Monday, December 30, 2013

Mr. Ito Marron (Chestnut) Tart Cookies

A few days after Christmas, I wanted to make the rounds of the three major Japanese markets in my area (Marukai, Nijiya, and Mitsuwa) to see if any of them had their New Year's preparation on. I was very disappointed to see that they had very little in the way of traditional New Year's decorations and the only food options were extremely expensive "o-sechi ryori" deals in which you'd have to pre-order your repast for the holidays. The only exception was over-priced balls of shelf stable kagami mochi and a woman selling roasted chestnuts outside of Mitsuwa several yards from a man roasting those chestnuts.

As my husband and I walked near Mitsuwa, he said he smelled something which he strongly associated with living in Tokyo. It was a burning smell that we both recalled being similar to that which came around tea shops that roasted their own leaves. In this case, we were smelling the roasting of the chestnuts. It resembled burnt coffee.

I've written before that roasting is a bit of a unifying flavor force. One of the reasons that kinako (toasted soy flour) tastes a bit like peanut butter is that both the soybeans and peanuts are roasted. I've learned that things made with chestnut often take on an almost coffee-like flavor because of their roasting as well. When I gave one of these cookies a pre-tasting sniff, the first thing I thought of was coffee with strong caramel notes.

My nose did not lie to me. These have both coffee- and caramel-like notes to them, though there is also some chestnut flavor. The outer tart is crumbly and like a butter cookie. It provides some of the flavor, though in fairly muted margarine and flour flavors. It's not especially sweet, though not really bland. It brings more of a textural contrast and a balancing of the sweeter, softer, and just short of gooey filling. In fact, the filling's sweetness and texture are pretty perfectly complemented by the cookie base. The only thing I could say is "wrong" with it is that it would be nice if the ratios were slightly different. There could be a little less cookie.

That's in no way an indictment. I liked this quite a bit. This cost about $3.00 at Marukai market and I felt it was slightly expensive for 8 small cookies (each is about the diameter of an Oreo). My husband actually had to talk me into spluring on them and I'm glad he did. Though I probably wouldn't dash out and stockpile them, I was happy to buy them and look forward to eating the rest. They aren't exactly a chestnut lover's dream, but they're fine cookies nonetheless and a good shake-up to the holiday parade of gingerbread, pumpkin, and sugar cookies that I experience at this time of year.

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