its a matter of proportions when it comes to liquers. Keen on trying out with other orange liquers like Triple Sec and Orange cucacao to see how they would compliment the juice and cake!
(3) I don’t have sufficient Jivara milk chocolate at home and replaced the “balance” of the quantity required guanaja, resulting in the mousse being darker in both colour and taste. I wonder if that’s a good thing at all. Probably not in retrospect, as its always good to follow the instructions strictly if one desires to achieve the intended results.
(4) The thickness of the various layers is not to my expectations, personally. The dacquoise is a tad too thick despite pressing it down quite a bit while the orange mousse too thin. I would probably increase the orange mousse layer by 50% to give it more girth.
(5) You’ll need at least two mixing bowls with several rinses in betweens. The recipe calls for several meringues to be made at various stages (3 to be exact), so it helps to dedicate a mixing bowl just for that. No need to wash so often.
(6) Some of you would have noticed that the candied kumquat web in Aoki san’s original piece is missing in my rendition. After the whole whisking and baking process, I’m totally drained and didnt have the energy to make it anymore. So I guess the candied kumquats I’d made 2 days back would have to sit in the fridge for a while more!
(7) A kueh lapis press comes handy to keep the praline feuilletine and dacquoise layers evenly levelled. But it cannot be used on the cocoa sponge as the chocoalte mousee below would ooze upon pressure.
(8) Watch the food processor as the blitzing time is rather long. Watch for signs of overheating or machine strain. I added Cointreau in place of Kirsch to easen the paste and paused to allow the machine to cool down a little before continuing blending.
(9) I’m glad to have made several components from the ingredients list from scratch, i.e. blood orange confiture used for the orange mousse, almond paste for the almond cocoa sponge, and finally candied kumquats which were intended for the sugary web decor.
(10) Definitely will try to make this again in a couple of months’ time, after trying out the real thing in Taipei and without all the idiosyncrasies and errors committed above!