We’re currently spending a few months in Japan, trying to decide where to settle next, enjoying the food and the people, and once again, as has been so often the case over the last few years, working for free. I consider myself extremely lucky to be doing a short internship at Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo. I’m not really sure how much I’ll take away from this experience, considering my Japanese is VERY basic…..but I must say, I’m looking forward to getting out of the kitchen and into the boulangerie!
I’ve already been questioned by dubious friends and family members: “Why bother going all the way to Japan to work in a French bakery?”. Well to me, a good bakery is a good bakery; as long as I can work with bread, learn from keen professionals, and taste (as much as possible), the trip will most definitely be worthwhile. Plus, I’ve never been to this side of the world before, and so far the food has been incredible.
I met several super-talented Japanese cooks in Paris (I think they’re secretly planning a city-wide takeover); I’m lucky enough to count many as my close friends. They all compiled ‘must-see’ and ‘must-eat’ lists for Tokyo, Osaka and beyond…..many of the boulangeries have already been ticked off – here are a few highlights, starting with the most lighthearted of all…..
Floresta Nature Doughnuts – small doughnut chain with outlets in various locations across Japan (main shop in Nara, close to Kyoto)
We’re currently renting a room in Kōenji – a small though buzzing community of backstreets and hidden restaurants in the Suginami ward, west of Shinjuku. As luck would have it, Floresta has an outlet in the same area, just two minutes’ walk from our apartment, and we stumbled across it on our second day. My mum’s response when I sent her the photo of my trophy? “That looks revolting; I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy that.” Well mother, you might just be surprised. All the ‘Nature Doughnuts’ are produced from organic flour, eggs, sugar and salt. They are in no way greasy, or over-sweet…..a million miles from the Krispy Kremes and Dunkin’ Donuts of the world (for the record by the way, I happen to love both these guys too).
My pick came glazed with a light milk frosting, onto which was heaped an organic granola topping with freeze-dried strawberry, fruit and nuts. The texture, although slightly heavier than a traditional deep-fried donut, was considerably less greasy, and the crunchy topping gave it bite and crackle. It came served with an added extra…..a friendly-looking donut ‘hole’, complete with iced-on eyes, nose, whiskers, and ears (within which were hidden two little almonds)! Also among the ‘animal’ selection were green-glazed frogs and white rabbits. If you prefer your doughnuts more conventional-looking however (or perhaps you find the animals too pretty to eat), the flavour selection is enticing and fairly vast – why not try something a little Japanese, like green tea or red bean paste? Or perhaps coffee/maple, cranberry/cocoa, salted caramel or coconut? They all sound good to me! Good job I’m only round the corner for the next few months.
Signifiant Signifié, シニフィアン・シニフィエ
154-0002, Setagaya, 2-43-11, COMS SHIMOUMA 1F
This was the first bakery on my visit list, because I was given their book by a friend in Paris. Although I understood nothing written in it, I asked another Japanese friend to translate one particular recipe for me, which I attempted during one of my final weeks at work. At first glance it looked like any other bread recipe – weights, ingredients, baking temperature, proving times etc. However, when I finally received my translation, I began to wish I’d never burdened her; it was, without a doubt, the lengthiest and most complicated loaf recipe I had ever seen. It called for three different types of levain, three different types of flour, and very precise temperature readings taken of the water and the proving environment. It required a pre-ferment (which I did go to the trouble of making), and detailed pH levels and air humidity percentages (these, I’ll admit, I ignored almost completely). The loaf took three days to make. Much of this time was spent waiting, but it most certainly proved worthwhile in the end – my cottage loaf was a triumph. However, I’ve decided that the next time I want to impress my friends with bread ‘a la’ Signifiant Signifié…..well, I’ll just come to Tokyo.
The bakery is just lovely. A bit of a trek from the centre of Tokyo, the location is a little odd, and much to my disappointment it was closed the first time we visited. I would recommend asking a friend to call ahead just in case, as it takes some time to find. The bread is expensive too – I bought four half-loaves (and they were small loaves at that), at ¥700 apiece (roughly £4.50 each). The selection is good though, with lots of filled and flavoured breads, sourdoughs and rustic-looking baguettes. I picked a white and black fig-studded loaf, an anchovy bread, the ‘pain au fruits rouge’ (a three-fruit number with raspberries, strawberries and cranberries), and finally the ‘kuromame’, made with chestnut flour and honey and stuffed with black beans and pumpkin. The latter was much sweeter and denser than I had anticipated, but delicious nonetheless. They were all very good, eaten fresh out the brown paper bag, but the anchovy was the clear winner for me; although strong, it was absolute heaven. The red wine loaf packed with fruits and nuts looked great too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
Boulangerie Sudo, ブーランジェリー スドウ
154-0017 Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 4-3-1476
Boulangerie Sudo is in the same neighbourhood as Signifiant Signifié, so if you plan on making the trip out to that neck of the woods, swing by both on the same day. Tucked neatly around a little corner by the Shoin-Jinjamae stop on the Setagaya tramline, Boulangerie Sudo is a treasure-trove of baked delights. Croissants, biscuits, brioches, filled buns and fruit breads fill the shelves, alongside savoury snack items like pizza slices, pastry-wrapped hot dogs and vegetable-loaded toasts, perfect for eating on the go. My lunch: a walnut and miso roll with lashings of melted blue cheese, followed by a red bean-filled sesame-topped brioche bun. I also went away with a huge wedge of fig, walnut and cream cheese-stuffed bread, and a small fruit bun. The bread selection is nothing like it is across the way at Signifiant Signifié, but for pastries and sweets, it’s better.
It’s fast approaching Halloween, so what do the Japanese do? They create seasonal baked doughnuts of course! I swung by Floresta in Kōenji again this morning, and couldn’t resist giving a home to a purple-glazed Halloween cat and it’s ghostly companion. Round the corner near the station, Mister Donut is also full of Halloween ‘spirit’ so to speak, serving pumpkin flavoured and glazed American-style fried donuts complete with orange, purple and black sprinkles.
Mister Donut (locations all over Tokyo)