Author Jason Licker’s love of sugar has taken him a long way. Born in Long Island, he learned to bake in his mother’s kitchen as a kid and, growing up, he often overdosed on Twinkies and Oreos. Years later, his fondness for the sweet stuff led him to the professional pastry kitchen, including one overseen by legendary chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Licker credits Matsuhisa with changing his palate, his career – and his life as a food lover. Licker has earned a name for himself as a chef by fusing classic French pastry technique with Asian ingredients such as matcha, yuzu, black sesame, and sake, and has channeled his passion into two cookbooks: Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts (2016) and Baking With Licker: Home Baking with Asian Accents (2020).
Both books are self-published, and Lickerland was nominated for a James Beard Cookbook Award in the ‘Cooking from a Professional Point of View’ category – no mean feat. Jason tells ckbk about his culinary and literary path, and selects his favorite recipes from the two books.
By Jason Licker
I’m a complete foodie freak who loves big, bold, slap-you-in-the-face flavors. I also love the more subtle tastes, and marrying the two extremes together for a unique experience. As a child growing up in Long Island, I had a massive sweet tooth, and regularly stuffed my face with Twinkies and Oreos.
It was not until many years later, when I worked for chef Nobu Matsuhisa at Nobu Miami Beach, that I was introduced to flavors that were light, refreshing and subtle. Being exposed to Japanese ingredients and culture altered my path as a chef and changed my life as a food lover.
As a pastry chef I love creating desserts with dynamic flavors, textures, and temperatures. I like utilizing the whole palate – sweet, sour, bitter, and salty – for a balanced dessert experience. After experiencing such incredible Japanese flavors at Nobu, I began to research and test ingredients from all over Asia, which ultimately led to me moving to Asia. I lived in China, Thailand, Macau, and Hong Kong, and have visited just about every country in Asia hunting for what the locals eat and how they eat it.
These experiences riveted my soul so deeply that I had to share my pastry philosophy and ideas on how to use Asian ingredients in pastry.
The road to writing a cookbook was pretty damned rough. After being rejected by every major publisher, I decided to invest in myself and self-publish – and what a rollercoaster ride it was. Twice!
When I was writing my first book, Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts, I had no idea that I would write a second. Lickerland is a technical, fine-dining dessert cookbook. It has a serious undertone, with some levity from me sharing my story. Some time after its publication, I started thinking about creating something that was the polar opposite, something with a lighter side, and that that would introduce home bakers to Asian ingredients. Baking With Licker: Home Baking With Asian Accents was born.
I adore Asian flavors and giving them my own twist, and I want to share this love with the world – and to point out a few of my favorite recipes from both books and why they are special to me.
White Chocolate-Junmai Sake Cream is an enigma of subtle yet dynamic flavors. Valrhona white chocolate is paired with junmai sake to create a super-smooth cream balanced by the sweet white chocolate and full-bodied sake. Yuzu-scented berries bring a sweet yet acidic element, joined with a salty toffee crunch and refreshing shiso gelée. You experience, sweet, salty, sour and acidic, all balanced with a mellow sake flavor and a rollercoaster of textures.
This is my one of my favorite desserts in the book, and the most palate-challenging. Inspired by the complexity of sake, I paired the full-bodied and fruity junmai style of sake with something sweet, sour, acidic, fatty and refreshing bringing together multiple textures to create a unique experience.
For The Matcha Tart, I use an earthy, ceremonial-grade green matcha tea powder from Kyoto for the filling to create something similar to the almighty, ubiquitous chocolate fondant. The filling is piped into a buttery tart shell and paired with my favorite chocolate, 64% Valrhona Manjari, which has a deep flavor with a little acidity.
The result is an earthy, molten matcha tea tart that perfectly matches the frozen, creamy, deep-chocolate flavor of the ice cream, with a nice crunch from chocolate crumble.
The Chocolate Bar is like a candy bar on steroids. An intense chocolate flavor paired with a sweet caramel, cut with passion fruit purée is the base of this dessert. Crispy phyllo and banana gel create an almost candy bar-like ending. It’s a combination of familiar flavors that are blended into something you will crave for days.
Yuzu & Lemon Meringue Pie is the perfect example an all-American classic amped up with with an Asian ingredient. For the filling, I replaced half of the lemon with the intense Japanese citrus, yuzu. Yuzu is perhaps one of the most acidic fruits in the world and when paired with buttery, flaky pie dough and charred meringue, it becomes a new original that is irresistible. I was in inspired to alter this dessert because many of the lemon meringue pies I tasted really didn’t have a enough ‘sour power’ to be memorable. This one does.
Double Chocolate Vietnamese Coffee Cookies pair the power of the world’s best chocolate and one of the world’s best coffees. Vietnamese coffee is made from robust, intense beans with a chocolate undertone, so this is a match made in caffeine heaven.
In the streets of Hanoi I first watched Vietnamese coffee slowly dripping from a metal filter with a generous amount of sweetened condensed milk. I immediately knew I had to use this coffee in the cookbook. The combination of Valrhona cocoa powder, white chocolate and the outrageous Vietnamese coffee is a rollercoaster of a cookie. Although I highly recommend tracking down some Vietnamese coffee, you can substitute another ground espresso or strong coffee. The recipes in Baking With Licker are just a base for you to create whatever you want.
Mango & Yuzu Tiramisu is a spin on an iconic Italian dessert. I can imagine grandmothers across Italy cursing me out for changing this staple of pastry folklore – but the combination of velvety mascarpone cream, mango-soaked ladyfingers spiked with yuzu, and fresh mango make this new version addictive.
You can actually create any tiramisu you like with any fruit, spice or herb. This dessert can be made in advance and is always a crowd-pleaser. If you have trouble finding yuzu, use lemon. Citrus will enhance the flavor of the mango and complement the mascarpone.
My two cookbooks are unique, and different in their approach, yet both are approachable. I hope cooking from them will guide you to baking your own new orginals.