Sweets: What’s Trending in Japan- From Cheese Mania to Retro Snacks –

Japan is a country of craftsmanship. Whether it is lacquerware decorated with gold leaf or high-tech home electronics, Japanese products are meticulously made by people with a passion for perfection who are always searching for ways to make their offerings more exceptional. This is true in the world of Japanese sweets as well. Although Japan has its own traditional confectionary culture, people have eagerly incorporated Western influence and cooking methods as they introduce new sweets to please picky Japanese consumers. Here are some of the latest trends in the world of Japanese sweets and snacks.

Cheese-Based Sweets Craze

In Japan, there are three main kinds of sweets distinguished by when they are eaten, which is roughly determined by the quality and price of the products. The first category includes everyday sweet snacks available at grocery stores, such as Pocky and Koara no Machi (Koala’s March). The second category consists of sweets that you would buy as gifts at specialty sweets stores or depachika or ekinaka shopping areas.* Since these are gifts, these sweets are usually pricier, beautifully decorated, and attractively wrapped. The third type of sweets are restaurant desserts, which are gorgeously presented with sauces and fruit. We see the most trends in the second category, gift sweets––one recent one is fro-mage (the French word for cheese is often used in Japan) sweets.

Although cheese-based sweets are not a new concept in Japan, the tremen-dous variety of them continues to grow. Baked cheesecakes, highly perishable non-baked cheesecakes, cheese souffl és, cheese-flavored cookies, and cheese creams mixed with other sweets are all types of fromage sweets, which are made using a nearly unlimited variety of cheeses. Different sizes, shapes, tex-tures, and serving temperatures combine to make a truly astounding array of cheese-based sweet options.

The thinking behind fromage sweets is that Japanese people have a prefer-ence for sweets that aren’t too sweet. When you take away some sweetness, there needs to be another flavor to keep things from getting dull. Cheese has a substantial umami that goes well with sweet dishes––in fact, there is a recent trend of desserts that are both savory and sweet at the same time.

We have also noticed a rising number of double- or triple-layer cheesecakes. The combinations of different textures and fl avors are just amazing, and they make even hard-to-please Japanese consumers happy. When you take a bite of one of these multilayer cheesecakes, you’ll taste a fluffy, light flavor first, fol-lowed by a rich, creamy portion. When you try some of a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake filling encased in a cheese crust, all the smoothness and crustiness will combine to create a delicious harmony in your mouth.

Overall, fluffy-textured cheesecakes are the most popular. People are happy to wait in a long line to buy a freshly cooked, soufflé-style cheesecake with an extremely short shelf life whose daily production is also limited. Since they are fresh, the ingredients of these cheesecakes should be high quality, and they are often locally sourced with clear traceability. People also like the regional flavors in these special cheesecakes.

You can buy scrumptious cheese sweets even in convenience stores. This soufflé-style, fluffy cheesecake just melts in your mouth (right).
This small, baked cheesecake tart is made using Hokkaido dairy products (left).
This delicate, perishable cheesecake is made with locally sourced milk (middle).

*A depachika––a shortened combination of depato (department store) and chika (basement)––is an area in the basement of a department store that sells carefully selected brand items, while an ekinaka––combining eki (station) and naka (inside)––is a shopping mall adjacent to a train station with a special selection of brand items.

The double-layer cheesecake has a rich, creamy base on the bottom layer and is silky on top.

These three types of cookies are made with three different cheeses: cheddar, Swiss, and blue cheese.

Resurgence of Showa Snacks

The Showa Period (1926–1989) has been a key phrase in marketing products this past decade. Restoring old houses built in this period, adding retro twists to fashion, bringing back an older style of living––reestablishing the value of the “good old days” of the Showa period somehow is attracting both young people as well as those who lived through this era. This trend has touched the confectionery market as well. Many major confectionery manufacturers have revamped products sold during this period and put them in retro packages to stir a natsukashii (nostalgic) feeling. Choco Ball (chocolate-coated peanuts and chocolate filled with caramel) and Pretz (pretzel-like stick snacks) are now avail-able in the original packages. Other good examples of this Showa revival are daigaku imo (literally meaning “college sweet potato”––a fried sweet potato topped with caramelized sugar), melon pan (round bread covered with a cookie crust to look like a muskmelon), and rusk (hard, dry, twice-baked bread similar to biscotti).

Rusk has become a gift sweet sold in depachika and ekinaka. Rusk was originally a Western import, and it can be made from leftover bread, either with icing on top or a sugar coating. Today, there are many different flavors of rusks, and they can even be made of croissants and baumkuchen (a “tree ring” cake originally from Germany).

These Pretz in the original, retro packaging and the jumbo-sized package of Choco Ball are both sold in Okashi Land (Land of Snacks) in the Tokyo Station shopping mall.

Melon pan used to be a cheap, snack pastry. It is now upgraded into a craft pastry.

Wa-rusk is a lightly seasoned, delicate rusk that has a Japanese sensibility (left). The gorgeous decorations on croissant rusks make them look like gems (right).

Chopsticks NY Original Cheese Rusks for Valentine’s Day

Combining two major confectionery trends in Japan, cheese and rusk, Chopsticks NY has created original recipes for cheese-flavored rusk.

Cheese Rusk #1

( Ingredients : Makes 12–15 pieces)
□ 4 slices white bread □ 2 tbsp butter □ 2 tbsp granulated sugar □ 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

(Directions)
1. Heat oven to 280-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut out bread with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
3. Spread butter on one side of each of the heart-shaped bread pieces.
4. Coat the buttered sides of the heart-shaped bread pieces with sugar.
5. Place the bread, sugar-side up, on a baking pan lined with a baking sheet.
6. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the bread.
7. Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until it turns golden brown.

Cheese Rusk #2

(Ingredients are same as Rusk #1)

(Directions)
1. Heat oven to 280-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut out bread with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
3. Mix butter and grated parme-san cheese.
4. Spread the cheese and butter mix on one side of each of the heart-shaped bread pieces.
5. Coat the buttered sides of the heart-shaped bread pieces with sugar.
6. Place the bread, sugar-side up, on a baking pan lined with a baking sheet.
7. Bake in the oven for about 25–30 minutes until it turns golden brown.

Cheese Rusk #3

( Ingredients : Makes 12–15 pieces)
□ 4 slices white bread □ 2 tbsp butter □ 2 tbsp granulated sugar

(Directions)
1. Heat oven to 280-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut out bread with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
3. Spread butter on one side of each of the heart-shaped bread pieces.
4. Coat the buttered sides of the heart-shaped bread pieces with sugar.
5. Place the bread, sugar-side up, on a baking pan lined with a baking sheet.
6. Bake in the oven for about 25–30 minutes until it turns golden brown.

Tip: If you would like to make a completely savory rusk, just skip the step of coating it with sugar.

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