The Baker’s Passport – Japan

by Jeanne


Oh, where to start, in the past or in the present! At times during the development of this writing I became excited, enchanted and entangled in the world of Japanese desserts. From wagashi to mochi. So if I don’t just start we’ll get nowhere and we’ll begin with today.  In researching this article, I learned that in the strict sense of Japanese tradition, there is no sweet course to a meal. It ends with rice, pickles and tea. Sweets are regulated and very sparingly, as an partner to tea. However the country does have another informal meal called oyatsu that commonly occurs at 3pm everyday.  Oyatsu consists of a drink, tea for adults and milk or a soft drink for the young ones, accompanied by a sweet or savory snack.

Pocky Some of my favorite Japanese snacks are Pocky, slim biscuit sticks with one end coated in chocolate.  There are many other flavors such as sesame, green tea and a dark chocolate one called Men’s.  I’ve yet to figure out why that is.  A savory compliment to a cocktail wasabi green peas are a great alternative at your next party! And of course there’s that late 20th creation mochi ice cream. These confection spheres are about as big as a ping pong ball with an outer rice shell surrounding ice cream.   And as recently as last week Japanese desserts are growing trend inNew York where Kyotofu opened last week offering Japanese-inspired Western-focused desserts such as  black sesame sweet tofu, warm chestnut mochi chocolate cake and sansho-pepper tofu cheesecake.

Kasutera, simple sponge cake, a popular specialty of Nagasaki.  Originally from Castilla region of Spain many cakes were brought to the country by Portugese missionaries through the port of Nagasaki during the 16th century.  According to history this cake was able to be preserved for a long time. In the Edo era, it was a sweet that was precious and was served for the envoys from Korea.  Over time the recipe was adapted to fit to the Japanese palate.

Today this sponge cake can be found at festivals, from street vendors and in local markets. It’s a treat and a special commercial jingle sung by bears.

Kasutera is traditionally made of simple natural ingredients with the essence of honey as the most common. However, today there are many variations – – powdered green tea, cocoa, and brown sugar. A good pan de castilla is moist, has a very fine texture, and is very light. It should have a dark brown and sugary top and bottom – the sides are usually cut off, exposing the yellow crumb.



Pan de Castilla

Cooking for the American Table" by Susan Fuller Slack

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 large eggs, separated
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon green tea powder or unsweetened cocoa powder*

(optional-if using omit the orange extract)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Use parchment to line the bottom of a 10-inch tube pan, preferably with a removable bottom or 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans. Grease the parchment. In a large bowl, whisk 1 cup sugar, honey, vanilla,  orange extract, and salt into egg yolks. Place bowl in a large pan of hot water. With an electric mixer, beat about 5 minutes on medium-high speed until pale yellow and doubled in volume. Gently fold in sifted flour.

Using clean dry beaters beat the egg whites in a large bowl on low speed 1 minute, increasing speed to medium-high. When foamy, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon sugar and cream of tartar. Beat until stiff but not dry. With a spatula, fold the egg whites in three steps. Pour batter into pan. Tap gently on the counter to remove air bubbles.

Bake on middle rack of oven 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.  Signs that the cake is near done will be the sides of the cake pulling away from the pan slightly; the top will be flat and will feel spongy when pressed with finger.   Remove from oven and cool 20 minutes. Carefully run a small knife between the edge of the cake and pan. Turn over pan and gently remove from pan. Remove parchment paper and cool completely. Serve or store airtight.