It’s called the “Wizard of Oz,” no doubt because it is dusted in a delicate shade of emerald. It is a petite, refined cake--thin, pretty layers of pink, white and pale green--and it looks as if it came straight off the shelf of a glittering French pastry shop.
But one bite and you’re not in Paris anymore. The layers are made of green tea mousse, red azuki beans in red bean mousse and vanilla cake, all sprinkled with green tea powder. It is subtly sweet, faintly herbal and unlike anything you’ve had before.
The cake is just one of many unusual pastries at R.J. Patisserie, a bakery tucked in a Hacienda Heights strip mall anchored by a 99 Ranch Market. The owner and pastry chef, R.J. Guo, combines classic French technique with an Asian sensibility and ingredients to create a stunningly beautiful array of cakes, cookies and other sweets.
There are mousses and genoises tinged with passion fruit and mangoes. Garnishes made from whisker-thin chocolate stripes, powdered sugar-dusted champagne grapes and swirls of Japanese chestnut paste. Each pastry is whimsically named, each a little work of art.
“I love beautiful things, and I like making pastries that are unique,” Guo says.
Guo’s “Mont-Blanc” has a vanilla cake base, lightly striped with chocolate, and is filled with Cognac-flavored chocolate cream. A noodley-looking mound of chestnut cream made from sweet Japanese chestnut paste and French chestnut cream sits on top. Perched on that is a carefully balanced strip of chocolate and a chocolate-covered espresso bean.
His “Tender Rose” cake is garnished with champagne grapes, white chocolate, strawberries and strawberry jelly. Its top layer is strawberry mousse, followed by a pistachio genoise moistened with an aromatic rose petal syrup. The next layer is mildly sweet white chocolate mousse with crushed rose petals, followed by another layer of soaked pistachio genoise.
Guo, 35, learned to make traditional Chinese pastries as a teenage apprentice in Taiwan. But it was later, while working at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei, that Japanese-style French pastries caught his eye. In Japan, pastry chefs often added Japanese touches to French pastries. Guo, enamored of these desserts, decided he would try something similar.
He came to the United States in 1999 at the urging of a friend who had worked with him in a bakery in Taiwan. Later that year, Guo opened his Hacienda Heights shop, and now he’s scouting sites for another location closer to Los Angeles.
Guo’s desserts are not overwhelmingly sweet--in keeping with the Asian style, he uses less sugar than Western palates are accustomed to. And Guo is picky about ingredients, which include imported-Belgian chocolate, French fruit purees, British tea leaves, Italian coffee and Japanese green tea. He even grows a few of his ingredients in his Rowland Heights backyard, including rose petals, mint leaves and rosemary.
“A great cake is 30% effort and 70% quality ingredients,” Guo says.
The bakery also makes biscotti, souffles and a variety of cookies, including some distinctive shortbread cookies flecked with Earl Grey tea leaves. They look simple and ordinary, until you crunch down on one and get the haunting flavor of tea mingling with the sweet flavor of butter.
But the main focus of Guo’s staff of seven is cakes--they make 500 to 600 of the dainty little cakes a day. They cost $2 to $3.75 each. Some of the shop’s grander creations, such as sheet cakes, sell for as much as $240.
“I’m not much of a speaker,” says Guo, who is more comfortable in his native Mandarin, “but I can really make cakes.”
R.J. Patisserie: 1635 Azusa Ave., Hacienda Heights. (626) 810-6678.