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By September 05, 2015 ,

While I’m patiently waiting for my Japan adventure in November, I’ll happily indulge in anything Japanese I can get my hands on. So, when I was feeling bored on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to make “something Japanese”.

Japanese are masters of improvisation and they never fail to take something ordinary and elevate it. It’s the same case with pastries. Western pastries and cakes, in Japanese hands, transform into something uniquely Japanese, often characterised by its clean aesthetics and natural flavours. Japanese sponge cakes are simply a delight – moist, fluffy and not too sweet. It’s the version of sponge cake that I grew up with. Oftentimes I find Australian cakes are too sweet and dense, so a Japanese-style sponge cake brings back a taste of home.

While this is a “shortcake,” it is not a sweet biscuit, rather it is a layered sponge cake topped with strawberry and whipped cream frosting. Frankly, I’ve never had a strawberry shortcake prior to making this, but I saw some cheap strawberries and I really wanted to make a fluffy sponge cake.

A few seconds of Googling later, I was following La Fuji Mama’s recipe and on my way to making my first Japanese Strawberry Shortcake. I noticed that the recipe calls for cake flour, which I did not have. But my impressive internet search prowess revealed to me that you can make your own cake flour with all-purpose flour and corn starch/corn flour (Remove 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour from 1 cup of AP flour, replace with 2 tbsp of corn starch, sieve the mixture 5 times).

I’ve also encountered some technical problems while whisking my egg whites. The recipe calls for egg whites to be whisked to stiff peak. But after 35 minutes, my mixture, though glossy and snowy, was dripping off my whisk, rather than standing proudly. It was completely my fault though: I noticed that my mixing bowl was slightly greasy but I decided to overlook it and continued to whisk my egg whites. I’ve also poured the caster sugar in the egg white mixture in three batches…right smack in the middle of the egg white mixture, which probably damaged the meringue. So there you go, now you know what to avoid.

Ah well, I guess a soft peak is better than curdled egg white. Being a frugal Asian that I am, I decided to go ahead anyway and whip up the batter with my runny “meringue,” fervently hoping it will rise in the oven just enough so I can make a layered cake. 30 minutes later, my kitchen was filled with the wonderful scent of vanilla and butter cake.

I took the cake out and to my joy, it rose beautifully! I pressed the cake and was so happy that it “bounced” back like a sponge would. It was even hissing when it first came out of the oven! After brushing some sugar syrup on the cake to prevent it from drying out, I spread a layer of stabilised whip cream, spread a layer of delicious strawberries, covered the strawberries with another layer of whip cream and the top half of the cake on top. After spreading the cake top with more whipped cream frosting, I topped it off with more fresh strawberries. Then I sat back and looked at my creation with pride and happiness. It was a Sunday afternoon well spent!

This cake is surprisingly not too challenging to make, but it was so delicious. The beautiful vanilla scent and fluffy sponge was a dream, while the strawberries delivered a much-needed freshness and fruity taste. It was the perfect afternoon delight and I am glad that I took the time to make this wonderful cake.

Next time, I’ll make sure my mixing bowl is squeaky clean and my egg whites will reach their full potential!

Japanese Strawberry Shortcake
Recipe by La Fuji Mama, makes one 7 or 8-inch layered cake

For the 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 the 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.

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