Welcome to Portland, Maine's Ten Ten Pié
When you walk into Ten Ten Pié, you’ll smell butter. Breathe deeply and you’ll start to feel calm. You’ll order a pastry, and as you eat it you'll use your fingers to move any crumbs that have fallen to the table or your shirt into your mouth. You’ll find it painful to leave. Or maybe that was was just my experience at the Portland, Maine, spot when I visited last month.
Part French bakery, part Japanese market, Ten Ten Pié is like nothing I’ve seen before. Baker and co-owner Atsuko Fujimoto incorporates items like mochi, sake, and matcha into her chocolate cakes, custard tarts, and macarons.
“When our shop opened in 2014, we set a multinational theme for the concept of our food offering,” Fujimoto told me in an email. “Coming from Japan, it was a natural occurrence for me to use flavors of Japan such as sake and matcha in our food.” But it’s not just flavors from her own culture that intrigue Fujimoto. A fan of Middle Eastern flavors, she told me she’ll often incorporate ingredients like za’atar, harissa, mahleb, preserved lemon, and labne in her pastries. “I’ve tried many different things, but Japanese-inspired food seems to attract more people.”
It's definitely working. Take one bite of Fujimoto’s squidgy double chocolate sake cake and you may start to regret you agreed to share the treat with your lunch partner. The batter contains sake kasu, also known as sake lees, dregs of fermented rice from the sake-making process. Sold as a paste, dried sheet, or powder, sake kasu imparts that distinct savory-sweet, yeasty sake flavor into the delicate pastry. When whipped with egg yolks, and blended with sugar, bittersweet chocolate, and beaten egg white, the result is wondrously unique.
Inventive ways to use ingredients in baked goods didn’t just come to Fujimoto as she baked in her kitchen. She cites traveling as one of the best ways to become inspired. Of course she knows that not everyone can swing long-distance trips, but there are still ways to explore other cuisines in your own area. “I always like to check ethnic grocery stores, inhale the aroma of unknown food, and taste it,” Fujimoto says. She recommends chatting with store employees. “Ask how they use spices and ingredients that interest you. I always learn a lot from going to Halal markets, Southeast Asian stores, and Bodega Latina in town.”
Much as she loves exploring flavors outside of her comfort zone, Fujimoto won’t stop experimenting with Japanese ingredients. Right now, she’s testing hoji-cha, a roasted green tea, in Portuguese Pastel de Nata. She’s also found that kinako, a roasted soy flour, tastes like toasted almonds, which works wonders in French macarons. “I love adding miso in our caramel too, to give more depth.”
Not all of her experiments are as a great a success as the sake cake. Fujimoto’s main peice of advice when playing with new ingredients is to taste as you go, because adding too much of something could ruin a great idea. “But really, you can only learn from trial and error. Things are always works in progress for me too!”