As the Yule season approaches, thoughts turn inevitably to cakes and sweetmeats. Homemade is always best, but sometimes expensive cravings arise for the kind of elegant confections that can only be furnished by bespoke chocolatiers and dessert chefs. Here are five of the desserts that hit the sweet spot for me over the past year.
Last Christmas, I was too late to order any of the beautiful limited-edition cakes produced by this Paris-based Japanese haute-patissier. So I contented myself with a box of his exquisite tablet bonbons chocolats (¥3,780 per box of 12) coated in acid-brilliant colors with flavors — among them yuzu and wasabi — so intense and lingering that the box could be rationed well into the New Year.
The Market SE1
Since discovering the superb hand-made ice creams at this tiny one-man shop in Enoshima, on the Shonan coast, I’ve been a loyal devotee. Gelato artisan Yasuo Atarashi only uses premium free-range cow’s milk from Shimane Prefecture, and fresh fruit in season (gelati from ¥350). Mango, dragon fruit and mulberry were the most memorable flavors for me, but my out-and-out favorite was his Bramley apple crumble sundae.
Only the lightest, most delicate desserts can tempt appetites wilted by the unrelenting heat of midsummer. Although chef Yusuke Nakada opened his new Moto-Yoyogi restaurant in July, he had the final course covered perfectly (dessert and coffee ¥1,200). A whole white fig, simmered soft and moist in white wine, then skinned and chilled, and served on a bed of finely shaved granite of Champagne — a tongue-tingling treat.
Nihon Ryori Ryugin
One of the showstopper dishes that helped put maestro-chef Seiji Yamamoto (now with three Michelin stars) on the culinary map was his Minus-196-degrees Candy Apple. When he retired that recipe, along with his other molecular bells and whistles, there was much wailing and gnashing of sweet teeth. This year he launched a replacement: the Minus-196-degrees Strawberry, served with a Plus-99-degrees sauce made from fresh berries. It is every bit as amazing as the Candy Apple, so make sure to confirm it’s on the menu when you phone to book your table (prix-fixe dinner ¥23,100).
The most memorable dessert of all this year was produced by one of Tokyo’s new generation of kitchen wizards, Shinobu Namae. Called the Stray Butterfly, it featured a large globe of dark chocolate filled with cardamom-flavored apple, cubes of boozy Jack Rose (a calvados-based cocktail) and begonia flowers, with a finely sliced apple “butterfly” perched prettily on top. Namae worked at Heston Blumenthal’s infamously innovative Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, near London, for a while so it’s not surprising he picked up some of its magic (prix-fixe lunch from ¥4,800; dinner ¥15,750).
Robbie Swinnerton writes The Japan Times’ Tokyo Food File twice every month.