Brisbane is catching up with the food trends of the world, but still, admittedly, a bit behind in some things. One such instance being cheese tarts. While in Hokkaido, given their reputation for excellent dairy and as a result dairy products, we went on a bit of a cheesecake hunt. Following the recommendations of food bloggers before us, we sought out cheesecakes from assorted stores. We did at one point buy a whole cheesecake because that was the only portion they would sell it in..
On that list was Kinotoya Bake Cheese Tart. And so it was that we wandered around and around the Sapporo JR station, trying to follow the directions provided by others on the internet to the East exit, made harder by the fact that if you leave by the Central exit, you will find arrows pointing you to the West exit, the Central West exit, and the South exit, but nothing that actually says East exit.. But eventually with Google maps and wisps of JR Tower free wifi (one relies on these services as a tourist), we found our way down the corridor to the East side of the station. Heading towards Stellar Place from the central part of the station gives you your best chance of finding it. As we went past the rows of lockers and came to the corner, we saw it. Through the glass, rows and rows of cheese tarts with burnished tops. Kinotoya Bake has just a storefront, as opposed to a whole shop there, and there is no seating. The store signage is simple, and there is no thematic, detailed decor. Pragmatically, their rows of boxes stacked on the shelf and their rows of baked goods are their decor.
There wasn’t a line when we got there, and given that some of the other recommended cheesecakes had been a bit Meh (like Fruitscake Factory that was really more cream than cheesecake), we had moderated expectations. We hedged our bets and just bought two (one each). As the signs at the store recommended that the cheese tarts are best consumed fresh, we did away with decorum and ate them just a few metres from the shop.
People queue for over an hour to get their hands on these. Kinotoya Bake started in Sapporo and has since spread through Japan and opened outlets across Asia. We ate these, and understood why.
The tart shell is buttery, with a cookie-like crunch, and is just a little on the savoury side. It has a firm, but not hard texture, and isn’t too crumbly, so it doesn’t just break into bits after your first couple of bites. It stays intact to contain the filling, what is aptly described as a cheese mousse. Western style cheesecakes tend to be heavy and rich, effectively, well, cakes of cheese. There are also the Japanese cheesecakes that are light and spongy. The Kinotoya Bake cheese tart fillings are somewhere in between. The texture is like a dense foam, aerated yet substantial. It is both sweet and salty, leaning, if anything, a little to the savoury side. Three types of cheese go into creating that more-ish flavour combination, in case you were thinking of whipping it up at home with a pack of cream cheese. They are, certainly, on to a winner.
So we started with two..and went back and bought six more. If you buy six, you get a box, which neatly houses them, partitioned so that they are packed securely and are protected from damage in transport. Buying six together also costs you about 50¥ less than if you buy them individually..and you know they will all get eaten anyway.
Address: 3 Kita 6 Jonishi, Kita-ku, JR Sapporo Station East Entrance, Satsueki East, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Website: Kinotoya Bake Cheese Tart
Because we couldn’t leave Hokkaido without a last batch of cheese tarts, we made a beeline for the Kinotoya Bake stall at the New Chitose Airport as soon as we had dropped our bags off. It is in their Sweets Avenue section, along with other Hokkaido signature food stores. While we had missed the queue at the Sapporo JR station store, there was certainly a line here. This Kinotoya also carries a range of their other products, including milk cookies and their milk soft serve.
We, and many others, were there for one thing though; cheese tarts. They also had a special at this store, of blueberry cheese tarts. We were tempted..but stuck to the original. Did we miss out on greatness? We will never know. At least, not until we get back there again. We were certainly happy with our box of six original cheese tarts though.
Address: 2F Center Plaza, New Chitose Terminal Building, Chitose, Hokkaido
We were thrilled to find that there was a Kinotoya Bake store in Kyoto. Conveniently located in the Teramachi shopping area, not too far from the main street entrance to the shopping arcade, it has quite an understated facade, and you could easily walk past it if you didn’t know what you were looking for. With its industrial design, lighted from the back of the store, it isn’t immediately attention-grabbing from the outside.
The monochrome black, white, and grey display table is reminiscent of military fatigue patches. It becomes even more interesting when you get closer and realise that it is made out of Lego blocks. The golden brown cheese tarts are displayed on silpats on angled trays, spotlighted from above. Rows of yellow boxes against the wall form a bit off a backdrop.
Interestingly, the packaging here doesn’t say Kinotoya, but just says Bake Cheese Tart. The logo is also different from what they had in Hokkaido, but does still retain a stylised K and B. The box is also coloured and patterned differently, perhaps to try to project a more modern, cosmopolitan image.
The important thing though, was that when we took a bite out of our cheese tarts, they had that same airy textured filling ensconced in a biscuity base. The mix was perhaps a little sweeter in the balance than we had had in Hokkaido, but it was still delicious.
Address: 552 Teramachidori Shijoagaru Nakanocho, Kyoto
We had to visit the Tokyo shop when we were there too, of course. This one was the hardest for us to find, even with Google Maps on. It is in Shinjuku, in the Lumine Est building. Despite directions telling us that it was near Shinjuku station, trying to navigate through different floors and weaving through Lumine (which is not Lumine Est) to get there was quite the maze run. As it turns out, getting out from the right exit of the train station makes life much easier..
Of all the Bake stores we had been to, this was probably the most compact. A stall along the corridor, cheese tart display taking up half of the front, and cashier service area taking up the other half, designated queue space winding directly in front of those, it slots in like any other train station snack food store. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, it would be easy to not take any notice of it. We knew, however, and after the trouble it took to find it, couldn’t just buy two..
These ones had a nicely cooked brown glaze, and the filling had the right texture. The flavour though, seemed slightly milder than the others we had had, and again was a little more on the sweet side of the sweet-salty balance than the ones we had had in Hokkaido.
Again, the packaging had a different design, bearing the same bubbly print as the Kyoto store had had, but in shades of silver-grey. Perhaps going for something even more urbane to appeal to the Tokyo crowd?
Address: Lumine Est 1F, 3-38-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Our final Kinotoya Bake Cheese Tart stop on our inadvertent cheese tart trail was in Singapore. This one was in the shiny Ion shopping mall, in the basement where lots of other food outlets are. Again, this was easily accessible from the train station (Orchard). There were people in line each time we walked by, but, I gather, less of a line than there used to be. A friend had told us of how the queues used to be so long they had to separate part of the line into another area so that people wouldn’t block the walkway.. We had, fortunately, missed the peak of the cheese tart craze.
Here again, we found that it was just called Bake, with the Kinotoya K just retained in the logo. (Note also, that there is a Hokkaido Bake Cheese Tart that has emerged as a competitor in Singapore. This, however is from Malaysia, and not Hokkaido, despite the name.) The store was modern, framed by glass, rows of cheese tarts prominently on display at the front, brightly lighted to focus attention. There were dividers leading into the store to indicate where the queue should form, but no signs to indicate the direction, unfortunately (ie, do you line up on the side closer to the glass, or further away from the glass?). There was also a sign at the entrance advertising their newly launching Club Bake app, with incentives for patrons loading it early. If loaded and registered before 8th December, you can get a box of 6 cheese tarts for $10. Considering that the usual price is $3.50 a tart, it is quite a deal..so we did it, of course.
The cheese tarts again had a good biscuity base. When they showed us the cheese tarts they had packed into the box, we asked for them to change them for more browned ones, as, as you can tell from the pictures of the tarts in the trays, they are not all evenly cooked, and some are notably blonder than others. When it came to eating them, however, we still found that they were less fluffy, and more runny than the ones we had had in Japan.
Interestingly, there is even less reference to the original name at the Singapore store, with just Bake Cheese Tart on the boxes, not even the KB logo. The bubbly print is there again, but smaller and in higher density. Not sure why they have chosen not to go with the designs used in Japan, as those looked, if anything, a little more refined..
Address: 2 Orchard Turn, #B4-33 ION Orchard, Singapore
Website: Bake Cheese Tart
Things we have learned from our Kinotoya Bake Cheese Tart hunt?
-the stores don’t really look like each other, so there isn’t a fixed design you can keep your eye out for.
-why buy one (or two) when you can buy six? They will then also come with a box and bag, which makes them easier to transport intact.
-eat them as soon as possible, because though the included instructions say that you can store it for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, chilling them will change their texture. As time passes between when they were cooked and when you eat them, that crunchy cookie base becomes softer. By the next day, that base will be squishy, and you will lose an important textural element in your enjoyment of the treat.
-if you’re in Hokkaido, eat all the Kinotoya Bake Cheese Tarts you can! They are the most delicious there (considering the components are flown from there to the other locations, probably unsurprising), and also the least pricey there.