Nicole Bermensolo, the author of Kyotofu, Uniquely Delicious Japanese Desserts and the owner of the (now closed) dessert shop in New York City of the same name, is in love with Japanese food and culture. Her cookbook provides an excellent portal into the Japanese palate for westerners by combining subtle foreign flavors into formats easily recognized like crème brûlée and pancakes, tarts and brownies, cupcakes and biscotti.
The contents of this cookbook are divided into several sections:
- A lengthy, humorous, and personal introduction
- A list of the oft hard-to-find ingredients required in the book and suggestions for where to find them in America
- “Green Tea”
- Basics and Accompaniments
Bermensolo offers advice, instruction, and definitions in the first part of the book, at the beginning of each of the other sections, and at the top of most of the recipes. All are very helpful to someone like me, who is unfamiliar with Japanese cooking, ingredients, and culture. Almost every recipe is accompanied with a beautiful photo. Each recipe is clear and professional, though some of the techniques may be a little complex for the casual cook. The recipes are in standard American measurements with a few conversions into metric. There is a brief note on how to make cup-for-cup gluten-free flour substitute for every recipe.
Testing (and Loving) Recipes
I prepared four different recipes from Kyotofu. I am, by nature and practice, very competent at breakfast. I love eating it, cooking it, and making other people happy with it, so it was only expected that I would jump at the chance to cook the Doryaki Pancakes on page 47 in the “Soy” section. The pancakes are very fluffy, though perhaps a bit more complicated than is absolutely required. Honestly. Whipping egg whites for pancake batter? I have things to do with my day! The sweet mirin and honey made it yummy and different. All who tasted them were enchanted.
Next up was a raspberry cheesecake on page 61 in “Miso.” This was my first introduction to miso, and I have since experimented with it in other recipes. Through user error—mine–the cheesecake did not turn out as well as it could have and needed a little dressing up to be presentable. Nevertheless, it got several positive reviews, and I thought the miso added a beautiful complexity to the flavor of the dish.
I’m a big fan of tea and all the various dressings that attend different types of tea. For a happy snack, I whipped up a batch of black sesame shortbread on page 100 in “Sesame.” I thought they tasted great and provided a beautiful sweet contrast to either matcha green tea or my favorite white-green tea blend. My best-tea-drinking buddy agreed. My brother, on the other hand, thought they tasted like mushrooms. Don’t let one man’s opinion sway you: the little cookies were delicious.
The most recent recipe I tried was the chocolate tart on page 64 in “Miso”. I had a few issues with this recipe: the garnishes in the photo were not supplied anywhere in the text, and the recipe instructed use of an “inversion blender” when I believe it meant an “immersion blender”. A small editorial mistake, no doubt, but it sparked a hilarious debate between me and my brother. The recipe itself went very well (pictured), and I enjoyed the experience almost as much as I enjoyed the finished product: immensely. It tasted similar to our favorite, rich, dark pots de crème. Some slivered almonds served as a handsome garnish, and the dish was well-liked by all chocolate lovers. I’ll definitely put this recipe away for use on a later date.
In the book’s introduction, Nicole Bermensolo admits to being obsessed with Japan, its culture, and its food from an early age. “I was without a doubt the only little Italian girl on the Jersey Shore begging her mother to go to the Japanese bookstore in Manhattan.” She earned a scholarship from the Japanese government to study in Japan, and, although her studies were based in Tokyo, her time spent in Kyoto was life changing. “Where Tokyo is fast-paced and modern, Kyoto is slow and traditional. Kyoto remains the true cultural and food capital of Japan.”
After seven successful years running her restaurant and bakery, she made the decision to close the Manhattan space so that she could focus on producing Kyotofu’s products for a wider market. She writes, “I have put together this cookbook as a means of giving curious home cooks access to the whole range of sweets we once served from our restaurant. These recipes aim to introduce readers to the delicious, healthful, longevity-boosting ingredients traditionally found in the Japanese diet, largely through applying them to the familiar, Western dessert formats. Kyotofu stands for dessert as part of a balanced, holistic approach to eating.”
Bernensolo is a big believer that Japan’s cultural obsession with high quality food is one of the reasons Japanese people live longer and stay healthier than anyone else on earth. In her cookbook, she showcases her favorite Japanese food products in a variety of sweet ways in hopes that her readers will treasure them as much as she does.—Review and photo by Hannah George, RFT Contributor