A Taste of Sadaharu Aoki
edited on 1/24/07: I regret to say that as of today I will no longer be giving out the recipe to the matcha opera cake. Thank you to everyone who has expressed such interest in this creation and written me. I have to say that this is a deeply personal recipe for me, as I learned the original recipe in pastry school and later adapted it myself to include matcha. When I got the first couple of requests for the recipe, I decided to make a couple of exceptions because the e-mails were so sincere, but since then the e-mails have become a flood. Unfortunately, I just do not feel comfortable making this recipe so public - I hope you all understand about treasured family or "secret" recipes. If you would still like to try making this, I suggest you find a recipe for opera cake (they are easily found on the internet) and experiment with adding matcha powder to the components. Thanks so much for understanding, and I hope you take advantage of the other recipes on this site!
My visit to Paris last September was my introduction to Sadaharu Aoki and his gorgeous interpretation of French pastry. While the Japanese have been almost frighteningly adept in their ability to replicate classic French pâtisserie, I am more intrigued when they find ways to impart their cultural sensibilities into their pastry making - after all, creativity and innovation is what keeps the culinary world from staying fresh and interesting! At Sadaharu Aoki's sleek little boutique on rue de Vaugirard, I found, alongside such classics as opera cake and lemon tarts, black sesame fondant - covered eclairs and green tea chocolate bars. Every single pastry was delicately made and, of course, picture perfect. Naturally, I wanted to buy everything, but, as I recall, we had already been to three other pastry shops that day, my boyfriend manfully eating his share of pastries so that I could try as many creations as I could, and with dinner reservations but an hour away, we settled on *just two* to carry away with us and eat with lip-smacking pleasure in one of Paris' ubiquitous little squares, pigeons at our feet, pedestrians strolling by, streetlights coming on in falling twilight, conversations in French all around us, Paris above us, around us, in us.
I was inspired last week to replicate the two pastries we took away with us from the boutique: one, the famous Matcha Opera Cake, with layers of green tea genoise, chocolate ganache, and green tea buttercream. I believe Sadaharu Aoki's version also has coffee buttercream, but I preferred an emphasis on the clean, sharp taste of green tea with the rich, bittersweet chocolate to round it out. Making opera cake is both therapeutic and nervewracking for me: the components are not particularly difficult to make, but it's the skill in assembling the layers that determine whether you'll have nice parallel stripes of color or wavy layers. When it comes out well, it's always a heady rush of pleasure.
The other item, a Yuzu Tart in a pâte sucrée crust with a sprinkling of praline on top. I first fell in love with this Japanese citrus at, appropriately, a Japanese spa where they used a yuzu-scented lotion. Assertively tangy, it is reminiscent of grapefruit with hints of mandarin orange, and can be used similarly to lemons in cooking. Yuzu fruit is fairly difficult to find in the U.S., but yuzu juice, fortunately, can be found in Japanese markets, and was used to make this smooth, delectable yuzu cream in the style of Pierre Herme's famous lemon cream.
Alas, making these has only increased my appetite for Paris. I'm feeling the need for a return trip...