Takashi Tsumagari not only runs Cake House Tsumagari in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, but also acts as an "ingredient hunter" for his confectionery, seeking the finest ingredients.
The 67-year-old pastry chef uses milk from free-range cows kept in a coastal area of the Tohoku region, spring water from Mie Prefecture and almonds from Sicily.
"What you eat shapes your body. The same goes for confectionery. I want to offer sweets that make people feel healthy and happy. Making sincere efforts in things that do not meet the eye is what I value most," he says.
Tsumagari has roots in the nature of his hometown in Miyazaki Prefecture. As a child, he would catch mountain birds in traps, as well as shrimps, eels, shellfish and "tengusa," a type of red algae, in the river and sea. His grandmother, who raised him after he was 10 years old, taught him "the wisdom to live and the importance of being grounded while being grateful to nature."
Since he opened his shop in the Koyoen district along the Hankyu Railway Line in 1987, Tsumagari has been finding time to step out with a trash bag in hand to clean the streets.
He says Christmas is "not only a time of celebration but also that of gratitude."
This week, Tsumagari will introduce a cottage cheese tart. Cheese tarts are popular in Scandinavia and his tart is one of the top three most popular products at the shop since it opened. The rich and gentle flavor seems to appeal to people of all generations.
When making the tart, extra care must be paid when placing the bowl of filling in hot water. It will reach the best state when heated to 55 degrees. The filling will turn slightly thick, a little thinner than corn soup. Please be careful not to warm the filling too much as it will hurt the flavor of the egg.
When baking, place some water in a heat-proof cup inside to cook in steam-oven style. This way, the surface will stay moist and the tart will turn out tastier. Prepare soft whipped cream (around 6 on a scale of 1 to 10) but it should not run too much when the tart is cut into wedges.
Decorate the tart as you wish. "Mine is an impression of Christmas in the Scandinavian forest," says Tsumagari. Why not try baking one before Christmas Eve?
For a tart 21 cm in diameter:
For the crust:
160 grams all-purpose flour (churikiko)
100 grams unsalted butter
52 grams granulated sugar
Several drops of vanilla oil
12 grams whole egg
For the filling:
240 grams cottage cheese
100 grams whole egg
70 grams granulated sugar
Ingredient A (28 grams each of soft flour and cornstarch)
Ingredient B (150 cc raw cream with 45 percent fat content, 280 cc milk)
150 cc raw cream
9 grams granulated sugar
To make crust, soften butter at room temperature, add granulated sugar and mix.
Add egg and vanilla oil and mix. Sift in all-purpose flour, mix swiftly with hands and make a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and leave in fridge for about 2 hours.
Roll out dough to thickness of 4 mm with rolling pin. Lay in tart mold. Place parchment paper on dough, line with tart weights. Bake in oven preheated to 160 degrees for about 30 minutes. Remove weights and bake for another 10 minutes or so.
To make filling, strain cottage cheese, place in bowl and mix with granulated sugar. Add egg in small amounts and mix. Sift Ingredient A into the mixture. Mix in Ingredient B.
Place bowl in hot water of around 70 degrees. Constantly mix so rubber ladle scrapes the bottom of bowl until filling is heated to 55 degrees and thickens slightly.
Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Pour filling into crust, bake in oven for about 30 minutes.
When the tart has cooled somewhat, place in fridge. For decoration, prepare soft whipped cream with granulated sugar and coat surface.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column