Penelope Walsh heads backstage at Yamanote Atelier to learn how a modern Japanese bakery makes its exquisitely crafted specialities.
The prediction once made by an award-winning London chocolatier was that the Japanese patisserie scene was one to watch. Not only that, it had the potential to overtake more traditional titans of the industry on a globe scale. The triumphs and joys of patisserie are largely in the ability to delight with aesthetics, attention to detail and elegant packaging. It is the edible equivalent of art for art’s sake, and no surprise then that the Japanese should have such a forte for perfecting this art.
The strength of modern day Japanese patisserie, it is argued, lies in its ability to take in global, foreign influences, particularly from the traditional French school of baking, adapt and even improve them to create something very special.
Within Dubai, the number of Japanese confectionery and bakery concepts has grown over the past year, turning the Jumeirah/Al Wasl region of the emirate into a hub of Japanese sweet treats. In addition to existing branches, Japanese butter biscuit specialists Yoku Moku, as well as mochi-experimentalists Edo Sweets have both launched new outlets at Citywalk, while Al Wasl Square welcomed the launch of original concept Yamanote Atelier.
Each of these three companies offer a taste of Japanese patisserie, whether traditional (or more commonly now in the finest boutiques of Tokyo) influenced by Europe’s culinary tradition, but with a touch of Japanese style and finesse. Where Yamanote Atelier differs is that it is the only one of the new spree of Japanese patisseries in Dubai that makes the items themselves from scratch, in store.
Inside the Al Wasl Square store, Yamanote Atelier is simply and elegantly designed, with glass panes decorated with pale pink sakura (cherry blossom), resting between walls of aquamarine. The ceiling above the till is lined with white packaging, each box decorated with a simple strip of pastel colour, like a pantone display. In the centre is a rustic display of freshly baked buns, pastries and breads in wicker baskets. The buns on offer range from deep fried doughnuts filled with beef curry and coated in panko crumb, to rose-filled croissants.
Meeting with Daisuke Kishigami, the Japanese operation and project manager at Yamanote Atelier, he explains that typically (if not traditionally) Japanese items made by the bakery include the chocolate custard-filled sweet dough buns decorate to look like ‘Kitty’ and ‘Totoro’ (popular Japanese cartoon characters). Other specialities include melon buns (so named due to their appearance, rather than flavour), and buns filled with red bean paste.
Daisuke takes us on a tour of Yamanote Atelier’s bakery at the back of the café to explain how some of these signature pastries are created. With the exception of ingredients such as eggs, milk and butter, which are brought in locally, Daisuke tells us that most ingredients are imported from Japan, including all flour and products such as red bean. ‘There are lots of milling companies in Japan, and each one produces lots of varieties of flour,’ says Daisuke. ‘The quality of the flour depends on the percentage of protein. The higher the percentage of protein, the dough will be more soft and have greater elasticity. For baguettes, we need a flour with less protein and also for croissants. We don’t need the softness, because people prefer the crispiness.’
In contrast, Daisuke explains, items made with ‘sweet dough’ such as the melon bun (as well as Kitty, Totoro and the red bean bun) need ‘high protein’ to achieve that fluffy, softness in the final product.
For now, Daisuke says, the bakery is only using flour from wheat, although there are ideas in the pipeline for introducing recipes made with rice flour. To make the sweet dough, the flour is mixed by machine, adding yeast, milk and sugar. For a croissant dough, this would typically be mixed for around five minutes, but the sweet dough is mixed for 27 minutes. ‘More mixing, creates more gluten, which makes the dough softer,’ explains Daisuke.
Following the mixing, the dough is left to proof for 40 minutes. It is then ‘punched’, which involves folding it over to knock the air out. After a further 30 minutes of proofing, the dough is divided into portion-sized balls and placed in the chiller. Since yeast dies at approximately -10°C, at O°C, the dough continues to proof very slowly in the chiller. For the croissants, this means the butter is allowed to absorb and integrate more thoroughly into the dough. This technique of slow proof, Daisuke tells us, is a very old, artisanal French baking technique that the Japanese have resurrected and adopted.
The result is the structure and texture of the croissants is flaky and finely layered.
‘We bake three times a day, so when the customers come, they can always have something fresh,’ says Daisuke. To achieve this, the portioned dough can be taken out of the chiller in small batches throughout the day. The dough is then shaped. For the melon buns, the dough is rolled into balls and topped with a flat circle of biscuit dough (or ‘melon shu’ as Daisuke names it), which is made with sugar, flour, egg and butter. The buns are dusted lightly in sugar. Then, using a little plastic grid, the biscuit dough is scored with a lattice pattern, which gives the buns their melon-like appearance. The buns are then ready for the second proofing, but are not placed in the usual proofing machine, since they need a low humidity due to the biscuit on top, which has to be dry.
In the case of Kitty, Totoro and the red bean paste buns, the dough is rolled into flat circles and then stuffed with chocolate custard and red bean paste respectively (both hand-made, in-house), using a spatula-like tool called an ‘ambera’ that is imported from Japan. They are weighed to check that the total of dough and filling is uniform for each one.
The buns are then closed up like dumplings and left to proof a second time. After this, biscuit dough is used to decorate Kitty and Totoro, and chocolate is piped on in order to make the fine details of the faces
After the second proof, the buns are baked, and once ready they are displayed in those rustic baskets at the front of the store. Here, they are ready for customers to buy, and enjoy in the little café area, or take away in one of those pastel-adorned boxes.
Yamanote Atelier, Al Wasl Square, Al Wasl Road (04 388 1811).
More treats to try
Edo (the old name for Japan’s capital city Tokyo) is a patisserie shop and café that specialises only in mochi. This traditional Japanese sweet is a little cake made of chewy, springy and glutinous rice flour dough, with a centre of (traditionally) red bean paste. However, at Edo Sweets you can sample just about any creative flavour combination of this classic recipe, including café latte, banana, pistachio, strawberry cheesecake and many more besides.
Citywalk, Jumeirah 1 (04 344 0833). Other location Mirdif City Centre (04 283 9332).
In true Japanese style, this patisserie focuses on only one item, but created in myriad varieties. The speciality at Yoku Moku is a simple and fine butter cookie. It is made in a French style into cigar-shaped biscuits and long, thin ‘langue du chat’ (or ‘cat’s tongue’) and more, with different flavours and cream fillings and elegantly packaged for gifts. There are several branches of the patisserie in Dubai, with yet another new shop coming soon to DIFC.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 325 3940). Other locations: Citywalk Mall (04 344 2229), Mirdif City Centre (04 285 6109), Mercato Mall (04 385 6783).