Ever since my visit to Hidemi Sugino’s Tokyo patisserie, Idemi, and bought his book, I’ve been flipping through it at least once a week, usually before bed, and mainly to drool over all the pretty pictures and relive the cake extravaganza I had with my Le Cordon Bleu classmates. Although I did pinch a few ideas from the book here and there I had never mustered up the courage to try any of the recipes in full. For one thing, even though the recipes are very clearly written with loads of photos to illustrate his points, they are quite involved and require a lot of ingredients. Then there is the fear factor. What if they don't taste or look anything like his creations? Finally, even if they turn out exactly like they're supposed to, the recipes need to be scaled down because unless you have 20 hungry dessert fanatics at your beck and call, what would you do with all that cake, delicious beyond belief as they may be.
Last week, my chocolate supplier was nice enough to let me try some of the pistachio paste that they carry. It was only a little tub of about 40g and I wanted to make something special with it. My eyes fell onto the cover of Mr. Sugino’s book, which migrates between the coffee table and my bedside table on a regular basis. On it is his signature dessert and one of my all time favorites, the Ambroisie.
I had it once at Idemi and never forgot the taste. I don’t often order chocolate mousse desserts because most of the times the chocolate is so heavy and sweet that half way through I find myself wishing I’d picked something lighter instead. Not Mr. Sugino’s Ambroisie. It was the perfect lightness and sweetness to allow the pistachio flavors to shine through. So it was decided. That’s how I will do with the pistachio paste.
The Ambroisie is made up of chocolate joconde biscuit, pistachio joconde biscuit, pistachio mousse and raspberry jam encased in chocolate mousse, with a layer of chocolate glaze covering it all up. It took me two days to scale down the recipe and figure out the logistics (making sure which flat trays will go horizontally into the freezer and measuring out the various ring molds I own to calculate the correct amount of ingredients took a while, and overcoming my procrastination/performance anxiety took its own fair share of time too). I didn’t want to rush myself and fail because I knew that would just completely crush me and it would take me forever to regain confidence to try another of his recipes. So I gave myself plenty of time. On day one I baked the two different kinds of joconde and made the chocolate petals that would go around the cake. Day two saw me making the mousses, assembling the cakes and putting them into the freezer to harden overnight. Day three was the day that we were due at a friend’s house for afternoon tea and chocolate fondue so that morning I made the glaze, poured it over the cakes, stuck the chocolate petals around and dotted the center of cake with a tiny piece of gold leaf. The only step I skipped was making my own raspberry jam and I followed Mr. Sugino’s recipe to a T.
I had a momentary insanity attack when I was making the chocolate glaze. I measured out 11g of gelatin and somehow felt that it was too much and decided to use only half. The resulting glaze was runny despite cooling it to a dangerously low temperature, but I poured it onto the cakes anyway. Instead of clinging onto the sides, most of it ran right off. Seeing two days of hard work going down the drain, I gathered up my wits and poured the pool of ran-off glaze into a bowl, reconstituted the gelatin leaves that I left out, melted it in a water bath, added them into the glaze and re-poured it over the cakes. This time, it stuck. I don’t know what I was thinking doubting the glaze recipe in the first place. If the master of use-almost-no-gelatin-so-the-texture-stays-so-light-that-they-are-not-fit-for-travel says 11g of gelatin is needed for the glaze, then 11g it is. Not one gram less! Geeze!
Disaster averted, now I had time to sit back and admire the Ambroisie. They turned out almost identical in appearance to the ones at Idemi, except not all of my chocolate petals turned out well so I had only three petals per cake vs. Idemi’s four. Flavor-wise, the chocolate mousse was light as a cloud, due to the pâte a bombe and the absence of gelatin (it was held up purely on the strength of the chocolate and the power of my praying/finger-crossing/will power). I did add 50% more gelatin in the pistachio mousse, which resulted in a somewhat denser texture by Idemi standard. The pistachio paste I got from the supplier was not the brown pure ground-up pistachio that I favor. Instead it was a pistachio praline paste, made from caramelized pistachio and had a distinct alcohol/almond aroma. I had doubts about it because of the strong smell but after baking it into the joconde and cooking it into a crème Anglaise, the smell was not detectable. I did have a problem with the flavor, however. I should’ve used more pistachio than the recipe called for to counter the fact that the paste was not 100% pure pistachio. At Idemi I remember the pistachio flavor was quite distinct, but in my recreation with the pistachio praline paste, it was more subtle. You could tell it was there, but it could barely hold its own against the chocolate. Next time I think I’ll double the pistachio quantity.
With the Ambroise under my belt I now feel more confident tackling his other recipes. Maybe I’ll try Everest, or the pineapple coconut number that prompted me to buy a dewdrop shaped cake mold that had been sitting in my kitchen for the last six months. So many recipes to try and I’m sure each experience will be as rewarding as the Ambroisie.