Patrick: Your inquisitiveness is admirable. When I studied for my diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in 1986, the question of the etymology of the term “japonais” was not put forth in class discussion. As you’ve observed in your entry, the term means “in the Japanese style” – but that does little service to explaining the reason for using it to describe a cooked almond meringue! But japonaise also has a wider range of denotation in French cuisine: It can bear reference to such dishes as Crosnes du Japon
(artichokes); Salade Japonaise
(pineapple, tomato, and orange salad w/ cream & lemon juice); and Salade Francillon
(mussels, potatoes marinated in wine, and truffles, bound w/ vinaigrette), likewise alternatively known as salade japonaise
In the French pastry inventory, japonaise
is used variously as an umbrella term for nut (using ground almonds or almond ‘flour’) meringues (including, e.g., dacquoise & free-standing discs), broyage
, and succès
(the classic meringue layer gâteau). But I’ve never seen the term applied in any way to a vacherin! “Japonaise” is described as a modern example of meringue in Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food
: “where ground almond is added to the egg white.” Very small meringues are called meringuettes or croquignoles.
According to Larousse Gastronomique
, most dishes that are called à la japonaise, “have this in common, that Chinese (in French, called Japanese!) artichokes are included in the ingredients.” Larousse
goes on to indicate that the term “is also applied to an iced bombe made of peach ice cream filled w/ tea-flavoured mousse.”
In The Professional Pastry Chef
(2nd ed.), Bo Friberg provides a good introduction to meringues, albeit w/out tracing the root meaning of our term – he does supply a recipe for the batter and notes that “classic Japonaise are filled with hazelnut-flavoured buttercream.”
Like the term chinoiserie
in architecture & design, used when referring to something influenced by Chinese tradition, the term japonaise may likewise refer to a Japanese culinary influence.
Two months ago, I made a Framboise-flavoured cheesecake layered between two rounds of japonaise meringue incorporating toasted almonds & hazelnuts finely ground w/ cornstarch & sugar.
You may like to read a somewhat meandering, and not entirely satisfying,thread of discussion re japonaise