Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Castella Cake (Kasutera Cake)

Of all the cakes in the world, there are 2 that I have always been intrigued with. Both are wildly popular in Japan, and ironically have European origins. One is the Mont Blanc, the other the Castella.

Some months ago, the flogosphere was flooded with Castella Cakes. Every corner I turned, I would be confronted with a Castella, and before I knew it, I was helplessly sucked into the Castella craze. I was so enamoured by this Nagasaki honey cake that I read as much as I could before attempting to bake it.

There are many photos of Castella cakes online, but the one photo which stood out for me was this, taken from Wikipedia:


So fine-textured it looks almost like velvet. Kudos to the photographer for this great shot.

The moment I saw this photo, I lusted after the Castella like I would for a Gucci bag. These days though, I get more excited over groceries than Gucci. A sure sign of aging. But I digress. The photos you see below are from my fifth attempt at baking this cake. The previous 4 times, something would invariably go wrong. Either I ended up with a cake which was too dense, or had too many air bubbles, or which collapsed when cooled, or worse, was a combination of everything.

The bottomline was, there would be no cake to show and blog about. Taste-wise, it was lovely, but I just couldn't bear to show the hideous photos of them. It would not do justice to this elegant cake.

Then I read Ellie's post about how she finally got her Candy Cane Macarons perfect on the fourth attempt, and it really struck a chord with me. I thought, I should just give the Castella one more try. And this time, the Castella fairies were with me in the kitchen. I finally produced a cake close enough to the Wikipedia photo. Thanks, Ellie! :)


Like all things Japanese, the Castella cake is understated but oh-so-refined.


Make sure you use a very sharp knife to get these strong, bold lines. I just adore the minimalist, "zen" nature of this cake.

If you are attempting to bake this cake, I would highly recommend the recipe from Just Hungry (which I used). It is by far the most authentic version I have come across. It is also very detailed, so please do read through carefully several times before you begin. One thing I can't stress enough is this: to get those micro crumbs, you have to beat your eggs on low speed for a prolonged period of time. Low speed = smaller air bubbles. If you beat them on high, you will get a thick batter more quickly, but the down side is, the air bubbles will be bigger, and you won't get that "poreless", velvety look. Some things just come with patience and diligence, I suppose.


Micro crumbs!


"What invisible pores you have, my dear!"

Now, if you have never successfully baked a simple butter or sponge cake, I would not recommend that you try this. The Castella cake is not your usual sponge cake. First of all, the recipe calls for bread flour (see here and here), which contributes to its slightly bouncy, gelatinous bite.

Second, there are steps specific only to making this cake, like beating the eggs and sugar over a steam bath, and then wrapping the baked cake in a plastic bag overnight. Doesn't sound like your regular sponge, does it?

My only diversion from the recipe was to skip the wrapping of the cake. Instead, after it had cooled on a wire rack, I put the entire thing back into the oven and left it to cool further overnight.

The next day, it dried out a little as expected. To get it moist and soft again, I did what my parents used to do whenever we had old bread - steam them. It always worked like magic :) (Aside, I remember reading about a coffeeshop in Singapore which still serves steamed bread to go with your kopi-O. Certainly very old-school and traditional).

I cut my cake into slices and steamed them lightly for about 3 minutes, and I got soft, moist, warm Castella cake to enjoy. Oishii!



Final notes:
1. Recipe from Just Hungry. Ms Maki put in so much effort penning the recipe and method, I think it would be very wrong of me to just cut-and-paste her recipe here. Do take a look at her amazing, wonderful blog for the Castella cake (and more).

2. Watch this very fascinating video of how Castella is made by hand in Japan (scroll to the video and click on play). I hope you enjoy watching it!

71 comments:

  1. E' bellissima, complimenti alla mia pasticcera preferita, complimenti anche per la ricetta precedente.
    Ciao Daniela.

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  2. Your cake looks great! Kudos to the people at the Castella factory!
    I have been reading about this cake from so many bloggers that I am going to try baking it tomorrow
    ;)) Thanks for the post

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  3. Wow, your kasutera looks gorgeous! Congratulations for conquering the recipe :)

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  4. Mmmmmm! I tried making this once, it came out alright...I might need to try it again, as I have been missing Japanese baked goods so much! I used to work at a Japanese/French bakery back home (in the US and one of the few around) and I LOVED it! This cake is on my list, as is learning how to make melon pan and their ever-addicting azuki creams, hehe.

    Also wanted to say I made the Sugar donut muffins...AMAZING! I put some raspberry jam in the middle for my boyfriend and he gobbled them up hehe. Your blog is amazing...I love reading about your life and your journey in baking:) You're awesome!! Best wishes to you and yours for the new year!!

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  5. OMG, these look amazing and that velvety texture is beautifully captured. Kudos to your persistence!

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  6. Oishii indeed! It seems that practice made perfect, as yours looks at least as good, if not better, than the one you were lusting after. I really applaud our patience and refusal to quit. Bravo!

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  7. Looks so refined and moist! To be honest, I really need to bake more. I have got a few to-do recipes from your blog.. this is no exception!! :)

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  8. Oh Ju......... I made my first Castella Cake lastnight. I tweeted about it and now I see yours here. lol!! I used the recipe from 'the sweet spot'. I baked it late at night and let it cool overnight. I notice it has shrunk but I am yet to slice it and check the texture. I am glad that your persevere and look at he gorgeous castella cake. Best of all i have seen! OMG... I am again in awe with your knife skill!!! lol! p/s Thanks for the mention.

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  9. I will watch the video afte..:)

    Later tonight..But I wanted to tell you how gorgeous your cake is..:) And that I thought of you many times today..
    I like taht about this internet world..

    We had planned on a nice different grocery excursion and snow halted our plans.. we stayed closer to home.. and at the last minute I was afforded a few minutes in an Asian market I like.. It's changed though:( Boohoo..nice new look outside.. same inside..but now no more kitchen apparatus:(

    Now I am digressing..

    Back to the story.. I walked in..and a very pretty girl in a long white winter coat walked out and I smiled at her through the soft snowflakes falling around us..Jacques said..:"She looked like Ju!" She did!!!!!



    IN the store.. w/out my list.. guess what I found? PANDAN!!!!

    I opened it in the car..and a heavenly just baked aroma filled the cold car:)

    I cannot wait to make a cake w/ it!!

    I asked the Monsieur what was it that my friend used to fry things w/ something like Tofu? He had no clue!..Then I asked.. these crispy fried dried shrimps? What do you suggest I do? For soup..he said..Oy...
    I thought..go home read through the entries and make a New Year's List~!!! So I will..
    But..I have Pandan:)!!!Eureka..!

    I am glad the Castella Fairies were with you.. You made them proud with your photos!!:)

    And please.. never say you are getting older..what does that make me?:)

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  10. I enjoy watching your awesome cake Ju! Very small micropores your Castella have there!!!

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  11. What a lovely post to read and salivate over!

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  12. Hey Ju,
    This really looks perfect. I am going to make this. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. I call it revisiting a recipe when I fail badly and eventually get it right... lots of eventuallies, but so far, eventually I can do them

    Good for you for returning

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  14. Thats a beautiful cake Ju...so fine and very elegant....4 tries! wow you are determined. I must read the recipe too and I will try son . It sounds so good and special. beautiful pictures and cutting!!!!

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  15. Ju, that is one beautiful cake!! It look so soft and perfect. I baked this cake once and it turn out ok but I will have to try out Just Hungry recipe the next time.

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  16. What a lovely cake! Congrats on getting this one right. It looks perfect.

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  17. I never seen a beautiful cake like this before, this is incredible beautiful, perfect texture !! By the way, how it tasted? something like honey sponge cake?

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  18. The photo does look like the one from Wikipedia. It could see it's light sponge texture. I didn't realize they were made with bread flour until you said so. Did you make this with all bread flour or mixed with all purpose flour?
    I really have to make this!

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  19. Beautiful photos for a beautiful cake, Ju ! This cake looks like our french "génoise", a velvety cake made of flour, eggs and sugar. In yours, there's honey and it must give a delicious taste ... My first génoiseS were disasters because I didn't want to beat the eggs neither " au bain-marie" (over a pot of hot water), nor long enough ... The day I decided to follow exactly the recipe, everything turned right and my génoise was beautiful; We usually eat génoises filled with different creams ... chocolate "ganaches" or buttercreams the more often ...
    I'll try castella cake also ... Very soon, indeed ... ;o)
    Kisses from France
    Hélène

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  20. Daniela: Mille grazie! E molto gentile.

    Happy Belly: Thanks, and yes, the people at the factory made my jaw drop when I saw how they did everything by hand!

    maki: THANK YOU! To have you drop by my blog is an honour and privilege! Thank you once again for sharing your recipe. You put in so much effort penning the process, I just felt it would be wrong to cut and paste the recipe/method here! :)

    Alison: Wow, you're good! Getting it right on your first try! Thank you for your wonderful comments and compliment. It makes my day knowing that people out there enjoy reading this blog.:)

    Ravenous Couple: Thank you!

    Kenny: LOLOLOL! Definitely will go out of business. Took me 5 tries to get the cake right!

    Tasty Trix: Thank you, my dear!

    mycookinghut: Thanks Lee Mei! I am sure you will do a fabulous job!

    Ellie: Thanks!! It's so coincidental we both made Castella! Your post really gave me the much needed nudge to give it one more shot!

    La Table De Nana: Monique, you always have the kindest words for me! And you finally got PANDAN! How wonderful! :) I know you will make magic with that.

    Quinn: Thanks, my dear! LOL!

    Joy: Thanks!!

    Anncoo: Thanks! I hope you like it!

    A Year on the Grill: Dave, great choice of words! Heh heh!

    zurin: Thank you, Zurin dear! I do have a stubborn streak, I guess!

    ICook4Fun: Your castella was one of the reasons why I took notice of this cake!!

    Memória: Thank you, dear!

    Sonia: Thank you, Sonia! You're so kind. It does taste a bit like honey sponge cake, but it has that QQ texture, and it's not too sweet. Very grown-up cake.

    tracieMoo: Thanks, Tracie! It's ALL bread flour :) I hope you try making this.

    Hélène: Merci! It does resemble the génoise, except the hint of honey is lovely in this. I hope you try it. You always make everything look enchanting!

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  21. This looks like a perfect cake to me....such fine and moist texture. Thanks for sharing.

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  22. Oh dear! And this cake was going to be my first bake in my new kitchen..... I think Ive given myself a very big challenge. I can't even get a butter cake right!

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  23. This is just amazing! I used to live in Japan and so I know the Castella cake very well. Yours looks absolutely picture perfect! Bravo! :D

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  24. I will try, it's so wonderfull, I can imagine the taste and so light, gorgeous !!!

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  25. Ju, I was in a Kasutera madness around a year ago when I was in the States! All thanks to Florence's! LOL!

    Then, I made Kasutera twice with recipe from Just Hungry, too! But, I'm surprised to find the top of your cake isn't as dark as mine! (My kasutera can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ocbcb/3196711315/in/set-72157612526791181/)

    Anyhow, I'd still stick the cake into a Ziploc bag, sealed airtight, and refrigerate it overnight. This really gives moistness to the cake! I think I'm going to make them sometime again ... And, maybe even try a matcha kasutera! I even saw chocolate ones were on sale at Narita Airport when I was stranded there on my way back home!

    Once again, this is a great post ... Thanks for sharing!

    Pei-Lin

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  26. MaryMoh: Thank you!

    penny aka jeroxie: LOL!

    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella: Thank you for your compliment!!

    chapot: Merci!

    Dodol & Mochi: Pei Lin, great pic! I have a habit of tenting my cakes for the first half of baking because of my cranky oven and its uneven heating. Perhaps that is why :)

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  27. Wow, yours look much better than Just Hungry!

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  28. wow after seeing yours and ellie's post. I. Must. Make. the. cake!!! thanks for sharing :)

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  29. I spoke to Ellie yesterday and she said that I MUST LOOK AT YOUR CAKE... and I am so glad she pointed me in your direction... oh no - now I am also inspired to try this cake! It would look beautiful wrapped too!

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  30. It looks perfect! I've always wanted to try making this but it uses so many eggs!

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  31. Thia is great! And I love your writing--comparing groceries to Gucci---I can totally relate!

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  32. that cake looks very yummy...like sponge cake but much lighter!

    i can never bake anything right lol...last time i tried to bake a simple sponge cake but i had to through it the bin lol..

    but but butttt...i really want to try this out cause i love cakes that are velvety and light and moist.

    thanks for sharing

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  33. Hi Ju,
    Thanks for introducing this cake. I didn't know what it was called! My parents just came back from Japan and bought a matcha castella cake. It was so nice I brought home the remaining cake.
    You're so good to have made the attempt again! Actually, your cake looks so much nicer than "Just Hungry"! Your castella looks like the one in wikipedia! Good job! Well done! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  34. Wow, your cake turned out beautifully. Loved your informative post...didn't realize there was so much to this simple looking cake. You're making me crave it now...lol.

    You know what? I think I would be more excited over groceries than a Gucci bag too. Never thought I would say that.

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  35. Hi Ju, this is perfect. Perfect Kasutera and perfect timing because i was just looking for a good recipe for it. hehe I tried one recently (from Pichet Ong cookbook) and it didn't turn out okay. Thank you for sharing! :)

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  36. Wow they are so perfectly baked! Haven't seen anything that light for a while, I wish I can bake like that!

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  37. Your photos are so beautiful, I want to try this cake. I am not the most experienced cake baker but I am patient and follow directions well so I may give it a try. I am curious what size cake you used. Thank you.

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  38. Wow Ju the cake is gorgeous! Absolutely picture perfect...

    Was very nice meeting you also =) And your little girl, who seemed like such a sweetheart!

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  39. Baked this yesterday and it didn't go too well...no microcrumbs but full day of cramped biceps haha. And I thought it tasted like kuih bahulu! Is that how yours tasted like? Mine's like your failed attempts; big pores and sinking cake...

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  40. Little Corner of Mine: Aww, thanks.

    Swee San: LOL!

    Trissa: Ellie is too kind :) Thanks for your compliments, Trissa!

    pigpigscorner: I know!!! Lots of eggs all right! But once in a while ... heh.

    Miakoda: Thanks, Mia!!

    Stacy: LOL! Thanks, Stacy!!

    Ann: Thanks! LOL! Just try it. At least you know you tried. :))

    Passionate About Baking: You got to taste a Castella from JAPAN?! Lucky you! Thanks for your compliments!

    nooschi: Yeah ... quite an fascinating cake! Thanks, dear!

    zenchef: Thanks! I'll hide mine after you blog about yours, OK? You make all things look like art.

    3 hungry tummies: Thanks!!

    winlee: Thanks! Follow the instructions on Just Hungry's blog. She gives the most detailed instructions. Don't substitute using a round cake tin etc ... the cake will not hold.

    Mrs Multitasker: Thanks Clare! My pleasure! And I will find something to bake from the gorgeous book. Will blog about it if it doesn't take me 5 attempts!!

    Happy Belly: Dear dear. Sounds exactly like my first cake! LOL. Taste (to me) is like honey sponge cake, with a bounce. Mochi mochi. I find that if you want the cake to hold its shape, don't wrap it up. That's why for this fifth attempt, I left it to cool like any other cake. It did't shrink. And I steamed it to re-moisten whenever I wanted to eat. FIVE attempts, dear!

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  41. Wow this is perfect.

    Did you hand whisk it or use a stand mixer? Wonder if speed 1 works..?

    You have mastered it...can set up sales for this wonderful cake.

    Bravo, dear...

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  42. this cake is perfect, i love it, bravo !!

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  43. Oh. My. Gosh.

    This is like The face of Cakes. Like in general... all the cakes of the world. I wonder if L'oreal are planning on manufacturing cakes anytime soon because if they are, this would be The Face! Absoloutely gorgeous- really awesome pictures!

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  44. What pores? I don't see any pores, you are far too hard on yourself!

    Simply gorgeous! Thanks for posting the video too...loved it!

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  45. wow!! Ju, I came over here after reading my mom's (Zurin) post about meeting up with you. thank you sooo much for posting this. I've always ogledthe chinese, asian, japanese cakes at the asian stores here in the US. Their cake rolls look somewhat lke this too...this is just gorgeous..and btw i LOVE your sense of humor LOL no wonder you and my mum had a blast! :D

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  46. Irene's Footprints: Thanks, Irene! Of course I used a mixer!! I'm not going to kill my arms ;) Speed 1 should work. I used the lowest speed. :)

    COLARGOL: Thank you!

    Sanjana: You are way too kind! Thank you for your compliment! :)

    Michelle: LOL! Michelle, you always make me laugh! :) Thanks!

    Juli Herman: Hey Juli, hi! Your mom mentioned you ... all the good things, don't worry! :) Oh, we had a wonderful time chatting! She's a fantastic lady. :) Thank you for coming by my blog and for you lovely comments!

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  47. May I ask, U beat in the flour or folded in the flour? Cos I read from Just hungry, is to beat the flour in. And when she mentioned abt filling the batter to the top, did it mean to the brim of the pan? Is that what u did? Sory to ask u abt her post, but just need to double check her instructions based on a succesful try out.

    Ur castella looks fabulous!!

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  48. Ju, thanks for your generous compliments but there are still alot of room for me to improve. I will experiment a few more times... then maybe we can exchange Castella samples... LOL.

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  49. wendyywy: You can do either way altho I prefer to beat in. I tried folding before but there were pockets of flour which I didn't manage to get rid of. As for pouring to the top, I am not sure because my pan is slightly larger than the recipe's, so I never had the problem of leftovers. I hope I have helped you somewhat. I guess you have to try it out to find out what works for you. Wishing you a successful castella!

    Shirley: You are too modest. You're so good at cooking and baking!

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  50. Tried it, loved it! Thanks for the great link and notes on this gorgeous cake which was all new to me. I'm sure my pores are a little too visible but I'm planning to perfect my technique...

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  51. Nice cakes! However, how do you keep the top of the cake's flat? I always failed making this cakes!

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  52. I tried making this castella cake today.
    The eggs won't deflate no matter how I whisk in the flour and the milk. So unsponge like.
    It filled up my 6.5inch square pan to the rim.
    It won't deflate one is it??? I find it so weird
    ahahahaha!!!
    It's baking now, hope it won't collapse when it's done.

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  53. Ok, the cake is out from the oven.
    I failed. It was so undercooked. I tented the cake and baked it for 40 mins, removed it to brown for another 15 mins. The colour was just nice, but inside is all soft and mushy. And it's so so spongy and fluffy (from whatver is edible). I was expecting a denser cake. I could've overbeaten the eggs. I was on low speed for dunno how long, but did it until it looked like my eggs for regular sponge cakes.

    Oh ya, forgot to tell u that I halved the recipe, baked at full time, the batter rose 1 inch above my pan, and my collar was higher than the pan. But the cake rose so high that the surface stuck to the foil tent.

    Undercook issue aside,if this is a regular sponge cake, I'd be clapping my hands like mad to get such rise and fluffiness. But alas, this is a castella.....I've failed... failed, but won't give up.

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  54. I posted the disastrous castella on my blog today :)

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  55. I'm on my 5th attempt too, and you're inspiring me to keep pursuing that poreless texture! I'm in love with how the matcha version+ wild acacia honey tastes, but would really love to achieve perfect consistency too. I never realized that the you have to beat the flour into the batter: I've always folded it in haha..

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  56. Thanks for the recipe! Tried it but the top shrunk whilst cooling on the rack. Did it happen to your prior to the fifth attempt?

    The cake didnt turn out that creamy yellow. I used cane sugar. Did you use granulated or caster sugar?

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  57. Hi,

    Found you while surfing on Almost Bourdain. This sponge cake looks really lovely. I can't wait to give it a try. Cheers!

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  58. It looks really awesome! just like the ones sold at isetan xD

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  59. I just had to read this up Ju. Very lovely and PERFECt :D

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  60. This is fascinating!

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  61. I never got my kasutera right (texture and taste), cooling period for me now. Asked my hb and mil to buy from Japan for "food testing" instead. haha!

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  62. Hi Ju,
    You probably won't even see this comment anyway but I just have to tell you that you are my BAKING IDOL!
    My name is Christine and I bake for fun, and to relieve stress.
    For a 15yo,I've actually made many successful cakes before, but one cake that I cannot master is THE KASUTERA! Can you please post your own recipe, or repost Maki's recipe with your edits? please please PLEASE. I've had epic disasters where my 3 kasuteras have ended up looking like collapsed, burnt,dense tofu. No joke.
    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE POST YOUR EDITED VERSION PLEASE

    ps: I love your blog so much. Like, so, so much.


    Christine

    from down under, Australia. :)

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  63. Christine: Sweetie, it's such a finicky cake to make, I promised myself the moment I produced a decent one, I would never want to bake another again. Haha! It's too much trouble, and I really hate buying bread flour just for this. But if I do one day decide to do an encore, it will be because of your lovely comment. :)

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  64. hello The Little Teochew. I am glad that i stumbled into your blog. It was so wonderful. I tried this cake today and it was, by far the best cake that i have ever baked.Though it lacked the velvetty texture of the original castella, it was so soft and moist that i couldn't believe myself.I used AP flour instead of bread flour(it is not available in India) Next in list are the banana crumb muffins.Thank you so much for this post. May i add you to my blogroll..?

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  65. Youre castella cake looks stunning!!! How i wish i can make one as successful as yours! Can I use strong flour instead of bread flour? Would it be thesame? Please help. Thanks!

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  66. Lanie: Yes you can, but it won't be the same. You will not get that gelatinous texture that only bread flour can give. HTH.

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  67. i fall in love with your cake.... looks so beautiful

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  68. Oh my God, Ju! You have just given me another cake to obsess over. I am itching to try this one and I am barely getting over the cotton soft Japanese cheesecake. Thanks for the motivation! Simone.

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  69. Hello, I tried baking the castella cake. I followed the recipe on just hungry and I didn't have the problem with shrinking and I did end up with micro bubbles for the cake but I found that it was lacking greatly in moisture. I packaged it straight into a ziploc bag right out of the oven. My cake looked like the one on the just hungry website but my goal was your pictures. In order to get that velvety texture, do I have to use bread flour? Also did you use a wooden mold to bake yours? Hope to hear from you. Thanks.

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