No compendium of Japanese desserts would be complete without castella cake!
In Japan, the history of castella cake is common knowledge and universally agreed upon (which is actually unusual when it comes to cakes, since you’ll often find lots of people arguing as to who invented what first and where).
Long story made short: Portuguese traders introduced it to Japan through Nagasaki sometime in the 16th century.
Unlike a lot of other regional foods, however, you don’t have to go all the way to Nagasaki to get castella — which, by the way, is also unusual because Japanese people often pride themselves on maintaining its separate regional food specialties.
Because of the respect for boundaries between regional culinary practices, eating in Japan can be both fun and frustrating at the same time.
On one hand, you can always go somewhere new and try something unique that you won’t find anywhere else in Japan — on the other hand, if you really liked what you had in say, Sapporo, you won’t be able to get it anywhere else.
Anyways, I’m glad that castella is a nation-wide snack food. While I might have been left craving haskap youkan from Sapporo and taruto from Matsuyama while walking around Kyoto, I could always get castella instead.
Traditionally, castella cake is made without matcha powder, and focuses more on a simple, delicate honey taste.
If you don’t think a green tea cake would be your thing, then you can leave it out the matcha powder.
Matcha Castella • 抹茶カステラ
*loosely adapted from A World of Cake
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup superfine/castor sugar, plus more for dusting
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons half & half cream
- 2 ~ 3 drops lemon extract
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour
- 1 heaping tablespoon matcha powder
- 2 tablespoons honey + water, for glazing
Position one oven rack in the top-third of the oven, and one in the bottom-third. Place a baking dish filled with 1 inch of water on the lower rack.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and dust with sugar to coat the surface.
Sift the cake flour and matcha powder together. Set aside.
On the stove over low heat, combine the honey, cream, and lemon extract in a saucepan. Stir together until the mixture is hot, but not simmering, then set aside to cool.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs for 1 minute on medium-high speed.
After a minute, slowly pour in the superfine sugar while continuing to whisk. Whisk until the eggs and sugar are pale, smooth, satiny, and have at least tripled in volume — there must not be any yellow, runny liquid remaining at the bottom of the bowl.
Slowly add the honey + cream mixture and beat for 1 minute more.
Turn the mixer down to a lower speed and add the sifted matcha flour, 2 tablespoons or so at a time. Whisk until fully incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, making sure not to fill any closer than a half inch (1 cm) from the top — if you are using the right size pan for this recipe, then this shouldn’t be an issue.
Smooth out any large air bubbles on the surface of the batter, then bake for 15 minutes on the top rack of the preheated oven.
After 15 minutes, move the cake to the bottom rack and the water pan to the top rack.
Turn the heat down to 325°F /165°C and bake for another 55 – 60 minutes or until the top is light brown all over.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan — but as soon it’s cool enough to handle, remove it from the pan, peel off the parchment, and trim the edges off the cake to expose the beautifully browned top and bottom.
Mix 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the top. Immediately wrap the cake in plastic and allow to sit for at least 4 hours to preserve its moisture.
Brushing the cake with honey adds even more moisture and helps to darken the top, which helps with creating that authentic castella look.
If you don’t wrap the cake up, then you run the risk of it drying out and becoming a little bland — don’t forget: moist cake is flavourful cake!
When you’re ready to eat, slice the castella and serve with hot or cold green tea. Yum!