The Japanese do some amazing things with cake and pastry.
They have embraced many Western desserts and made them uniquely their own in many ways. I love a good Japanese sponge cake—moist, light and airy, and not overly sweet. A while back I received an email from Eliane, an LFM reader, who asked me to share a Japanese sponge cake recipe. At the time, I didn’t have a favorite recipe, but told her that I would work on it. After a bit of looking around and not finding anything I was happy with, I turned to a trusted recipe source, my friend Noriko. She came to my rescue with a recipe that she uses all the time. She wrote that the recipe is “from a cookbook that I ‘borrowed’ from my mom when I got married. She’s been using this recipe since I was really little, and I always use this recipe whenever I make Japanese Strawberry Shortcake.” There’s a reason that Noriko’s mom, and now Noriko, use this recipe–it’s delicious. To pay homage to her favorite way of using the recipe, I decided to make a Japanese Strawberry Shortcake. Unlike the American concept of strawberry shortcake (sweet biscuits/scones topped with strawberries and whipped cream),a Japanese strawberry shortcake is a layered sponge cake with a strawberry and whipped cream filling, and whipped cream frosting. This cake is a favorite choice for birthdays and Christmas, and in fact is often called a Christmas Cake. I know it’s not Christmastime, but the strawberries in Southern California are currently ripe and beautiful, so it seems especially appropriate to be making this cake now.
First you make the cake, which is a simple process of beating egg whites and sugar together until stiff and glossy, and then gently folding in the rest of the ingredients. The folding is the key—if you treat the batter gently, your cake will be light and fluffy. I have converted the measurements into ounces and tablespoon measurements, but have also provided the original metric measurements as well.
After the cake is made you make your whipped cream. I like to make stabilized whipped cream. Stabilized whipped cream is more stable that normal whipped cream. This prevents the whipped cream from weeping (bleeding water after being whipped). The advantage to this, is that it makes a much better frosting and filling (it lasts longer and doesn’t make the cake soggy) and has a beautiful pillowy texture. Stabilizing only takes a couple minutes of extra work. You have to soften a bit of unflavored gelatin in cold water, and then melt it over low heat until the gelatin dissolves. It’s quick and easy and makes a huge difference! I also like making a simple syrup (sugar water syrup) to brush on the cake layers. I think it takes the cake to a whole new level and keeps things nice and moist.
After your whipped cream is ready, all you have to do is cut up some fresh strawberries and slice your sponge cake into slices (2 or 3),
build your strawberry shortcake,
and then frost it!
The end result is a beautiful layered cake that is light and delicious. All I can say now is thank you Noriko!
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Japanese Strawberry Shortcake
Makes one 7 or 8-inch layered cake
For Noriko’s sponge cake:
4 large eggs, white and yolks separated
4.2 ounces (120 grams, 9.5 tablespoons) granulated sugar, sifted once
3 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4.2 ounces (120 grams, 14 tablespoons) cake flour, sifted 3 times
1.2 ounces (22 grams, 2.3 tablespoons) butter, melted
For the stabilized whipped cream frosting:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons cold water
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the simple syrup:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
8 – 10 ounces fresh strawberries
To make Noriko’s Sponge Cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 to 180 degrees Celsius). Line a 7 (18cm) or 8-inch circular cake pan with parchment paper, or grease the cake pan with butter, then lightly coat the pan with flour.
2. Add the sugar to the egg whites, and beat the egg whites until they are stiff and glossy.
3. Add the egg yolks to the egg white mixture, and gently whisk until the yolks are incorporated.
4. Add the milk, vanilla extract, and flour (in that order) to the batter and gently fold them into the batter with a spatula. Fold in the melted butter until it is well combined.
5. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan, and get rid of any air bubbles in the batter by dropping the pan on a counter once or twice. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake is done when it is golden brown and springs back when pressed lightly. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack. Run a blade around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake, and remove.
To make the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:
1. Put the cold water in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water and let stand for 5 minutes (do not stir). Place the saucepan over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon just until the gelatin dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
2.In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla and beat until slightly thickened. Then, while beating slowly, gradually pour the gelatin into the whipped cream mixture. Then whip the mixture at high speed until stiff.
To make the Simple Syrup:
1. In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and water. Bring the water to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
To assemble the cake:
1. Reserve 6 to 1o strawberries for decorating the cake. Slice the remaining strawberries into thin slices (about 4 slices per strawberry).
2. Slice the sponge cake horizontally into 2 layers.
3. Place one sponge layer cut-side up on a cake board or serving plate and lightly crush the surface with the simple syrup. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream over the cake layer and arrange the strawberry slices over the surface. Spread an additional layer of whipped cream over the strawberries. Brush the cut-side of the second layer with the simple syrup and place it over the first layer. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. Decorate as desired and garnish with the reserved strawberries.