Monday, February 21, 2011


You mention that word to any Japanese person and you are sure to get their mouths watering.  Kasutera, or castella is a delicious egg and honey cake that is almost everywhere in Japan.  It actually has Portuguese origin; it was introduced when the first missionaries came to the Islands and the Japanese have adopted it fully into their food culture and made it their own.

Wait, so it's a Portuguese/Japanese cake?  Just like me!  Except I'm not a cake, but that just means I have a special connection with it.

Ok, back to the cake.  Basically, castella is a cake you can buy almost anywhere in Japan.  They come in all different qualities, from slightly crappy versions that you can buy in a super market to super expensive, high quality cakes you can get in special stores.  It's not often that people will make it at home, that's probably why there are so many different brands you can buy.

The cake itself is a super spongy, mildly sweet cake that almost has a bready consistency.  The basic castella is yellow, but there are also variations flavored with chocolate and green tea.  I decided to make the green tea kind and started with a recipe I found on this amazing blog.  (Definitely holds a place up there in my bookmarks list with Dr. Fankhauser.)  There are some things I changed about the recipe so here's what I did:

Ingredients: (Note this are incorrect. Scroll down to bottom of page for link to correct ingredients list.)
* 8 eggs
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 cup flour (all purpose or bread, not cake)
* 1 package instant matcha green tea powder (or you can use 2 tablespoons plain matcha powder)
* 1/2 cup milk
* 4 tablespoons honey

First you want to line the inside of your pan with parchment paper.  If you spray it with cooking oil, the parchment paper will stick to the sides nicely.  Don't worry about it covering it completely, just mostly.  Sprinkle the bottom (so on top of the paper,) with coarse sugar.  Set aside.

Combine the milk and honey.  You may have to microwave it for 30 seconds so the honey melts into the milk.  Don't heat it too much and cook the milk though, then it becomes a curdled baby puke mess. (Though it would still work, it's just kind of gross to look at.)  In a separate bowl, sift the flour and green tea powder together a couple times so that it is nice and fluffy and combined well.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar.  You want to do this in a medium sized bowl that can be rested into  larger bowl with hot water in it.  It's important that the eggs are beaten while they are lukewarm.  (Don't ask me why, I still need to figure out the science behind it.)  This is the part that takes the longest.  You need to beat the egg/sugar mixture until it gets nice and foamy.  The recipe says soft peaks, but after 20 minutes of standing there with a hand mixer, I gave up.  It was pretty thick and foamy so I decided it was good enough.  But like it says in the blog, it does take a loooooong time.  I don't have a KitchenAid, which would make it much easier on the arm, but a hand mixer does the trick, especially if you switch off between two people, like I did.  Thanks Shawn!

Once you finally get to the point where you say "eff it, that's good enough," (or if you get to soft peaks, which I recommend... see comments later,) whisk in the milk and honey mixture.  Then switch to a regular hand whisk and whisk in the flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time.  When it is incorporated enough that it doesn't have any lumps, pour it into the prepared pan and bake at 340 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The top will get dark quickly, don't worry about it, it won't burn, and it's supposed to do that anyway.

The website says this is a cake that's hard to make, which I didn't really believe, but I'm starting to think maybe it is hard.  As far as putting the ingredients together, you need to follow the directions exactly.  Now I've made this cake twice in the last week. I didn't blog about it the first time because it was a big ol' FAIL.  It looked just like this when it came out of the oven, and a toothpick came out clean.  But then it totally collapsed.  My oven is a little weird so I thought maybe the temp wasn't right and that I didn't bake it enough.  This time around, I made sure to bake it for the full time plus 5 minutes.  And guess what?  It still collapsed, worse than last time!  Grrrr!

Nowhere in the blog where I got the recipe mentions this problem so I don't know if it's something I'm doing wrong.  I read through the all the comments to the blog, and there were a handful of people who complained about the same thing.  The blogger's responses are a little confusing and she seems to think that the people just didn't do it right.  This got me thinking about the possible reasons why mine have failed.  Maybe my impatience with beating the eggs to soft peaks is the problem.  Or the fact that I baked it in a loaf pan and not a brownie pan.  Or the fact that I added the matcha powder...

My sister and I were discussing the possible problems and she brought up the point that it could be like angel food cake.  For those of you who've never made that, it's an egg-white based cake that has to hang upside down to cool to prevent it from falling.  Since this cake is also egg-based and has no other leavening it may require some hang time.  You'd think that if that was a requirement, it would have been mentioned in the bog.  She mentions that I have to put the cake in a plastic bag while it's still warm to retain the moisture, but maybe that has something to do with it. 

Oh well, I guess that's just a good reason to make it again.  I am determined to succeed!  I may have to look up other recipes and see what they say.  I'll keep you updated!  In the meantime I will eats lots of really dense, delicious kasutera with hot Japanese green tea.  mmmm...

6/13/2011 UPDATE:  I finally did it!  Turns out I converted the recipe from grams to cups wrong and didn't use enough flour.  So DON'T FOLLOW THE RECIPE ABOVE!  Use this one instead.  The directions will still be the same that are written here. 

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