Outside the City

Slippers ready at the entrance
Always remove shoes in the house

Not everything is ultra-modern in Japan. In fact, outside of the large cities like Tokyo or Osaka, life is recognisable across any culture. From the end of April to the beginning of May, Japan has 'revenge' to spring break or Easter holidays. Depending on how the national holidays fall, you can have quite a long break without tapping your leave. Golden Week, as it is known, is the worker's salvation until the next holiday season in August. 

I had a get-together with friends during Golden Week to bake the infamous cheesecake and other delights.

House sits on a hillside
Not an easy walk with groceries

All preparations are ready in the kitchen !
Ladder is to the loft


Living room is cleaned
Paper screens replace traditional curtains

Beautiful Dishes

There is a neighbourhood in Tokyo called Kappabashi (Kitchen Town) that sells restaurant and cooking supplies. Everything that you could possibly imagine for the kitchen is sold there. If they don't have it, perhaps you didn't really need it in the first place.

Beautiful red bowls
I always shop there with a list since my brain goes into overload after entering the first store. Too many great things to buy and just not enough storage at home to fit it all in.

Here are some of the dishes I was looking at today.  Wish I could have them all.
I love blue dishes - I bought one of them
More red
A great dish for the spring or summer
Designs are wonderful
May not be practical but gorgeous

The infamous plastic food
Artwork on one of the buildings :)

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Wow, this tastes great!!! This is adapted from a recipe from the Cook's Illustrated magazine (March/April 2012).

56 grams butter
240 grams bread flour
25 grams non-fat milk powder
20 grams sugar
1/2 tablespoon instant dry yeast
130 grams warm water
1/2 half egg - mixed
5 grams salt
1 cup raisins

Cinnamon filling:
25 grams powdered sugar
3 grams cinnamon
vanilla extract

1. Cut the butter into small pieces.
2. Mix the flour, non-fat milk and yeast in a bowl. Add water and egg. Mix using a pastry scraper - then place on board and knead until well mixed. Cover with a bowl and let rest 20 minutes.
3. After dough rests, add the salt and knead so that the dough becomes soft. If the dough is too
stiff, add a little water until dough becomes soft. Let dough sit under a bowl again for about 10 minutes.
4. After dough rests, add the butter and knead again so that the butter is well incorporated into the dough and it is soft. Let rest under a bowl for about 10 minutes.
5. Knead in the raisins and roll into a smooth ball. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic. Place in a warm place and let rise for 45 minutes.
6. After 1st rise, lightly fold the bread and roll into a ball. Cover again and let rise for 45 minutes in a warm place.
7. After rising, divide the bread into two equal pieces and roll into balls. Cover with plastic and let sit for 20 minutes (bench time).
8. Make cinnamon filling - sift the powdered sugar and add the cinnamon and vanilla and mix.
9. Flatten each ball and sprinkle the cinnamon on top. Gently roll the ball into a log shape. Make each shape the same length.
10. Braid the two shapes neatly. Gently fold them and place into a buttered baking pan and brush with egg. Cover with plastic and let rise for 1 hour.
11. Brush with egg again after rising and bake at 210 degrees (Celsius) for 30 - 40 minutes depending on your oven. During the last part of the baking you may want to cover with foil so the bread top does not burn.

Use the pastry scraper to mix in the butter

Roll the dough into a ball before the 1st rise

Bread should be plump after the rising
Cover the dough and let rest for about 20 minutes (bench time)

Brown Sugar & Fresh Ginger Financiers

This is a great combination. The brown sugar and fresh ginger create a delicious tangy flavor. I would also add this to the 'go to' list when you need something quick to bring to a party.

Voila -- the finished product!!


60 grams almond powder
60 grams flour
100 grams unsalted butter
120 grams egg white
100 grams brown sugar (super fine)
4 grams freshly grated ginger
Small pieces of nuts for topping - pine nuts and walnuts
  1. Heat the butter in a saucepan until it becomes lightly browned. The butter goes thru several stages of bubbly to browning. Be careful since the butter can burn very quickly! When finished, put in a bowl and let it cool.
  2. Sift the almond powder, flour & brown sugar flour together. 
  3. Whip the egg whites until they are stiff - add about 1 teaspoon granular sugar half way through the process to get the egg whites nice & stiff.
  4. Add the almond powder mixture to the egg whites. Use a spatula to mix together. Add the browned butter and mix well. 
  5. You can either use financier molds or other small containers for baking. Fill each container about 90% full and  top with a couple of pieces of walnuts and pine nuts.
  6. Bake at 200 degrees (Celsius) for about 20 minutes.

Browned butter on the right side
Traditional financier pans - buttered & floured
Sprinkle nuts on top before baking


Lemon Cheesecake

Cheesecake in Japan can be found in just about every bakery & supermarket. Some shops are specialized in cheesecakes and have a high reputation -- if cheesecake is your thing. I am not usually a big fan of cheesecake since it reminds of  Ritz crackers. 

Always good to compare recipes before starting
The fresh cream in this recipe helps to soften the cream cheese and give it a more sophisticated taste. Give it a try. To convert grams to cups, etc. this is a good site.

Pie Crust
75 grams unsalted butter (cold)
45 grams powdered sugar
20 grams almond powder
25 grams egg
125 grams flour
1 gram baking powder
  1. Put  flour in a bowl and lightly whisk it to add air. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Use a pastry cutter to mix in the butter. Can also use fingers to mix in the butter - should be blended well.
  2. Sift in the powdered sugar, almond powder and baking powder. Mix using spatula or pastry card. Add in the egg and mix. 
  3. Put on a board and use the heal of your hand to mix everything to ensure it is a smooth texture. Do no not handle dough too much since it will get soft very quickly.
  4. Shape into a ball and flatten. Cover with plastic and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so before rolling out. 

Put in frig before using

Cheesecake Filling
250 grams soft cream cheese
80 grams granular sugar
100 grams fresh cream (36%)
25 grams flour
10 grams cornstarch
1 egg and 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
5 grams Lemoncello liquor (or similar liquor)
20 grams lemon curd (for spreading on the cheesecake after baking)
  1. Add the lemon zest to the fresh cream.  In a bowl, mix the egg & egg yolks together.
  2. Soften the cream cheese in bowl then add the sugar and mix well so that the cream cheese is not lumpy.
  3. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and add to above - mix well using  a spatula.
  4. Add the egg to the cream cheese mixture - add in portions and mix well. Use a spatula or small whisk. The batter should begin to become more liquid-like.  Add the cream gradually while mixing. Add in the liquor.
  5. Use a bar mix for a few minutes to remove any remaining lumps.
This zester is great - you'll never use anything else

Use a bar mix to smooth the batter

Putting things together
  1. Roll out the dough so that it fits to a round pan. Cover the inside with baking paper and add baking beans. Bake at 160 degrees (Celsius) for 30 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and bake for another 15 minutes (don’t let it become too dark).
  2. Pour the cheesecake filling into the cooked pie crust  and bake at 160 degrees (Celsius) for 30 - 40 minutes depending on your oven. Remove from the oven when the top is lightly browned.
  3. Cool after removing from the oven. Lightly warm the lemon curd and brush on top. 
Pre-bake the pie shell using the 'beans'

The lemon curd adds the finishing touch

The perfect piece of cheesecake


Welcome Spring

I couldn't pass up buying these cute jelly candies in the store today.  They are filled with sweet bean paste.

The cherry blossoms have finished in the Tokyo area but farther north they are just blooming.

Hope you are enjoying spring weather.


Rainy Weekend Baking

It rained all day Saturday and was quite chilly so the best place to be was inside.  I took a look around the cupboards to see what I could make and luckily had enough of the right stuff to put together a batch of cookies.

Even after baking, I had energy leftover for decoration. I am really a beginner when it comes to cookie decoration but every once in awhile I like to try to practice to see if my skills have improved at all. May be I need to be more consistent with the practice to improve.

Chocolate Cookie Recipe
(recipe adapted from LilaLoa)

125 grams unsalted butter
15 grams shortening
100 grams sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 grams baking powder
30 grams cocoa powder
190 grams flour

1. Mix the butter and shortening with a small whipper until well mixed. Add the sugar and mix well. Should be smooth.
2. Add the egg in portions to above and mix well.
3. Add the vanilla, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder (sift the cocoa powder) to the above. Mix well.
4. Sift the flour and to the above - mix in portions. Can use a spatula to mix together.
5. Knead lightly so that it is well mixed. Flatten and cover with plastic. Put in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before using.
6. Dough will be stiff when you start to use it, but be careful since it will soften quickly.
7. Roll dough and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 170 Celsius for about 20 minutes (ovens vary so check cookies periodically).
8. Cool before decorating.