A question which I’d been getting from some friends and readers of late is, “What have you been baking lately?” Well knowing their kind intentions, I replied them with a honest “nothing much”, discounting the usual pandan chiffons, christmas fruit cakes and CNY pineapple tarts and cookies of course. Indeed, the direction of this blog has changed somewhat compared to how it was conceptualised years back when I first started to write about the confections I make at home. Don’t get me wrong, pastry is still my passion, which I am always ready to engage in fervent discussion with anyone who broaches the topic. But so is cooking. Which came first, cooking or baking? Not quite exactly a chicken or egg question but I think I had sufficient grounding in both since young. But the question from these friends and readers brought me back to the very reasons how this blog had begun, to share my passion for pastry and baking, so I guess it is also timely for a quick revision of my pastry 101s…
My story with the mango and passionfruit pairing started back in 2011, when I first made Hidemi Sugino‘s “Tahiti タヒチ – Tarlette au Mangue et Fruit de la Passion“. It was a beautiful creation which I hope to make again some time soon in the near future. Hopefully when miyazaki mangoes become more affordable(I wish!), or when I have access to the cheaper Taiwan grown variety. Then in 2012, triggered by the Diner en Blanc saga (read about it here), El Tropicano was born, a plated dessert comprising of a soya bean panna cotta and a fruits tartare with mango and passionfruit as the main components. It was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek and in a slightly spiteful manner if I might add, now thinking in retrospect but all in good fun. Then in 2014, I opted for something simpler, and made a Mango and Passionfruit Yoghurt Pudding which was simple but no less yummy. Needless to say, the matrimony of these two much loved tropical fruits is high on my favorites’ list. And now 2015, I’d cracked my head again, this time for a cheesecake-based entremet, named “Tahiti v.2015” after Sugino’s creation which got me all started.
Strangely whenever we are in Tokyo, we never really thought much about visiting Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris unlike the others be it local like Hidemi Sugino or Hideki Kawamura, or the “imports” like Pierre Herme and Jean Paul Hevin. I think it is because we were already sampled quite a few of his creations during our trips to Taipei where he has two dessert salons, in Bellavita and Regent Taipei. However, perhaps due to the quality of the local ingredients used or the level of sophistication his local pastry team is imbued with, friends who tried his cakes from Paris, Taipei and Tokyo told me that one could quite literally make out a difference in the “quality” of the creations between these places. Unlike the macarons and other petit gateau pour sec which are all flown in from France, the entremets and petit gateaus we see in the local stores are made in situ. Tokyo turned out to be their favorite, whose standards of pastry surpasses even those from the 6th arrondissement flagship store in Paris supposedly. That got me very curious and we knew we had to try it to believe it!
Truth be told, the visit to Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie was quite incidental. I was at Plaza Singapura to pass some knitting books to Eelin which I’d gotten for her at the recent Big Bad Wolf Book Sale 2012 when it started to rain. The original plan was to visit Robinsons’ annual sale but the downpour dampened the shopping spirit quite literally. Plaza Singapura’s new shopping annexe houses quite a number of F&B joints, some familiar faces and some new kids on the block. Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie‘s latest joint is located on the first level, in a rather strategic location, being very near the MRT exit as well as the latest bus stop and just next to the escalators. So rather conveniently, I packed three petit gateaus from their current sweet menu back home.
Interestingly, I noticed quite a number of pieces in the chiller display which are fruit themed. It seemed like Canelé is in for a rather fruity festive season. And I personally love to include fruits in my own bakes as well!
A fashion model who struts confidently on the runway and a pastry chef who works furiously a pot for choux pastry over the stove are hardly two scenes one can easily put together. One bathes under the explosion of blinding camera flashes while the other bears with pearls of sweat beading down one’s forehead and neck by a hot kitchen oven. Spotlight glamour and kitchen sink grime just ain’t things one can piece together readily. One can hardly image how these two seemingly distraught and disjointed characters could be living as one in a single person! Schizophrenia? Haha thankfully it is not. Amanda Strang is one such example, and might I add, a rather successful one! The Tahiti-born fashion supermodel turned celebrity currently based in Hong Kong, blessed with ravishing beauty owing much to her exotic French and Taiwanese parentage, Amanda Strang had a highly sucessful and illustrious career under media limelight, suddenly discarded her catwalking stilettos and traded them for kitchen clogs to enrol herself into the Parisian campus of the famous French culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu for training to become a professionally accredited pastry chef. Becoming a successful patissiere she most certainly did, and a couple of years down the road, after a string of stints at high profile establishments like Laduree, Jacques Genin and the three michelin star restaurant, Caprice, Amanda Strang felt that she was finally ready to take on the world and opened her first pastry shop, Petite Amanda at the IFC, Central Hong Kong last year. We knew that we have to pay this joint a visit during our trip to Hong Kong this May!
While 青木定治 Sadaharu Aoki’s signature creation, バンブー Bamboo is surely his most popular work, I couldn’t help but felt a bit shortchanged by its taste, or rather the lack of it. Its alluring visuals was simply not levelled up by similarly astounding flavours. But his バレンシア Valencia is quite a different story. Easily my favorite amongst Aoki creations, Valencia embodies everything which I felt an entremet should be, delicate and yet well-defined textures, contrasting flavours and of course, scoring high in its aesthetics. Having attempted to make it before earns Valencia a special position in my heart. Am I being biased? Well, I chose not to think so! LOL
Apart from the standard flour, eggs, butter and sugar, fruits come in as one of the most commonly used ingredients in pastry making. Be it a tart filling, blended into a gelée for an entremet or just to embellish a petit gateau, the possibilities of use of fruit in dessert and pastry is endless. And that could only be possible given the wide diversity of fruits available. From the tropical coconut, to the nordic strawberries, the sheer variety of flavours, aromas and textures one could tease out of fruits makes them one of the most versatile ingredients to work with.
This year’s World Gourmet Summit 2012 provides a comprehensive range of workshops, many of them helmed by michelin-starred chefs from all over the world. But the one that interests me the most is the Ponthier Industry Dessert Workshop, not only because it involves the art of pastry making, but also because it emphasises on the type of ingredients which I enjoy working with the most, fruits.
I remember our first walk down Shinsaibashisuji after we’d touched down at Osaka on our first day. It was exciting as we’d read so much about this shopping street, packed with all sorts of shops selling all kinds of stuff from facial masks to fugu. There was a cake shop that specialises in castellas, and a tea house with all grades of Kyoto Uji matcha. The wide corridor is also flanked with many eateries for all sorts of cuisines and desserts. And the one which made us stop and stare hard into their window the most has to be Dalloyau.
Was it love at first sight? I wouldn’t dare say so but one thing we can say for sure is, the feelings were intense!
Weekend dinners around Katong is a very convenient option for us. With me working near Parkway Parade over weekends, and J staying nearby along Haig Road, we’d dined here quite a lot over the last few years, revisiting familiar and favorite joints over and over again. And this area had seen some interesting changes and inclusions over the last year or so. First was the relocation and expansion of Awfully Chocolate, and then new dining places and concepts sprung up. We saw a new Thai restaurant, a new ramen joint, a gelato shop named Coccogelo that does very wicked renditions of flavours like pistachio and “sticky rice”, and a restaurant that does laksa steamboat! Patisseries also score well in this area, with a rather high density of shops like Obolo, Gobi, Temptations, The French Bakery all within walking distance of each other. And then there’s the new kid of the block, Pavé Chocolates and Confections, the latest patisserie cum chocolatier that opened here barely a year back. Oddly, we’d walked past this place several times on our way to and from our usual makan joints but somehow never really felt compiled to step in. Usually its because we were rushing to a reservation somewhere or just too full after dinner. About 2 months’ back we finally did but it was kinda late that day and the selections from the pastry section was very limited and didn’t really appeal to us then. But I made a mental note to check this place out again when we can and last weekend we finally did.
We opted for a takeaway instead of dining in since I didn’t have my camera with me that day and it would be such a waste to not document something from this place. We deliberated over the pastry section, listening intently to the descriptions provided by the lovely staff and at the same time staring hard at each delectable piece of work, hoping for some divine intervention, a sign from the pastry gods to bestow us with any whizz of inspiration. It was at that precise moment when I saw her, in an alluring rouge number, gleaming at us in an almost seductive manner.
I bent down and whispered to her softly if she was interested…ahem. Without a word, she merely smiled back flirtatiously and the deal was sealed.
She followed us back and I’m so glad she did…
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.