Category Archives: Asian Sweets

japanese cheesecake

i know, i know…i’ve fallen off the posting wagon of late. i’ve got a lot of material and not a lot of time to type them up! at any rate, we’re back with japanese cheesecake! Continue reading

japanese honey cake (castella cake)

Continue reading

a steamed cake

blame it on harry!  i’ve been so tied up taking care of the little fluff ball that i haven’t had much time to bake…or in this case steam. (plus, he turns into a little gremlin when he knows there are sweets around) . . .

the other day, i got a hankering for this steamed cake that my mother makes.  really, it’s the only cake she made with any sort of regularity during my childhood.  it’s not very sweet — or just sweet enough in my book, and has a wonderfully moist texture.

my mom refers to it as fa gaowhich loosely translates into prosperous cake — it’s something typically made during chinese new year’s.  after my visit to tim ho wan last november, it struck me that this cake is actually quite similar to the ma lai gao that they serve there.  i think that if you actually substitute the milk in the recipe below with evaporated milk, you might end up with ma lai gao.

anyhow, i called up mum and she sent me her recipe . . .

Mom’s Steamed Cake Recipe
(makes 1 nine-inch round cake)

Eggs 2 large ones
Milk 1 ½ cups
Canola Oil ½ cup
AP Flour 1 1/3 cups
Rice Flour ¼ cup
Baking Powder 2 tsp
Baking Soda ¼ tsp
Brown Sugar ½ cup (I used light brown sugar; although usually uses dark brown sugar, which gives it a richer colour and molasses-y flavour)
  1.  Set a bamboo steamer on top of a wok filled with water.  Then, grease a 9″ cake pan and set aside.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking powder and baking soda in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat eggs for 1-2 minutes or until well mixed.
  4. Add in brown sugar and beat for another minute.
  5. Add in milk and oil.  Mix for another minute.
  6. Finally pour in the dry ingredients you had previously whisked together in step 2.  Turn mixer down to lowest speed and mix for 1-2 minutes until evenly combined.
  7. Pour the batter into the greased cake pan. Place the pan inside the bamboo steamer.  Cover with the steamer’s lid.  Steam for 40 minutes.
  8. Resist the urge to open the lid . . . as this will prevent the cake from blossoming — and yes, if you’ve made this cake properly, the center is supposed to crack open!
  9. When the 40 minutes are up, turn off the heat.  Allow the cake to cool inside the steamer with the lid on for 15 minutes.  Then remove the lid and allow the cake to cool completely.

pineapple tart bars

there’s a very famous taiwanese pastry known as feng li su (鳳梨酥).  it’s basically a shortcake like dough that’s stuffed with a pineapple paste.  the traditional way of making these taiwanese goodies, entails making a lard based dough, rolling it into 3″ diameter circles, stuffing it with pineapple paste, wrapping it up, and then fitting the little package into a 1.5″ square mold so that each one comes out uniform. Continue reading

triple yokan terrine

when i was a kid, i remember watching my mom stock up on these bricks of jelly-like substance  every time we found ourselves in the basement of a japanese depato.  they’re called 羊羹 or yokan, and come in a variety of flavors like red bean, green tea, yuzu, et al.  i think my mom liked to bring them back as gifts because while heavy and dense, these yokan blocks are relatively compact (about 2x6x1 inches in size), can be stored at room temperature, and sturdy enough to be stuffed into any which nook of one’s luggage.  plus, she likes the flavor quite a lot.  personally, i think it’s an acquired taste.  the texture is denser than jello, and also tends to be a lot less sweet.

i decided to make a yokan terrine for thanksgiving. everyone oooed and ahhed the 3 layers, which consisted of yogurt on the top, followed by matcha and red bean.  i don’t think everyone liked the way the yokan terrine tasted, but my mom did.  she brought the whole thing home with her and proceeded to eat it the week after thanksgiving, and even asked me for the recipe.

the yokan terrine is very easy to make.  the hardest part is probably sourcing agar agar, also known as kanten powder (see box above).  agar gar is the firming agent used to bind the liquids together into a solid jelly.  it’s made from seaweed and totally vegan (yes, if you got rid of the yogurt portion of my terrine, this would be a 100% vegan dessert).  i found kanten powder at my local japanese grocery store.  just 50g of the stuff goes for about $12.  on the flip side, you only need a little bit to firm up a 5×9 inch terrine.

a few things to note about agar agar (especially if it’s your first time using it):

  • you really do need to boil agar agar in order to activate it.  the first time i started working with the stuff, i thought it was like gelatin. i dissolved it gently in hot water, and then waited and waited and waited for it to solidify.  it remained watery even after 4 hrs in the fridge.
  • unlike gelatin, when properly activated agar agar will in fact solidify at room temperature, and in record time too (compared to gelatin).   i had a fun time watching it turn from liquid to a wobbly solid in under 15 minutes.

Triple Yokan Terrine
(makes 1 5×9 inch terrine)

Yogurt Layer
Plain Yogurt 1 cup
Sugar 1 tbsp
Agar Agar powder ½ tsp
Matcha Layer
Matcha powder 1 tbsp
Milk 1 cup
Agar Agar powder ½ tsp
Sugar 1-2 tbsp
Red Bean Layer
Red Beans (azuki) 1 cup either pre-made in a can or dry beans boiled for 1 hour
Sugar 2 tbsp
Water 1 ½ cups
Agar Agar powder 1 tsp
  1. Line terrine container with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Yogurt Layer:  put all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then, let it cool for 1-2 minutes so it doesn’t melt the plastic.  Pour about 20% of the boiled solution into the lined terrine container.  Wait 2-3 minutes and then pour in the rest.   The yogurt layer should begin to set in about 20 minutes.  Start the matcha layer, when the yogurt has just begun to set.
  3. Matcha Layer:  same as above.  Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Wait 1-2 minutes after it has boiled to let it cool slightly.  Pour a small amount of the matcha layer on top of the solidified yogurt layer, wait 2-3 minutes and then pour in the rest.
  4. Red Bean Layer: same as matcha layer.
  5. When all three layers are complete, let the terrine set at room temperature.  Then wrap the whole thing in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours to allow it to further solidify.  Well-covered, it will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
  6. Slice to serve.

hidemi sugino’s financiers

S came over early on thanksgiving to “tablescape.” i literally turned around after i saw what he did, and said, omg, who is getting engaged!  i’ll post more S tablescape pictures in a bit, but his floral arrangements and tablescapes were romantic, artistic and stunning.  personally, i think he should start his own tablescaping enterprise.

as the title suggests, this post is really about hidemi sugino’s chocolate financiers.  while in tokyo earlier this fall, i picked up a little cookbook  because the front cover contained a picture of a financier that looked very much like those sublime ones i tasted at Victor & Hugo in paris.  the book itself is titled, Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers, and contains chocolate related recipes written in french from some of the most famous pastry chefs around the world (though weighted towards those in europe).  [note: if sugino’s recipe is any indication, the recipes are not by any means beginner.  you do need an understanding of pastry fundamentals to decipher a lot of the recipes — assuming you can read french.  on the other hand, most french recipes are written assuming the cook knows something about what they’re trying to cook.]

while sugino isn’t the pastry chef at Victor & Hugo (he has his own shop in tokyo where he’s famous for mousse cakes), his recipe for financiers turns out a velvety morsel that is shockingly similar to the Victor & Hugo financier.  S, who had recommended the V&H financier to me initially, took a bite and excitedly agreed that this was in fact the V&H financier.

the rise in sugino’s version is achieved by whipping egg whites into a soft meringue; no baking powder is used.  having looked at several other financier recipes, i think it’s this technique that enables sugino’s financier to achieve that peerless velvety texture.  he doesn’t stop there though.  he goes on to add a rich nutty encore behind the chocolate curtain through the use of browned butter. all this packed into the petite body of a simple financier. so genius!

sugino’s original recipe also calls for morello cherries and raspberry jam.  having run out of steam cooking 16 dishes and 6 desserts, i decided to simplify his financier a bit by baking with fresh raspberries instead.  (And yes, i don’t have a financier pan, so i suppose, technically, i didn’t make financiers, but you get my drift…)

Simplified Sugino Chocolate Financier
(makes about 30 one-inch round financiers or 20 small rectangular financiers; modified and translated from the original recipe publishes in Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers )

Almond Flour 150g
Sugar 150g
Cornstarch 25g
Cocoa Powder 15g
Egg whites 5 egg whites
Honey 30g
Butter 90g
Raspberries 1 pint
  1. Butter the financier molds and place it in the fridge until ready for use.  Pre-heat oven to 320ºF
  2. Sift together the almond flour, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder into a bowl and set aside
  3. In a small saucepan, brown the butter and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Add egg whites into the bowl of your standmixer and beat until you reach soft peaks. You can add a bit of cream of tartar as a stabilizer.
  5. Very gently, fold the almond flour mixture (from step 2) and honey into the meringue
  6. Transfer the meringue mixture into the molds.  Place a raspberry in the center of each.  Then bake for 12-15 minutes, remove to cool on rack.
  7. When cool, you can dust with powdered sugar or coat the raspberries with a bit of strawberry jam.




nenrinya (ねんりん家) baum kuchen

tokyo is in the throes of a full-fledge baumkuchen explosion.  i swear, in the last six years in which i’ve traveled there, the baumkuchen craze seems to have reached the same frenzied crescendo as cupcakes in nyc.  fortunately, i happen to ADORE baumkuchen (more on my baumkuchen ravings here).  walking around the pastry aisles inside tokyo department stores, i felt sheer joy (or was that the adrenalin putting thru my veins?) i witnessed baumkuchens in every permutation.  there was even a baumkuchen that resembled a cupcake of sorts — tiny baumkuchen roll on the bottom, and topped with some sort of frosting or buttercream.

while waltzing down ginza, i came across the nenrinya baum kuchen boutique, nestled in the ground floor of the giant matsuzakaya department store.  i’ve never tasted baumkuchen from this company before, and thought i’d get in line behind the 30 other baumkuchen crazed tokyo-ites.

nenrinya sells baumkuchen in two flavors: original (which is kind of a vanilla/almond) and chocolate.  they also sell two styles of baumkuchen: straight and mount. the former is softer, less sweet, lightly coated with glaze, and is only available in the original flavor.  i purchased a small ring of the straight baum that had been made fresh that day and meant for same day consumption (they also sell a version of the straight baum that is vacuum packed to last longer).  of course, it still tasted delightfully moist about a week after i purchased it, even without the fancy packaging. i’ve learned to ignore japanese expiration dates (basically add a few days and up to a week to any date they’ve got stamped on).

i also picked up a quarter sliver each of both flavors of the mount baum kuchen.  the mount baum kuchen (pictured above) is more heavily coated with glaze, dusted with powdered sugar,  and denser with a ridged exterior.   i prefer the straight baum kuchen, but it’s nice to mix things up every now and then.  plus, the mount baum is just cool looking.

it was a bit hard to take photos inside the jam packed store, and there was  a no photo sign, which i didn’t see until i got up to the counter). that said,  i did pick up a brochure and scanned in some of their lovely photos for your viewing pleasure. . .



sesame seed puff pastry sticks

while i ogled away at the marvellous desserts at sadaharu aoki’s shoppe in tokyo, hubs zero-ed in on these sesame seed covered puff pastry sticks (they are kind of like an untwisted version of cheese straws in texture). i think he found the only savory item in the entire shop and tossed a bag of them into our shopping basket.  at some point while we were crossing the pacific ocean on our flight back home, hubs got hungry, located the sticks, and started to munch away on the plane.  he finished the entire bag before i had a chance to photograph them for your viewing pleasure.  they came expertly gift wrapped, of course, with ribbons, sashes and all.

puff pastry is a pain to make, and as i have grumbled many times in the past, costs an arm and a leg.  on top of that, when you’re cutting circles out of puff pastry, like i did for the chausson aux pommes recipe, about 40% of the ludicrously expensive puff pastry sheet you purchased ends up as scraps.

fortunately, physics and the puff pastry gods are kind.  these scraps can in fact be re-configured into light and crunchy edibles, such as sesame seed puff pastry sticks, and no one would be the wiser that you had just served them re-purposed “leftovers.” hubs ate one last night, and he claims that they taste just like the ones we bought in tokyo!  hurrah! i can bake like master aoki-san!

Sesame Seed Puff Pastry Sticks
(quantity tbd, but with ~5 to 6oz of puff pastry scraps, i got about a dozen or so 8 inch sticks)

[nb: probably the most inexact recipe i will ever write]

Puff Pastry Scraps Whatever you’ve got on hand.  Yes, you can buy fresh puff pastry expressly for this purpose too.
Egg Wash 1 whole egg, mixed with 1 tbsp of milk and a sprinkle of salt.  You may need to make more or less depending on the scraps you’ve got.
Black and White Sesame Seeds A small mixture of each, ~1/4 cup total
  1. Okay, this is IMPORTANT, very very important! Do not, I repeat, do not clump the leftover puff pastry pieces into a ball.  If you do so, you will not get the characteristic layered effect of puff pastry.  INSTEAD, take each scrap and layer them on top of each other. If the scrap block is too soft, place it into the freezer for a few minutes.
  2. Then, roll the scraps out again into a slab about 1/8″ thick.  I got  a 9×12 inch slab out of my scraps.
  3. Transfer the slab back into the freezer and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes.
  4. Take the slab back out and slice it into strips about 1/2 to 3/4″ wide, and 8″ long.  Although, you can really make the sticks as large or small as you desire.
  5. Pick up each semi-frozen stick and brush it generously with egg wash.  Then sprinkle sesame seeds on top (the seeds should adhere to the egg wash).  It’s easiest to sprinkle the seeds on over a bowl, so that the excess will just fall back into the bowl to be re-used.
  6. Place the seeded sticks onto a parchment sheet lined baking sheet and let rest in the freezer, while pre-heating the oven to 350ºF.
  7. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.

anpan found!

while taking my walk down memory lane, i realised that i wrote one of my very first posts on the anpan — a soft, sweet bread stuffed traditionally with red bean paste.  yes, i waxed on and on about how the bread reminded of breakfast as a kid, and even tried to make the bread at home (yes, very pathetic wrapping techniques; i’ll need to wrap a 1,000 before i get it).

while strolling down ginza a few weeks back, hubs and i stumbled upon the headquarters of kimuraya (木村家), the original sakadane anpan purveyor.  they’ve been kicking around since the 1860s, even as multi-story depachikas and temples to Cartier, Bulgari and all sorts of foreign brands grew up around them. to be fair, kimuraya has expanded too.  they’re now in an 8 floor building (with a few other locations throughout Japan).  the takeaway bakery is on the first floor.  floors 2-4 house 3 separate kimuraya restaurants of varying degrees of formality.  the bread factories are located on floors 7 and 8.  we didn’t have time to explore the rest of the kimuraya complex beyond floor 1, but lemme know if anyone has and would like to report on them?

they’ve got all sorts of breads, red bean paste treats, luxury gift sets and of course many varieties of the anpan in the store.  i purchased two: one stuffed with red bean paste with the traditional navel indentation (see bagel shaped object below), and one stuffed with lotus seed paste. they were both absolutely scrumptious, so moist and so kawaii!  i didn’t know, before going to the store, that kimuraya’s anpan were quite so petite.  that’s my hand, holding a kimuraya anpan — about 3 inches in diameter.  maybe i should have gotten hubs to hold the anpan instead, so as to provide a better sense of scale.

kimuraya’s anpans keep surprisingly well.  i ate one about 1 week later, and it was still rather moist.

Ginza Kimuraya (銀座木村家)
4-5-7 Ginza, Chuuou-ku
Tokyo, Japan 104-0061
(above exit A9 of Ginza Station on Ginza or Hibiya line)

there’s a new bakery in tribeca . . .

takahachi bakery is perhaps the nicest japanese bakery in new york city.  they’ve got a huge assortment of pastry items:  asian flavored ice cream, japanese sandwiches both hot and cold (e.g. a yakisoba sandwich), salads, a long counter filled with japanese breads (the mochi anpan is delicious, as is their walnut crumble almond danish), and a glistening pastry case filled with things like shiso flavored puff pastry, artfully decorated cupcakes, opera cakes, fancy mousse cakes, japanese strawberry shortcakes, french macarons and delicate earl grey financiers. they just opened a week or so ago.  and while i’ve gone there 4-5x already, i find their assortment so vast that i feel as if i’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg.

i usually get one of their salads and one of their irresistible pastry breads. there’s a light-and-airy,  seating area in the back, where you can watch the pastry chefs and master bakers hard at work.

everything is made fresh daily. it’s my kind of place.

Takahachi Bakery
25 Murray St (near Church)
Mon-Fri: 7-7
Sat: 8-8
Sun: 8-4