“Dessert cannot come first,” Johnlu Koa is saying as he holds up a tray of the decorated Hokkaido Cakes. The founder and CEO of The French Baker has just finished a demo showcasing how easy it is to make this newest dessert. Naturally, my eyebrows rise at his statement and somewhere, I hear chuckles from people who know of my website. “Eat a little something first so that your GI [glycemic index] won’t shoot up,” Johnlu continues, then he pauses. “But dessert is part of a balanced diet, right Lori?” Now he’s looking at me, grinning. I grin back. Johnlu and I have known each other for a few years now and while he advocates a healthy lifestyle, I’ve told him that I like his easygoing attitude towards dessert.
For the holidays, The French Baker heralds the arrival of their newest creation, the Hokkaido Cake, the latest installment in their Cake of the World line. It has nothing to do with the Japanese prefecture, that country’s northernmost island. But the reference may be symbolical since Hokkaido is an oasis of natural beauty, teeming with expansive fields and in the winter, stunning landscapes of ice. It’s also renowned for its dairy, regarded as the best in Japan.
The Hokkaido Cake is, as its name suggests, a statement of simplicity and quality. A cushion-soft crumb makes up this chiffon cake lightened with whipped egg whites and attaining elevated heights with air beaten in. As I watch the cake batter being folded, white turns to yellow, touched by egg yolks and a silken stream of melted butter. Johnlu tells us that he chose Anchor Butter for this cake because it’s produced from the finest cream.
After a brief bake, the Hokkaido Cake looks deceptively homey. They’re presented in rectangular baking cups of a charming robin’s egg blue with “Enjoy & Share” inscribed in a scribble font on the sides. But Chef Pauline Lagdameo, Anchor’s Executive Chef for Foodservice, has the mixer going up in the front. She was one of my chef-instructors in culinary school and it’s terrific to see her again. She announces that she’s whipping some Anchor Cream, billows of which are then infused with a concentrated vanilla paste and amplified even more with scrapings from vanilla beans. From where I sit, the smell is intoxicating.
Johnlu approaches the baked cakes, waiting receptacles ready to be filled. With piping bag in hand, the pastry tip is inserted into the cakes, the center of each being suffused with the vanilla-accented sweet cream, a crème chantilly, if you will. A shimmy of the sifter sends clouds of powdered sugar afloat, drifting onto the cakes’ surfaces, settling into crevices. Perhaps it’s this powdery finish that mimics the snow-capped mountains in Hokkaido? The cakes here are then garnished with slices of strawberry, kiwis for the ones there, and mangoes mark the hearts of the rest.
The Hokkaido Cake is divine while it retains a memory of warmth. A gentle prodding of my spoon, the cake separates slightly, and the fluid center gushes out to greet me. A communion of cake and cream, soft and liquid fills my mouth. Sweetness too, scattered pulsings that make me dissolve with pleasure.
This cake is so light that I’m sure Johnlu won’t take issue with this dessert coming first. But I do think that the “Enjoy & Share” slogan might be a bit off the mark. With a cake this good, I (and you) won’t want to share.
The Hokkaido Cake
Available beginning today, December 12, at all The French Baker outlets
Singles (P65); in 5’s (P295)