Monthly Archives: April 2009

Japanese Pan @ ABC Culinary

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Osaka, Japan was to meet up with Sachiko.  Where would you like to go?  I can spend time with you on my off days on 3, 6, 9 April.  Sachiko wrote in her email exchange with me prior my travel.

I got to know Sachiko along the streets in Adelaide in 1997.  Both of us were travelling alone ~ she on a 6 month working holiday (ie. work while travel) in Australia and New Zealand, and I was on 2 week holiday in Adelaide.  Since then, we visited each other’s country and home and had travelled within Japan and around Singapore together.

I would like to make Japanese bread!  I told her I would like to visit a Japanese pastry kitchen but since it was not going to happen, I was going to learn to make bread instead.  I found a culinary website by ABC Culinary, it conducts casual classes but I couldn’t understand the content in Japanese.  So Sachiko made the enquiries and we registered ourselves for Japanese pan (pan = bread in Nihon-go) making class for 500 yen.  500 yen?  Is it just demo?  500 yen is equivalent to US$5, and I was doubtful.  Yes.  Sachiko confirmed it cost only 500 yen and the session was hands-on.  The promotion price was meant for first time attendees at ABC Culinary Studio, as an incentive to understand their courses and join their membership and sign up for certification courses.  All the classes were conducted in Japanese, Sachiko told me she would translate for me.  Ha!

On that day of lesson, we were to bring our own apron, a pair of indoor slippers and a towel.

The Topic:  Mayonnaise Egg Pan and Cranberry Pan.


We met at Umeda branch of ABC Culinary Studio.  We were introduced to our Instructor, Yamaguchi-san.  Actually both of us didn’t catch her name, I translated her Japanese name in kanji from the photo.  It turned out that Yamaguchi-san speaks Japanese, English and Italian, and pretty fluent in them even though she humbly pronounced her insufficiency in the foreign languages.  It was interesting because Sachiko had picked up Italian language too, spending a half year in Italy a few years ago to learn the language.

The group ratio was 1 instructor to maximum 5 students.  In our session that day, there were only 2 of us.  All the different sessions for bread and cakes were ongoing at the same time in an open concept.  One working table was shared by 2 sessions.  Initially I was surprised, then I realized it was possible because the Japanese are generally considerate in their manners and behaviour. 

The recipe was in Japanese, so Sachiko helpfully translated for me loosely over dinner later.  I had also taken some notes during the session so it helped.  The steps were simple – mix all the ingredients together, knead well, 1st proof, roll into balls, 2nd proof, form the shape, 3rd proof, into oven done.  Over the 2 hours there, the proofing time was a time for coffee break, chit chat and washing the equipment used.  I was joking to Sachiko that I felt like a Japanese housewife instead of a student.

I shared my observation with Sachiko – I noticed the instructors and students acted in manner so different from the speed and actions in the kitchens I am familiar with, whether at CIAML, at home or the hotel.  Take for example, the act of egg washing the final bread dough, the action was meticulously slow and looked nice.   Sachiko told me that in their society, they are conscious of what others thought of their actions and behaviour.  We both agreed though that as long as we are doing right in principles we do not really need to bother too much.

At the end of the session, we each ate 2 breads, and got to bring back 3 others in varieties.  It was an interesting way to interact with a friend other than the meals we shared together.  I also learnt a basic Asian bread dough to make, bake and eat all within 2 hours.  Cool!


My Fascination with A Simple Sponge Cake ~ Castella!

I have this fascination with a simple sponge cake I found in Japan.  It is Castella or to the Japanese, Kasutera (カステラ).  It is Portuguese in origin but the Japanese made it popular … or rather it originated from pão-de-ló, a portuguese cake.  Most of the castella cake businesses started in Nagasaki, a port town in Kyushu, and which was naturally influenced by imports from foreign ships in its early days.

~ Original Castella Cake from Fukusaya ~

~ Original Castella Cake from Fukusaya ~



In my first few weeks at CIAML, I asked Chef Sebastien about this cake.  I guess Castella is not popular outside Japan.  The other country where Castella is popular is Taiwan, since the country was previously occupied by Japanese for years in her history.  I wanted to know how the cake can be so evenly baked and cut.  I passed Chef a cd containing a pix of the cake, and a summary of some information I found on the net, and I believed he has not viewed the file on the cd yet.  Ha! 

During my recent trip to Osaka, I bought one from Fukusaya for BK and myself, and another bigger one to bring to the hotel where I was last attached to.  To many, it was just a 蛋糕,literally mean Egg cake.  Oh well, it is.  It is a sponge cake made of  sugar, flour and eggs, and starch syrup(?).  The original version is honey-flavoured.  Now it comes with Matcha flavoured and Cocoa flavoured.  Most of the pastry team at the hotel gobbled the cake before a second look, while a few appreciated the cake for the texture, taste, and simplicity.  Do you have the recipe?  The Pastry Chef asked.  I believed it is widely available on the net, it was the precision in baking resulting in a evenly flat cake and the packaging that made this cake special, at least to me.

I simply love it ~ a simple, honest and perfectly baked moist piece of art.   


Castella evenness

~ Castella evenness ~

It is a perfect cut!

BK and I shared half the cake over supper one night with hot milo, a local chocolate drink.  Then I got to finish the rest for breakfast over the last 2 mornings, because I got to wake up later than him to have a leisurely breakfast.  A light sugar crunch on the bottom, a subtle honey flavour, a light evenly fluffy texture, with a perfect flat brown top.

And the packaging ~ yes, you can trust the work of Japanese packaging.  Meticulously wrapped and boxed to keep the cubiod cake intact.

~ part of the packaging ~

~ part of the packaging ~


~ Castella box ~

I didn’t manage to take a picture of the full packaging, I was all ready to taste a huge mouthful.  Then another.  And another.


~ Matcha Castella from Bunmeido ~

~ Matcha Castella from Bunmeido ~

I searched in my digital pix collection and found a pix of the full packaging of a Matcha flavoured Castella I bought last year from Narita Airport, Japan.  I was transiting at the airport enroute from California to Singapore, and found the matcha version from 文明堂, or Bunmeido.  The Bunmeido version was pre-cut, also evenly. 

It is definitely not going to be my last bite for this simple sponge cake.  It was perfect-o!  My fascination continues

Oh My Sukiyaki!

Coming towards the end of my 2 week trip in Osaka, Sachiko invited BK and I to her home and she was going to cook us a home-cook dinner.  It was her off day from work, and also BK’s last day at the conference, so we were looking forward to spend some time together at her place.

Takoyaki or Sukiyaki?  Sachiko asked.  Sukiyaki, I said, as Sachiko just told me of a good takoyaki stall in America-mura in Namba area.  Is raw egg ok?  She asked.  Yes, I love the eggs in Japan ~ gleaming golden yolk.  The raw egg is used as a dipping sauce for Sukiyaki.  Sachiko confirmed that cooking sukiyaki will be very simple.

From Umeda station, we took a 10 min Hankyu train to the station near her home, followed by a 20 min walk.  Shall I come to the station to pick you? … No, we will come on our own, but we will call you when we get lost.  I was ready to challenge myself to recall the route to her home.  I had been to her home 3 times in the last 9 years, the last time being Dec 2003/Jan 2004.  I stayed at her home twice when I was in Osaka the first 2 times.  Anyhow, we mananged to find our way halfway to her home, and she accompanied us the rest of the way.


Sukiyaki is a delicious beef (known as niku in nihon-go) dish cooked in a broth consisting of cabbage, leek, straw mushrooms, tofu and itokonnnyaku (konnyaku like thread).  Sachiko started cooking when we settled comfortably at her home.  In a pot, she stir fried the selected beef slices.  When the colour changed from raw to medium rare, she added soy sauce and heaps of light brown sugar.  Then she added the rest of the ingredients.  Don’t you need to add some water for the broth?  I asked.   She explained that the water will come from the vegetable, even though she appeared to have added a lot of soy sauce and heaps of sugar, the water from the vegetable and sweetness from the meat and the fragrance from remaining ingredients will turn the dish into a delicious broth.  Usually sukiyaki is cooked at the table, but she decided to cook at the stove instead to minimise oiliness in the dining area.



Hmm… oishii…   meaning “delicious“.  The simplicity of the dish and the exuding flavour amazed us.  We had sukiyaki with Japanese sticky rice.  The dish went well with a beer or a light cocktail, I preferred to have it with Ooloong tea.  The sizzling dish made us hungry and we finished it in no time, slurpping the beef slices dipped in beaten raw eggs.


I also bought rolled cake with strawberry for all of us, Sachiko said.  Sachiko knew I tasted a lot of sweets during my trip, and was always amazed at the moist and fine cake sponge produced in Japanese cake products.  We spent time analyzing each sweet together during her last off day.  Japanese swiss rolls are popular and they make a huge business out of a simple sweet, many adapted with local ingredients … and the Japanese are creative, they win hands down in innovation, delicate presentation and superior service.  Each roll costs about 1000 yen or US$10.


BK ate 1/3 while Sachiko, and Hideko – her sister, and I shared the rest.  The cake was really se-go-i (meaning great), with light fresh cream and whole sweet strawberries.  Strawberries are in season right now.  She made us English tea to go with the cake.

What is your favourite Japanese dish?   Hideko asked.   It was a difficult question, as I love each trip to Japan and I couldn’t exactly pin-point a favourite though I may have favourite dishes associated with each region.  Osaka ramen, okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, negi-yaki … We chatted into midnight and left only to catch the last trains.   The warmth in the stomach gave comfort to a cool and at times chilly spring night.  Sachiko and us decided to meet again for dinner the following evening ~ my fav Negi-yaki (negi = leek, ~yaki = ~bbq), she decided on a place to introduce us good negi-yaki in Umeda. 


The underground path around Umeda station was closing when we arrived into Umeda.  From Umeda station, we took a half hour stroll back to our hotel at Nakanoshima area.  Contented.