A less busy week with fewer kueh orders means more time to play and practice on pastry making. I return to play with french tarts this week, after one round of mixed fruit tarts last week. It is tarte aux citron et fraise frais this time round…
It seems like a growing trend, that people are no longer satisfied with “just” being able to savour the desserts and pastries off their plates, but they’d also like to see how the desserts are being prepared right before their eyes. I see this as an extension of gastronomic experience which probably first stemmed from stepping into a sushi bar where a Jiro-like Japanese chef puts on a performance of, selecting a suitable cut, slicing the fish to precision, grasping the perfectly flavoured sushi rice so elegantly in one hand before clasping the two components together. It is a performance which many believe can invigorate the senses during the “omakase” as well as help one to gain a deeper understanding of the food in order to better appreciate what is being eaten. Such a dramatic show is a tradition is not unique to just Japanese of course, as a good crepe suzuette is often prepared from scratch right next one’s dining table, from the making of the lace-thin pancakes, to the final flambe of the orange juice and liqueur concoction. As such, “salons” or “ateliers” becomes an increasingly popular culinary concept which is replicated in many places now. During our most recent trip to Japan, we visited Salon de Dessert Toshi Yoroizuka in Tokyo Midtown , for a treat of not only their desserts but also the performance.
Yongkang Street 永康街 lies within the Da’an district 大安区 in Taipei, a semi-residential and business area. It is one of my favorite places in this bustling city as it is dotted with a variety of unique shops, restaurants, cafes and tea salons where one could simply hang out leisurely for a few hours amidst all the sight-seeing and shopping. It is symbolic of the kind of lifestyle which many younger Taiwanese now very much look forward to or are striving for, where one could afford the time to smell the flowers, admire changes of the seasons, rest the mind and tame the soul. Unfortunately over the last few years, no thanks to the opening up of tourism regulations for visitors from across the straits to visit Taiwan, Yongkang street is slowly being overrun by the Mainlanders, epitomised by the long queues outside 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung and 永康牛肉麺館 Yong Kang Beef Noodles, not to mention the noise and rowdiness they bring along with them. However, as the Taiwanese locals strives to live out their own lives the way they’d wanted, it is still possible for find quaint spots of serenity in the vicinity of Yongkang Street where 慢活 “leisure life pacing” is still the abiding philosophy.
The pastry scene in Singapore seems to be getting more interesting over the past year or so, with quite a number of new outlets opening up, sometimes in places least expected. Many of them operate as cafes or coffee shops, the seeming craze in Singapore now, offering cakes and pastries in interesting flavours and combinations to woo the crowd. This was especially so with the SG50 jubilee celebrations going on this year, which brought innovative creations like pulot hitam cake, orh nee tart etc, to stay relevant to the theme. I very much hope this stream of creativity is not just a sudden spur, but instead would continue to encourage our local budding bakers and pastry chefs to work harder to create a pastry enjoyment culture which would be here to stay.
Patisserie Platine joins the scene as one of the latest kid on the block and arrives with much pomp and circumstance, launched by the haute dining Japanese cuisine establishment Waku Ghin, under the helmage of celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda. Some like-minded pastry loving friends and I made a date to come here, not only to sample the wide range of pastries Patisserie Platine provides, but also to soak in the ambience it has to offer.
I’m on a tart making spree! This happened once several years back when there was an online tart and pie bake-along event where I did Pierre Hermé’s Tarte Ispahan, Ladurée’s Tartelettes Croustillantes Abricots ou Cerises and the classic Tarte Bourdaloue aux poires all in a short span of just days apart from each other. It was crazy but fun!
Days back, I saw good figs at our local supermarket, and was determined to reprise Hidemi Sugino’s Tartelette aux Figues which I also did at the end of that same year back in 2011 but alas came feijoas and I got distracted, out of which Tartelette au Feijoa et Chocolat Noir was created. However, determined not to let those beautiful fresh figs, and the extra pâte sucrée in the fridge go to waste, I made yet another round of of tartlets, this time a pairing between figs and rosemary, Tartelettes aux Figues et Romarin, inspired by flavours of the Mediterranean Aegean Sea.
Making these tartlets was a last minute decision, wait, make that an impulse! The initial intention was really to make some of Sugino’s fig tartlets since we finally managed to get some good figs in Singapore this season. Last year’s were horrid. But then came along feijoas, which were on sale at our local supermarkets. I’d seen them last year but they were very expensive, since only one (premium) supermarket carried it, the price was kinda monopolised. That is what happens over here unfortunately yes… But this year, the prices dropped by more than half! No more excuse for not trying them. They were packaged as “zeijoas” since this batch were not from their native South America but New Zealand, where they are widely cultivated and grown by the kiwis in their backyards as a fruit tree. No prizes for how the name “zeijoa” came about but I’m hoping that our folks over here would not take this name too seriously as the actual one! More curiously, these “zeijoas” were marketed as “Causasian guavas”. I wonder how many actually knew that the common guava we’d been eating originated from Central and South America as well. Despite the slight similarities in taste , I wonder why would anyone do that. Oh well, I guess the logic is functional, mapping the known against the unknown, the familiar against the unfamiliar. But sounds kinda silly if you ask me, likening one to brand fettuccine as the “Italian mee kia” and yes in case you are wondering, it is being done by one of the popular brands for electrical goods, on their latest noodle making machine! Anyway, we’d digressed.
My first tasting of the feijoa I bought and I was blown away. The fruit had just beautifully ripened, with the core of the insides really gelatinous and sweet. The fruit was also highly perfumed, a bouquet of aromas which reminded me of bubble gum candy and a “grape-flavoured” soft drink called “Qoo”. It can be easily eaten by slicing lengthwise into two and scoop out the flesh as how one would eat a kiwi, with just a dessert spoon As we work towards the skin, the texture changes and becomes more… yes, you’d guessed it, guava-like, slightly fibrous and grainy in texture while the taste also developed from being sweet to sour. It is more juicy than the average guava. The progression of flavours was really interesting and I thought won’t it be great if I could put this into pastry?! And indeed I did! So here’s my little impulsive weekend baking venture, Tartelette au Feijoa et Chocolat Noir – Feijoa and Dark Chocolate Tartlets.
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.