Castella or Kasutera (カステラ) cake is a honey cake introduced by Portuguese merchants to Japan way back in the 16th century. It is very well known in Nagasaki and though simple, tastes brilliant and is not an easy recipe to attempt.
There are only 5 ingredients in this honey sponge cake. Flour, eggs, sugar, milk and honey. That is it. No leavening agents or stabilisers are used.
So what makes this cake so special? For one, bread flour is used in the recipe instead of all-purpose flour or cake flour. This is so that the cake will have a springiness to it. For another, the cake, though contains no oil or butter, is moist. But the moistness can only be achieved in one manner: refrigerating the cake while it is warm from the oven.
I first came across this cake by gawking at Foodgawkers. Ms. Ann from Anncoo Journal had submitted a most beautiful looking castella cake. It intrigued me. I was mesmirized by the look of the fine texture in her cake slices and the fact that this cake uses a wooden mould to bake. She mentioned in her post this mould was available from Phoon Huat at Holland Village.
That evening, after work, I trotted my way to Phoon Huat. Ha..see how obsessed I am with baking. I willingly travel miles to get the correct equipment. The mould is pictured below.
As you can see, this mould is bigger than the one pictured at Ms. Ann’s blog. The size (inside) is 19 by 29 centimetres. It costs S$37.10, if I’m not mistaken. The only gripe I have is it is not made entirely from wood.
The sides are fastened together with a metal bolt (or whatever this is called). Wood conducts heat slower than metal, and also more evenly, hence the wooden frame allows the cake to rise slowly, resulting in a less porous texture in the cake.
That aside, you have to really have patience (and good arm muscles) to make this cake as you will have to beat the eggs to hell and back. And slowly, to boot. I woke up the next morning with slightly sore arm muscles.
I didn’t follow the recipe from Ms. Ann as I didn’t want to use emulsifier or stabiliser. I found another highly recommended recipe at Ms. Maki’s Justhungry blog. Her instructions are very clear.
I beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl that was placed atop a small pot of simmering water. I beat and beat and beat it. For 40 minutes at least. I read somewhere someone beat the eggs for 1 hour 35 minutes.
For this cake, I used manuka honey. Yes yes..it’s a bloody waste to bake this honey but I bought the honey a while ago and it is such a big bottle and I’m not really inclined to drinking honey. Somehow I always end up feeling heaty after drinking it, God knows why. The taste of the honey is strong and it makes the color of the cake dark. I will attempt this recipe again using a different type of honey soon.
The bottom is fine but at the top..sigh. I did what was required in the recipe and glazed the cake with honey water the moment it came out of the oven, gave the cake a 2 minutes rest then bundled it up in baking paper and cling wrap, stuck it in a huge ziploc bag and fridged it. The top turned wrinkly. Sob.
I can’t complain. For a first attempt I know this is not a bad result. Maybe it’s the temperature. I baked this at 160 degrees C. Next time I shall try 150 degrees C instead.
Oh right, for those not inclined towards sweet cakes, please reduce the sugar indicated in the recipe. I found the cake a tad sweet. I think this largely depends on the type of honey you use too. Some honey taste not as sweet.
Another thing is, this cake is a real pain to cut. You need a really sharp knife to do this. Cut it in a sawing motion gently, whilst holding lightly to the cake. I used a bread knife and had to constantly wash the knife to get rid of all the stickiness so the cake slices can be cut nicely. Even so, you can see my cutting skills are bad. My personal thought is it is best to cut this cake next to the sink, if you have space.
Try this cake! At the least it will help you exercise some arm muscles. 🙂 If you do not have a wooden mould and am not as mad as I am to go searching for one, you can use a normal cake pan. I read that someone lined the cake pan with many layers of baking paper and newspaper to replicate the slower heat conducting properties of wood. Good luck!