Kasutera (Castella) is an old-fashioned Japanese sponge cake that is loved by everyone from the young to the old. It is sweeter and moister than the European sponge cakes which are often eaten with cream or some kind of frosting. The Japanese Kasutera you can eat as it is.
Cake from the Middle-Ages
Even though Kasutera is originated from Europe, it regards as a very authentic Japanese sweet today. According to the European history in the 16th century, the Portuguese reached Japan and soon started trade and missionary work. Nagasaki was then the only Japanese port open for foreign commerce. The Portugueses introduced many then-unusual things, such as guns, tobacco, pumpkins and the castella as well. The original name of kasutera was Pão de Castela, -meaning “bread from Castile”,-and was very popular because it could be stored for a long period of time, and so was useful for the sailors who were out on the sea for months. In the Edo period, in part due to the cost of sugar, castella was an expensive dessert to make, despite the ingredients sold by the Portuguese. When the Emperor of Japan’s envoy was invited, the Tokugawa Shogunate presented the Castella.
Over hundreds of years the taste of the kasutera has changed a lot to suit Japanese palates. Nowadays it is sweetened with sugar and honey or gooey syrup, like corn syrup to make the texture of Castella is moist and soft. The result is: its taste is unique, little different from ordinary pound cakes. Also the substantial amount of sugar and syrup gives the Kasutera’s signature a dark brown top which is the favorite part of the cake for lot of people. Many Japanese like to eat Castella with no cream decoration.
Kasutera is sold at many old established Japanese sweets stores, department stores, and even supermarkets. Prices and flavors varies widely from the expensive ones to the cheap ones. Because of its popularity there are some famous Castella manufacturers in Nagasaki such as Bunemido and Fukusaya (The large, pound cake type Castella is popular as a gift. The small, spheral Castella, called “Suzu Castella” is very common at festivals).
My recipe version is a pretty good for home baking, I got it from my Japanese sister-in-law, who’d got from her grandmother..It is soo good so it is hard to resist the urge of eating the cake immediatelly after baking, but it is better to leave it wrapped for a couple of days before tasting because the flavor and the texture get better and better day by day.
One more thing: Don’t worry if your Kasutera will be soft and chewy in texture, because that’s normal. Flour with higher gluten content such as bread flour is used to achieve this result, but the cake will be very light cake, and the advantage of it there is no fat in it.
Prep Time: 25 minutes, baking time: 50 minutes
Yield: 1 9″X9″ cake pan
Ingredients: 7 eggs, on room temperature, 1 1/4 cup sugar (250g), 1/4 cup milk (60g), 1/3 cup honey (80g), 1 1/2 cup bread flour (200g)
- Heat the oven to 350F (175C).
- Beat eggs in a stand mixer, adding sugar in 3 parts over about 10 minutes.
- Mix milk and honey in a separate bowl, then heat to lukewarm until the honey melts.
- Sift the bread flour and set aside.
- Add half of the milk mixture to the egg mixture and mix for a few seconds. Add half of the bread flour and mix. Add the rest of the milk and honey, and mix, then lastly add remaining bread flour and mix for 2-3 minutes. Give a good mix by hand with spatula.
- Line a 9″X9″ (23cmX23cm) baking pan with parchment paper. Pour the cake batter in the pan (if you have leftover batter, bake in another small container). Bake at 350F (175C) for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 320F (160C) and bake another 30-40 minutes. Cover the top with aluminum foil if it is browning too much too soon.
- Take the cake out from the oven and immediately drop the pan from a height of about 5″ (12.5cm) to release the air in the cake to avoid collapsing.
- Spread plastic wrap on a flat surface, cool the cake top side down on the plastic. Wrap it with plastic after it has completely cooled.