When you think of Japanese desserts, maybe you think of rice cakes or sweet bean filled manju, but the Japanese have become masters of pastries. One place that was introduced to me just blew my taste buds away.
In the sleepy town of Hagiwara in Gero City I found the most sinful cakes I have ever had. Located on the edge of the town about a one hour walk from Hagiwara station is Siegfrieda. The building looks like a Northern European cottage and the cakes do not look nor feel like your average Japanese ones. Upon opening the door, my eyes were directed toward the showcase featuring elegantly artistic cakes covered in fresh cream, bluest of blueberries, ripe raspberries, and the richest, deepest chocolate on hand layered cakes of different kinds and shapes all displayed to make the mouth water. It was like discovering a treasure chest full of gold.
I was soon presented with a dilemma of what to choose. The Camembert cheese cake mousse? Mont Blanc with fresh chestnuts? The chocola rolled mousse with gold sprinkles? Mille Feuille covered in fresh fruit? Oh this is hard. The young woman behind the counter asked, “What would you like?” My face showed the conundrum. I stood for about 10 minutes pondering before I decided on the unique Camembert Cheese cake. I had eaten the others before but Camembert Cheese Cake? Hmmm...A slightly savory flavored cake. That sounded interesting.
The girl asked if it was for here or to go. “For here please.” She directed me to the café area around a corner to a cozy area of wooden tables and chairs which reminded me of a trip I had taken to Denmark in my youth. “Would you like something to drink?” Oh my, another decision. Café latte, cappuccino, espresso, american coffee, chai, chai latte, mocha cappuccino, freshly squeezed orange juice, warm milk, hot cocoa and on and on. Again after intensely life-changing deliberations, I went with a Café latte.
Within a few minutes the girl returned with my camembert cheese cake and a café lattè in a bowl more appropriate for Ramen. This was not a Japanese sized Latte, this was a full sized latte bowl! I slid a small sliver of the cheese cake into my mouth. The sharp taste of camembert pricked my tongue but soon melted away into a creamy sweet smoothness
The café latte was a perfect balance of sweet milk and bitter coffee without the need of sugar.
The pastry chef, Mr. Tatsuya Hojo, grew up 15 minutes north in the town of Osaka. To understand cake making, he spent 6-months traveling around Austria learning the basics before taking formal training at Konditoren Schule in Wolfen Büttel, Germany. Upon graduating, he apprenticed for a year at a German cake shop. After returning to Japan, he worked in Takayama city for a few years before opening Siegfrieda in 2002. Working with a Seattle based designer, he was able to design a building that conveys the feeling of a rural European cafe.
Before leaving, I decided to buy a few cakes to bring home to the family. Having paid, I left satisfied and looked forward to the cakes I was carrying. They did get home whole.