The Chocolate Goddess has recently had the great pleasure of experiencing and enjoying an epicurean adventure in the world of Japanese confections. Japan is a country where one can find a myriad of dessert options that in most cases are truly dissimilar to those found here in the United States.
The Japanese culture has great respect for all things of a delicate nature and this proves true regarding their presentation and taste in sweets. In order to most fully appreciate their après dinner treats, one has to almost cleanse their palette and mind of what we are familiar with as desserts and confections.
They appreciate and enjoy restrained flavoring and delicate and interesting visual presentation. The Japanese have never overloaded their palettes with too much sugar or bold amounts of flavoring - cakes, cookies and chocolates have just a gentle glimmer of flavor. They end their meals with the intention of savoring each bite of dessert slowly and mindfully, giving them a greater sense of flavor in the long run than gobbling down large bites of robustly flavored sweets.
One dessert the Japanese seem to approach with almost reverence is a little known cake dubbed baumkuchen. This buttery masterpiece had its origins in Germany, and literally translated, baumkuchen means “tree cake”. When baumkuchen is cut one can see the astonishingly countless concentric circles of cake layers, resembling the growth rings of a tree.
Of all the different pastries from around the world, the Japanese could have chosen to emulate, baumkuchen is the one they picked to adore. They grasped that making it is an art form and a labor of love. That is because layer after layer of cake batter is almost sheerly ladled on painstakingly, tenderly, with all their heart while standing in front of a hot flame as the buttery ingredients revolve on a spit. There is a delicious caramelized flavor throughout, because each layer is browned ever so slightly before the next thin layer of batter is painted on.
When the cake is done and removed from the pole, the end result appears as massive three to foot tall tree trunks, and then it is sliced in manageable personal cake sizes. This delightful dessert is also formed in circles with wavelike crests. It also is baked in rings and given as a present to wedding guests.
When sliced the diaphanous layers are revealed, either in yellow cake or chocolate. Long lines form at the Tokyo department store Matsuya where revered gourmet bakers are entrusted with the honor or delighting their customers. Some bakers add other flavorings and the dessert can be baumkuchen can be coated with jams or melted chocolate. It seems though that less is more to the Japanese who opt for the plain yellow or chocolate cakes.
This epicurean experience serves as an important reminder that one should have open minds to savory foods and desserts of other cultures. Experiencing attentively the looks and taste of baumkuchen was a sublime experience. The Chocolate Goddess extends many thanks to Japan for keeping the art and appreciation of this dessert alive.