Japan's Background in Baking
A symbol of post-WWII American Occupation, bread was originally seen as a poor substitute for rice. The Japanese didn’t embrace bread as a main staple until the late 70s and it wouldn’t be until the 90s that Japanese artisanal bakers mastered the craft and started producing world-famous bread products.
Freshly baked Furansupan (French bread)
A Tokyo Twist
In 2002, a company by the name of Tokyo Rusk stepped up the game in grain. A rusk is often mistakenly compared to Italian biscotti, but is actually more closely related to another Italian biscuit called fette biscottate: a twice-baked sliced bread. However, Tokyo Rusk produces an even more unique rusk in the form of a twice-baked baguette slice (European bakers traditionally use rectangular white bread, or wheat loaves).
Traditional European-style rusks
High-quality wheat is carefully selected for optimal crispiness before being blended with other ingredients to form the perfect dough. Each baguette is lovingly hand-rolled one by one to add “deliciousness and feeling” before being placed into a mold to proof (a baking technique). The mold enhances the uniformity of the hand-rolled baguettes and rotates in the oven to ensure an even bake.
Artisanal bakers rolling baguettes
Once the first bake is complete, the baguettes are sliced evenly and brushed with a meticulously taste-tested butter before being sent back to the oven to become a rusk. The butter is an important part of the second bake, ensuring the bread perfectly bakes to a delicate crisp rather than a charred crunch. The butter and dough ingredients vary depending on which flavor of Tokyo rusk is being baked (Matcha Chocolate, Hazelnut Cafe, etc.).
Tokyo Rusk storefront display featuring Almond, Matcha, and Sakura flavors
Today I’ll be reviewing the Hazelnut Cafe Rusk from our October Bokksu: Autumn Appetite, Sakura Rusk from our March Bokksu: Snacks Over Flowers, and the Earl Grey + Orange Peel Rusk from this month's June Bokksu: Citrus Summer.
Hazelnut Cafe Rusk (ヘーゼルナッツカフェラスク)
As an avid Nutella and coffee fan, I was filled with excitement when I opened this beautifully packaged rusk! Just looking at the chopped hazelnuts and perfected glaze had my stomach rumbling. On the nose, there's a lightly roasted coffee scent. As I bit down, the snap of this snack quickly turned into a buttery, hazelnut paradise that melted in my mouth. The chopped nuts add a nice crunch while the coffee cuts rights through for a clean finish.
Sakura Rusk (サクラスク)
Ah yes, sakura (cherry blossom). What kind of company would they be if Tokyo Rusk didn't offer this classic spring flavor? This baguette is brushed with sakura butter for its second bake. More delicate in appearance than the Hazelnut Cafe Rusk, the sakura variety has salted petals spread throughout the dough rather than topping the baguette. This causes a delightfully soft, light pink coloring. A nice waft of cherry blossom tickled my nose as I brought it up for a bite. In true Japanese fashion, the sakura flavor is perfectly balanced and mild, with the salt from the petals reigning in the sweetness.
Earl + Orange Peel Rusk (アールグレイ＋オレンジピールラスク)
A personal favorite and our selection for June Bokksu: Citrus Summer, this rusk is a quali-tea (I had to) confection. At first glance, it seems like a plain baguette, especially when compared to its siblings. Don’t believe it, for this is all a clever ruse. The tea and orange peels are gently folded into the dough, fusing flavor and creating a speckled surface. Before the second bake they’re lightly coated in butter and sprinkled with sugar. It all sounds so simple, but after I took a bite, the smooth Earl Grey aromatics melted in my mouth and revealed a mild, orange-citric sweetness. Eating only one was impossible!
I've only had the pleasure of trying three flavors today, but Tokyo Rusk is one of our most innovative and inventive makers. Every season they come out with new flavors to wow us. Be sure to try them if you get the chance!