Learn how to make a matcha Castella cake in the third part of our ‘Cake around the world’ recipe series with Zoe Burmester, along with a brief history of this delicious Japanese sponge cake.
In the first part of our ‘Cake around the world’ series, we showed you how to make a Valentine’s pavlova with a cherry chocolate topping, followed by a Colomba di Pasque in part two. Today, we’re heading to Japan to learn about the delicious Castella cake, complete with a video tutorial showing you how to make it! It’s over to Zoe Burmester, a.k.a. Sugar Street Studios.
Matcha Castella cake
What is a Castella cake?
Castella cake (or ‘Kasutera’ cake as it's known locally) is a Japanese sponge cake with a tradition of more than 400 years. Like the Japanese themselves, it’s a cake that’s understated and polite, but while it’s found all over Japan it was in fact brought to the country by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th Century.
At the time, Nagasaki was the only Japanese port open for trade with foreigners, and along with exotic treasures such as tobacco, sugar and pumpkins, the Portuguese also introduced this distinctive cake to the local community. The cake could be stored for many months on long ship journeys (due to its lack of butter) and as a dairy free product with familiar basic ingredients, this sailor staple became popular throughout Nagasaki.
So, while Castella is distinctly Japanese and can now be found all over Japan in airports, train stations and cafes and is sold in pre-wrapped slices for the mega snack, the cake itself is of Portuguese origin. The name is derived from the Portuguese Pao de Castela, meaning ‘bread of the Castile’, and as such there is no known cake called Castella in Portugal. Something obviously got lost in translation all those centuries ago!
What’s in a Castella cake?
Castella is characterised by three things – its lack of dairy, simplicity of ingredients and its light bouncy texture. For a cake of few ingredients, it’s surprisingly moist and this is helped by wrapping the cake when warm and then chilling it in the fridge overnight.
Made of eggs, sugar and flour there are now many variations found in Japan with the most popular additions being honey and powdered green tea. They are traditionally sold in long blocks and are cut neatly in thick slices with the sides being trimmed to expose the fluffy white interior. Bread flour is a key ingredient as the added gluten in bread flour accounts for the bouncy super fine texture, so don’t be tempted to swap in plain flour. As there are so few ingredients in this cake you really do taste it all, so opt for quality honey and matcha powder if you are using it.
It’s traditionally served with tea and can be wrapped in parchment and stored for a week... if it lasts that long!
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How to make a Japanese matcha Castella cake
Fun fact! When Castella cake was first introduced to Japan, ovens didn’t exist and so the local people created a bespoke pan with a lid called a “hiki gama'' to cook the cake over a stove. Later I’ve read that it’s traditional to bake a Castella in a cardboard or newspaper enforced box… the reason being that it does not conduct heat as strongly as a metal cake tin. A slow even bake is what is needed to preserve that light structure. For our purposes, we use a double layer of greaseproof paper inside a square or loaf tin to help diffuse the heat.
You will need
For the cake
- 75g runny honey
- 2½ tbsp boiling water
- 6 eggs
- 200g caster sugar
- 200g bread flour (sifted twice)
- 1½ tbsp food grade matcha powder
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- ½ tbsp hot water
- Cake mixer with whisk attachment or electric whisk
- 9x9in square pan
- Pastry brush
- Greaseproof paper
- Preheat the oven to 160C/325F.
- Prepare your tin by cutting parchment to the correct size and then scrunching it in your hands. Open it out and place the crumpled paper inside the tin. Now take a second layer of greaseproof paper (again cut to fit your tin) and place this on top of the first layer to give a double lining.
- Mix your honey and hot water together and put to one side.
- Now crack your eggs into a bowl or place into the cake mixer if using, and whisk together for a few minutes until the eggs are nice and frothy. Slowly add in the 200g caster sugar and continue to whisk the eggs on high speed for about eight minutes. You want the mixture to double in volume and become thick and pale yellow in colour. Ribbons should form on the egg mixture when you lift the whisk.
- Add the honey mixture and mix into the eggs on a lower setting.
- Sieve together the bread flour and matcha powder and add into the egg mixture one third at a time, folding as you go by hand. If you prefer you can still use the mixer but do not over combine. You want to keep the mixture as light as possible.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and mix the honey and hot water together and brush the top of the cake with a pastry brush.
- Release the cake from the paper and while it's still warm, wrap it in cling film and place in the fridge overnight.
- The following day, remove the cake from the fridge and unwrap. Cut the square cake into three sections and trim the sides to expose the light green interior. Cut into thick slices and serve with tea.
- It’s really important to whisk your eggs well until they're thick and creamy and leave ribbons when you lift up the whisk. It's the air that will account for the rise in the cake.
- If you don’t like matcha leave it out and add in a 1tsp of vanilla instead to enhance the honey flavour.
- The double liner will help diffuse heat and give for a gentler bake ensuring your Castella doesn’t rise and collapse in the middle.
Happy baking! Looking for more sponge tips? Check out our handy guide on how to make a beautifully moist and soft sponge every time!