Confectioner in Japan’s Shiga Pref. Serves Up Popular German-inspired Cake
16:30 JST, December 17, 2023
Club Harie, a confectioner in the city of Omi-Hachiman, Shiga Prefecture, has been producing baumkuchen, a traditional German cake, for over half a century. The product has since developed into the shop’s signature product and enjoys wide popularity.
The shop developed its version of baumkuchen to match Japanese tastes, with a moist and fluffy texture, and calls it Baamukuuhen, which differs slightly from the katakana spelling for baumkuchen.
The product is one of the city’s most popular sweets, with about 7.7 million cut pieces flying off the shelves each year.
Club Harie’s recipe has remained almost unchanged since around 1973 — when the firm first began producing the sweet — with the production process being handed down from chef to chef.
Everything is handmade. The dough, which is created by mixing sifted flour with beaten eggs, is continually tweaked to reflect changes in temperature and other factors. A pastry chef keeps a close watch on the multiple layers of dough cooking in the oven, concentrating on changes in color and aroma to determine the perfect baking time aimed at ensuring softness. The skill is said to take about three to five years to master, even for experienced chefs.
Club Harie currently has 22 stores nationwide, with 47 chefs baking 1,600 long cakes a day. “The passion that each chef pours into the product makes it even more delicious,” suggested Ryosuke Obama, 35, head of the “Baamu” factory.
Hard when cold
Western-style sweets were first produced in the city in 1951 by Taneya, a Japanese-style confectionery store founded in 1872. The initiative reportedly began after the shop came into contact with Western culture through William Merrell Vories (1880-1964), an American architect who lived near the store at the time.
Former Taneya Group Vice President Shoji Yamamoto — grandson of Taneya founder Hisakichi Yamamoto — used to practice making Western-style confectionery in Kyoto.
On his days off, Yamamoto, now 74, would return to Taneya to bake and sell baumkuchen. Though it tasted good, it would harden after a while and he could only sell around five or six pieces a day.
“Freshly baked baumkuchen was delicious, but the only people who really enjoyed it were pastry chefs,” said Eigo Kishimoto, 73, an advisor to Club Harie who originally trained with Shoji.
Although the cake did not initially prove popular, one child in particular was thrilled by its deliciousness: Club Harie’s current president Takao Yamamoto — now 51.
Yamamoto recalled how he used to snack on pieces of baumkuchen left over after the production process. “I never got tired of it, despite scoffing it down each day,” Yamamoto said. “I was always so excited to see the baked ‘logs’ before they were sliced, because they looked so delicious.”
Pleasing Japanese palates
The company began developing baumkuchen as its signature product in 1995 when Club Harie was founded as Taneya’s Western confectionery division. Takao became absorbed in researching ways to make his favorite baumkuchen even tastier. While using the recipe passed down from his predecessors as a foundation, he used a process of trial and error to overcome the problem of the product becoming hard upon cooling.
In 1999, Club Harie open a specialty shop in an Osaka department store. The product quickly gained popularity via word of mouth and the company became known as “Club Harie of Baamukuuhen.”
“Our chefs pour their heart and souls into each of the 20 layers necessary to bake one piece,” Takao said. “I want to continue supplying truly delicious products.”
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