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The Mystery of Mont Blanc

What does a word “Mont Blanc” remind you of? A mountain? Or fountain pens?

If you like deserts and if you are from France, Italy, or Japan, you may soon notice that I want to write about a desert called Mont-Blanc aux marrons in French or Monte Bianco in Italian. In Japan it is called MONBURAN (with an accent on ‘o’) and we have millions of Mont Blanc but most of us don’t know that “Mont Blanc” means “White Mountain”. In fact, quite many Mont Blanc of ours are not even white….

First of all, I think I have to explain what Mont Blanc is like to those who have never seen it or heard of it.

A Mont Blanc is a dessert made of sweetened purée of chestnuts and whipped cream and its shape resembles a mountain covered with snow.

I thought it was a desert of French origin, but according to Wikipedia,

The dessert was described in an Italian cook book from 1475, and was often served in the home of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. It became popular in France in the 17th century, around 1620.

 

"Cesareborgia" by Altobello Melone - allposters.com. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Cesare Borgia” by Altobello Melone – allposters.com.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

However, I found another theory in Italian site, Cibo360.it;

 

Il montebianco è un dolce tipico piemontese realizzato con le castagne lessate in acqua e zucchero e poi ridotte a passato-purea, messe in una sac a poche da pasticcere e presentate sul piatto a forma di montagna, successivamente ricoperta di panna montata, come a dare l’idea di un monte innevato. L’origine di questo dolce è molto probabilmente francese, il nome montebianco, infatti, deriva dall’italianizzazione del nome originale della ricetta montblanc, ma dato che le radici di questo dolce vanno ricercate nei secoli scorsi è probabile che, come i marron glaces, sia nato sotto il regno dei Savoia quando Piemonte e Francia erano uniti. Il Monte Bianco stesso, a cui il dolce si riferisce, si trova giusto al confine tra l’Italia e la Francia, quindi al di là del campanilismo, è molto probabile che la ricetta sia nata in territorio comune per poi diffondersi in tutta Europa.

 

It says, Monte Bianco is a typical desert of Piedmont Region, made with chestnuts boiled in water and sugar, and then reduced to the puree, put in a pastry bag and presented on the plate in the shape of a mountain, then topped with whipped cream, in order to remind of a snow covered mountain. The origin of this cake is very possibly in France, in fact, the name Monte Bianco, derives from “Italianization” of the original name of the recipe of Mont Blanc. However, the roots of this cake has been researched for recent centuries and it is probably invented ,like Marron Glaces, under the Kingdom of Savoy when Piedmont Region and France were united. The Mont Blanc itself, which the desert refers to, is located right on the border between Italy and France, and then beyond the patriotism, it is very likely that the recipe was invented in common territory and then it spread throughout Europe.

 

It was in Rome where Cesare Borgia was born in 1475, on the other hand, Lucrezia in Subiaco (near Rome) in 1480. It was in 1475 that Wikipedia says the recipe of Monte Bianco appeared in an Italian cook book… Unfortunately I was not able to find any clue that connects the Borgia and Monte Bianco, or even the name of the cook book. So, I’m afraid that I cannot say if it is true or not. But as a legend, I like it so much and I hope that it is a true story! Isn’t it exciting to imagine that Cesare Borgia was thinking of the poison to use while eating a delicious Monte Bianco?? Anyway, I found a very interesting site regarding the historical cook book, RENAISSANCE GASTRONOMIC LITERATURE by Accdemia Barilla. If you are interested, please check it! (It is written in English.)

 

"A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia - John Collier" - Daily Telegraph, King Albert's Book (London, 1914), page 152. Scanned by Dave Pape.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
“A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia – John Collier” – Daily Telegraph, King Albert’s Book (London, 1914), page 152. Scanned by Dave Pape.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

How Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco became MONBURAN in Japan?

Japanese MONBURAN started when Mr. Sakota visited Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in 1933. He tasted for the first time a Mont Blanc at Angelina in Paris, which was, according its official website;

 

This iconic pastry combines meringue, light whipped cream and chestnut paste vermicelli to delight even the keenest of palates. The Mont-Blanc’s unique, unrivalled recipe has made it Angelina’s famous trademark pastry since 1903.

 

Mr. Sakota asked for the rights to make this Mont Blanc in Japan and in the same year, 1933, he founded a pastry shop named “MONBURAN” in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo and started to make Japanese MONBURAN.

Mont-Blanc in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo
Mont-Blanc in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo

 

But the MONBURAN that was created by Mont-Blanc of Jiyugaoka was a bit different from the one of Angelina. The difference was the colour. Mr. Sakota made his MONBURAN yellow because he decided to used chestnuts in syrup whose colour was yellow, which was familiar to Japanese people at that time. The colour of Mont Blanc in Japan had been yellow for fifty years before Angelina of Paris opened shops in Japan in 1984.

 

Chestnuts in syrup called KURI-no-KANRONI in Japanese Photo from
Chestnuts in syrup called
KURI-no-KANRONI in Japanese
Photo from Hinomoto Shokusan

 

Yellow MONBURAN of Mont-Blanc, Jiyugaoka Photo from Rakuten
Yellow MONBURAN of Mont-Blanc, Jiyugaoka
Photo from Rakuten

 

Mont Blanc of Angelina, Paris
Mont Blanc of Angelina, Paris

 

Now in Japan, there are millions of colours of Mont Blanc as there are Mont Blanc of strawberries, sweet potatoes, matcha (green tea), pumpkins and so on. I think a cake with pureed cream squeezed from a pastry bag to be shaped like a mountain is called Mont Blanc whether or not it is made of chestnuts.

Mont Blanc of Matcha (green tea) of Colombin, Tokyo
Mont Blanc of Matcha (green tea) of Colombin, Tokyo

 

The other day, I found, for the first time in my life, a Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha (Roasted Japanese tea) sold by a shop called Cha-no-wa. Cha-no-wa is originally a Japanese tea seller in Hiroshima, but with the shrink of the sales of tea the president decided to make deserts and cakes with tea. He asked some top Japanese pâtissier to create deserts and cakes. Thus not only the quality of tea but also that of deserts is splendid. In fact, The Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha that I tasted was full of aroma of high quality Hoji-cha tea. The cream was not so sweet but it was well-balanced between the sweetness and the rich and a bit bitter taste of tea. The Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha (Roasted Japanese tea) is available only at the shop in Mitsukoshi, Nihonbashi, Tokyo. So if you like Japanese tea and plan to go near Nihonbashi, why don’t you go to Mitsukoshi department store to try this authentic Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha?? (You will find also many kinds of deserts made with Japanese tea!)

Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha (Roasted Japanese tea) of Cha-no-wa
Mont Blanc of Hoji-cha (Roasted Japanese tea) of
Cha-no-wa.
(Sorry for the quality of the photo!! I took it with my cellphone before eating it!)

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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Comment

  1. Hilary より:

    Very interesting! I’ve never tried those even though they are so common. I’m not a fan of chestnut. But! Now I plan to hunt some down the next time I’m in Japan. :)

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