I have to admit that I baked this cake out of curiosity, and not so much because I wanted to eat it. I have read so much about this popular Japanese cake that many talented and adventurous food bloggers have attempted to make. It's a simple cake, but takes a bit of practice and experience to perfect it. It's great that many of them have shared their tips and tricks in baking the perfect Castella, except that I didn't really take note of them! The entire process just sounded a little too daunting, plus it had to be baked in a special wooden box which I didn't have. I didn't think about the Castella again until I borrowed a book from the library and saw a recipe for Japanese Castella. Actually, I've borrowed this book many times before, but the name of the cake just didn't register in my mind until I discovered it on other food blogs. The recipe, of course, is just a recipe and doesn't tell you how difficult it is or what problems you might encounter. But when I saw that it just needs to be baked in a round springform tin (no special bakingware required), and I didn't need to use bread flour, I was delighted and set off to make my very first Castella, no holds barred (almost).
I have never eaten an actual Japanese Castella cake before, so I didn't have any expectations about it, except that I was crossing my fingers (as I always do with sponge cakes) that it will rise nicely in the oven. The recipe I used comes from a book by called Ultimate Cake by Barbara Maher. In the book, she explains that the Castella originated in Portuguese Madeira, and is reputed to have been brought to the southern Japanese island of Kyushu in the 16th century. The name is derived from Portuguese, Pão de Castela, which means "bread from Castile". The Castella is traditionally served in small slices on elegant plates with a cup of green tea. It has the distinctive colour contrast between the deep brown crust and the pale yellow interior.
The recipe is easy to follow, just like that for a regular sponge or chiffon cake. The only difference is that it contains condensed milk and honey, and no fat. I was pretty happy that the cake turned out alright, and it rose to a level just above the rim of the cake tin. It shrank slightly upon cooling, but within acceptable limits. This cake is best enjoyed when it has fully cooled down, and probably after refrigeration. I think it tends to taste more moist that way, and has a better texture too, which is slightly springy (if that's how it's supposed to be!). It might be a little too sweet for some, although I think if eaten in small delicate bites with a cup of hot green tea, it would be quite a delightful treat for others. The use of honey in the cake is probably what distinguishes it from the Chinese steamed Egg Sponge Cake ("ji dan gao"). And what do I think of it? Well, it's pleasant to eat, though not in large amounts. A slice or two with green tea is good. In fact, I think the rest of the family enjoyed it more that I did! The kids' verdict: "I love this cake! It's so yummy! *nom nom nom*".
Update: This cake tastes much better after the first day, or even after the second day, refrigerated of course. Just this morning, I had a few slices with a cup of green tea, and was surprised at how soft and moist the cake was, unlike the first day when I tried it only a few hours after it came out of the oven. I'm so thrilled! I'd better get back to eating the cake before the G finishes everything! :)
Adapted from Ultimate Cake by Barbara Maher
6 egg yolks
100g (3 1/2 oz)caster sugar
2 tsp honey
Pinch of salt
75ml (5 tbsp) condensed milk
90g (3oz) plain flour, sifted
4 egg whites
- Preheat oven to 160C (325F). Grease a 22cm (8 1/2 inch) springform tin or a medium loaf pan, and line the base and sides with non-stick baking/parchment paper.
- Using an electric mixer, whisk egg yolks and sugar to the ribbon stage, where it is thick, pale and doubled in volume. Then whisk in the honey, salt and condensed milk.
- Sift the flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold it in until well combined.
- In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites into soft peaks. Stir in 1/4 of the whisked egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to loosen the texture. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg white, taking care not to knock out the air.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Drop the tin on the table a few times to knock out any large air bubbles in the batter. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack for 45 minutes or until richly golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Remove cake from the oven and leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes. Turn it upside-down onto a wire rack to cool. Then, carefully peel off the lining paper, wrap in cling wrap and store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
- To serve, trim off the side crusts of the cake and using a serrated knife, slice the cake into bite-sized pieces. Serve with hot Japanese green tea.