Customers who step into "Cake House Tsumagari" when the shop opens in the morning call out to the 66-year-old proprietor, Takashi Tsumagari, as if they were relatives.
The scene has been replayed daily for about 30 years since the shop opened.
To find it, visitors get off the train at Koyoen Station on the Hankyu Line at the foot of Mount Rokko in Hyogo Prefecture and walk up a little way. It's a 56-square-meter neighborhood cake shop that evokes a sense of nostalgia.
"The Mont Blanc made of Japanese chestnut tasted superb," "I came because my grandchildren are visiting," are some of the comments.
A variety of freshly made cakes fill the showcase. They feature fresh fruits, butter and newly whipped fresh cream to name a few. The freshness of the ingredients is the key to highlighting their flavor.
Tsumagari checks how fast a cake sells, makes a new batch and refills the showcase. Although he has shops at department stores in Osaka and Kobe, the main shop at Koyoen is the only place that offers freshly made ones straight after being made.
Tsumagari was 15 when he left his hometown in Miyazaki Prefecture and arrived in Tokyo. After working as a cargo handler, the 17-year-old joined a friend who was going to work at a long-established cake shop in Tokyo. Although he had never eaten a cream puff until then, he began his career as a confectionery worker aided by his sunny disposition and stamina.
After moving on to work for a major confectionery manufacturer in Hyogo Prefecture at 23, he trained hard in cake decorating every day and won the top prize in a competition. When he was 26, he went to a cake shop in Switzerland to polish his skills further.
Upon his return to Japan, he was appointed as the president of an affiliated company. He successfully oversaw the company’s opening of a Tokyo store and decided to strike out on his own at 37.
This week, Tsumagari will introduce the buche de Noel, a French Christmas cake that resembles a log.
"I’d be happy if it creates an opportunity to enjoy a freshly made cake with someone you care for," he says.
He uses eggs, sugar and cocoa powder but no flour when making the cake. It melts in the mouth and offers a nice, moist texture. The process is harder than when flour is used but "stretch yourself a little and take on the challenge," says Tsumagari.
The key is the whipped egg white. Beat thoroughly until the surface becomes shiny and it peaks. Coating the cake swiftly with fresh cream is a key to getting a smooth finish.
Born in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1950, Takashi Tsumagari joined Hisamoto Yogashi, a cake shop in Tokyo, in 1968. He moved to Edelweiss, a major confectionery maker in Hyogo Prefecture, in 1972 and went on to head Antenor, the company’s affiliated business. He left the firm in 1987 and opened Cake House Tsumagari in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. He was selected as a "gendai no meiko" (contemporary master craftsman) by the government in 2011.
For two 16-cm cakes:
24 grams cocoa powder
Ingredient A (80 grams egg yolk, 52 grams granulated sugar)
Ingredient B (150 grams egg white, 80 grams granulated sugar)
Ingredient C (150 cc fresh cream, 9 grams granulated sugar)
Sift cocoa. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Mix Ingredient A and whip until it becomes whitish and heavy.
Add half of sugar in Ingredient B to egg white and beat. When it turns whitish, add remaining sugar and whip stiffly until it peaks and becomes shiny.
Add half of whipped egg white to whipped egg yolk. Add cocoa and mix. Add remaining whipped egg white and mix in cutting motion.
Lay parchment paper on oven dish (26 cm by 36 cm was used) and pour batter flat. Bake in oven for about 13 minutes. Cool thoroughly.
Mix Ingredient C and whip until it peaks softly. Spread on cake so that the cream is about 3 mm thick. Roll up cake.
Cut into appropriate size and cover with fresh cream. Decorate as you wish.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column