青木定治のフレジエ – Sadaharu Aoki’s Fraisier
Springtime in Japan when everything is so beautiful. The weather is just starting to warm up a bit, when one can begin to embrace the earliest rays of the year while at the same time enjoy the cool from the remnants of the melting snow… The gardens are most lovely at this time of the year, as the ground awakens to the calls from the changing seasons and begins yet another year’s cycle. While we usher in the hanami season when cherry blossoms display their full regalia leaving all in their presence in awe, transfixed by their quiet beauty, the alluring fragrance from the plum blossoms still lingers in the air in some places and draws deep from within our soul, as we smile and sigh in the same breath, catching their final fleeting moments as the flowers dwindle and fade away to feed the sprouting soil…
Springtime is also a particularly important season for the Japanese. This is largely due to the availability of many fresh produce, bearing sharp contrast to much of the pickled foods which they would have eaten through the bitter winter months. The Japanese cuisine is one which is in harmony with the elements, changing with the seasons, tapping in the most opportunistic manner of what is the best to be eaten at what time of the year, depends entirely on what is available. While the cherry blossoms are most symbolic in Japan as the emblem of Spring, strawberries are also iconic and synonymous to this beautiful season in many ways. During springtime when strawberries are at their prime, most, if not all patisseries in Japan too roll out pastries themed after this much-loved fruit. Many of them do not take on fanciful and tongue twisting terms, but instead just a simple name like フレジエ Fraisier.
I remember most vividly chancing upon my first fraises des bois last year in Japan. So petite, yet so fragrant, no wonder these wild woodland strawberries which originated from Europe are much coveted in cuisine. Unfortunately, they are not widely cultivated.
Then we came across the “tochiotome ichigo” in a farmer’s market. Not quite as small as fraises des bois but they are quite ideal for pastry making as well given their size. A cultivar created less than 10 years back, the name “tochiotome” was coined from “Tochigi” 栃木 and “Otome” to mean “Maiden from Tochigi” where they are being grown. Known for being sweet, they are supposedly very popular amongst the Japanese. Well, we most certainly love them as well!
We bought two bags thinking of using them to make some pastries when we get home but as with most cases, strawberries don’t survive transportation well, particularly the Japanese varieties which are dubbed as the “soft type”, making them very prone to injuries and bruises. So in the end, I had to give up on the idea of making any pastries with those I brought back but ending up “jamming” them instead. Still packed with lots of flavour but just not looking really well anymore.
Then we chanced upon tochiotome ichigos this year again from our local supermarkets but they were like 3 times more than what I had paid in Tokyo last year! Alas we had to satisfy our cravings and bought one punnet. If only they had been cheaper… The first thing that came to my mind was Sadaharu Aoki’s フレジエ “Fraisier” which we had just tried last year at their flagship store in Midtown Tokyo. The composition was really simple as I’d described in my review but the flavours were good, allowing the sweetness of the strawberries to shine through…
Aoki’s creation is made up of 4 main components, i.e. biscuit dacquoise au amandes et noisette, creme diplomate, fraisier fraiche and a teeny bit of coulis de framboises.
The first to prepare is of course the creme patissier component in the creme diplomate and was left overnight to cool down before whipping creme chantilly and combining the two for something which is rich and yet surprisingly light. A sliced vanilla pod was steeped in fresh full-fat milk before being used to make the creme patissier, just as how they ought to have been made traditionally. Vanilla extract is no go and it would darken the creme patissier. And don’t even talk about cheap vanilla essence. It has no place in proper french pastry making.
The preparation of biscuit dacquoise au amandes et noisette was also fairly straightforward. It involves first roasting almonds and hazelnuts at a relatively low oven temperature before blitzing them to form a powder. The nut powder is then sifted thoroughly with icing sugar to form a tant pour tant before being mixed together with a meringue francaise. Yes, prima facie this sounds very much like the macaronage for making macarons but (1) the proportions are different in terms of ingredients, (2) the batter for a dacquoise is not deflated unlike what one does to a macaron batter, and (3) dacquoise, being essentially nutty meringue cookies has no concern over feet or no feet unlike in macarons.
Save some roasted hazelnuts and chop them up to be sprinkled over the top of half of the piped dacquoise batter. Aoki used emerald green Sicilian pistachois for his Fraisier though, but I was just being
cheapo economical and used whatever that was available. Silician pistachois, much loved for their brilliant green hues don’t store well at all, quickly browning in our weather and needs to be expended rather quickly when the packet is opened. I learned it the hard way…
A coulis des framboises was made as a drizzle and this is easily done by just blitzing fresh raspberries with icing sugar and then running the mixture through a fine wire sieve to remove the pips. To thicken the coulis, the mixture was then heated very slightly and added with some reconstituted gelatine before mixing everything well and chilling it in the fridge for later use.
A simple creme chantilly was made by just whipping full-fat double cream until it gets nice peaks with small hooks at the ends. No icing sugar is added though as the creme patissier is already sweetened prior. The chilled creme patissier is then whisked quickly with the creme chantilly to form the creme diplomate. Will all the components made, what is left is to assemble the whole piece.
With the dacquoise bases laid out, the creme diplomate is then piped over them in spirals… this reminds me of another of Aoki’s creations… his Tarte Chocolat au lait et Caramel Sale… oh well… that is another piece to do in the near future.
Then the fresh strawberries are carefully laid over the creme diplomat. Oh yes, creme diplomate is also known as creme mousseline by some in case you are wondering. Each dacquoise disc should very nicely sit 7 of these petite tochiotome ichigos.
More cream diplomate was then piped over the top of the strawberries before covering with the other dacquoise disc, the one with chopped roasted hazelnuts embedded in them.
Some coulis des framboises is then piped over the top and some more ichigos are added on top as embellishment. Voila! It is done!
Sorry to say, I would not be providing the recipes for the components in this blog post. Another blogger well known for her re-constructions of creations from renowned Japanese patissiers purportedly got in trouble with the Japanese publishers like MOOK for openly posting their recipes in her blog, although I knew that she adapted some of those recipes and the instructions were probably entirely her own. She has since somewhat becoming lesser willing to share (or perhaps that was her nature to start with) but whichever the case, I don’t wish for myself to get into such trouble so I would have to apologise for the lack of detailed recipes. Anyway, it is not a difficult piece to recreate and there are plenty of recipes online for the individual components. Perhaps I should start a series on “French Pastry 101” to go through making the various components and readers can “work out the math” and assemble everything together… hmm… that’s something worth thinking over.
psst… actually if one bothers to search my blog, one could find the recipes for dacquoise, creme mousseline and coulis des framboises fairly easy. It is just a matter of putting them together.
Anyway, here’s another look at my humble rendition of Aoki’s フレジエ Fraisier again. Before I gobble it down that is…
And here’s the piece I tried from Aoki’s patisserie in Midtown Tokyo last year for comparsion. Obviously my work is nowhere near as neat and chic as those in his pastry shop. I’m not formally trained of course and have been very lazy of late, skills getting rusty…
Tochiotome ichigos… thank you for the wonderful taste of spring. See you again in 2016, hopefully…