Japanese strawberry shortcake is an ethereally light and creamy dessert made of deliciously moist and fluffy sponge cake layers, filled with sliced strawberries in Chantilly cream. Decorate with luscious whole strawberries and cream – and – for that extra special yummm, sprinkle lavishly with white chocolate curls!
My, oh my! Has it been over three months since I’ve posted anything??? I’ve been super busy, life has been super hectic, but here’s the icing on the cake, I’ve been doing really great with stuff that stokes my passion! March saw me busy with culinary courses. April and May came, and whoosh… a lot of birthdays happened and quite unexpectedly, I found myself swept off my feet with festive baking, experimenting with wonderfully creative and decorative elements that went into making celebration cakes.
Then I was off to Japan for 15 glorious days for the better part of May! Now, I’ve returned feeling invigorated and so tremendously inspired by all the Japanese culinary creations of traditional and Western-inspired sweet treats, cakes and desserts. It was mind-blowing!
But I’m sticking to just cakes, because that’s all I’ve been thinking of since I arrived home. Not just any cake, but a Japanese strawberry shortcake.
I might be forgiven for thinking that the Japanese strawberry shortcake is probably the most popular cake in the country, because everywhere I turned or looked around in the city, these pretty red and white, strawberries and cream dessert can be found at almost every Japanese cafe, bakery and food market.
As a Western-inspired dessert, it could probably pass off as the country’s national dessert due to it’s immense appeal and popularity… that is, if I didn’t know any better!
And really, how much more simple and fuss-free can this cake be? Essentially, the Japanese strawberry shortcake is a vanilla sponge cake that’s layered and filled with Chantilly cream and sliced strawberries, and frosted all around and topped with more Chantilly cream and decorated with whole strawberries. It’s ethereally light and creamy, and none too sweet, perfect for tea, any occasion or no occasion at all.
But when I decided to make this cake, I did have a special occasion – it was my hub’s birthday – and let me just say, that for someone who’s never been keen on cream, this is the only cream cake I know that has my hub chowing down on plenty of cake and every streak of cream off his plate (I did use non-dairy whip topping cream instead of dairy whipping cream, more on that later…), after which came a final and fully-realised declaration that it was the best cake he’d ever tasted, and his absolute favourite.
Now, the Japanese version of strawberry shortcake is extraordinarily delicious because of the incredibly soft and tender sponge cake, and sweeter-than-sweet Japanese-grown strawberries. Luckily, for those of us in tropical Singapore, we have easy access to quality strawberries from Japan, as well as Korea and the USA, so try to buy the sweetest variety you can at the price you’re comfortable to fork out money for – it will make all the difference!
Okay, finding sweetish strawberries – I can handle and I’m sure you could too, easy peasy. Next, aaahhh…. the sponge cake! Not so easy at first for me…it’s not for lack of sponge cake recipes, but I wanted an extraordinarily delicious one for an extraordinarily delicious strawberry shortcake!
I’d always relied on my favourite vanilla chiffon cake, which turns out a wonderful cake by the way, but the perfectionist in me was always aspiring for something more, something better. And then, just like that, as if to answer my prayers, sister-in-law #3 (I have 6) gave me this recipe, way back from the 1980’s or 1990’s. I won’t lie, I seriously had my doubts as to how good could this old recipe really be.
But OMG, I couldn’t be more wrong, this is the best sponge cake I’ve ever made…and I mean it, the B-E-S-T! I’ve now made this many times over, and it’s absolutely a winner!
This sponge cake is incredibly soft, very moist and so, so velvety-smooth on the tongue. It has just the perfect level of sweetness, which is not too sweet, so if you have slightly sweeter fruit fillings like canned fruit or berry compote, it will work out beautifully and you won’t need to fiddle with the amount of sugar in the recipe.
The key to this sponge cake’s super soft and tender texture are the types of flour used. Most sponge cake recipes call for pastry flour or cake flour, but this recipe uses Optima flour (you can substitute with any brand of sponge cake mix) and Hong Kong flour.
If you can’t get these flours in your locale, you can use cake or pastry flour and still get a tender and moist sponge cake, though the texture will not be as smooth. However, as Optima flour has sugar added into the flour mix (try sifting this and you’ll have granulated sugar left on your sieve), you may need to increase sugar in the recipe if you’re substituting with these other flours.
Sponge cakes can be a little tricky, and more often than not, hit-and-miss, but they’re not tough nuts to crack. You just need to practise and hone your skills. I’d have to dedicate an entire post on this sponge cake recipe, which I promise is being put together as we speak.
But here’s the gist – the key to a perfect sponge cake are to ensure that you follow the instructions precisely, measure all the ingredients exactly, learn to recognise when the egg whites have whipped sufficiently to stiff peaks (without over-whipping), and fold with a gentle and quick hand, always in one direction, repetitively scooping the batter from the bottom of the bowl and turning it over on top, like making the letter ‘J’, whilst turning the bowl so that you’re systematically mixing around the batter.
Finally, what’s a strawberry shortcake without the luscious, light and airy whipped cream, huh? I mean, strawberries and cream has got to be one of the most wonderful combos ever in the desserts universe!
Usually, I use dairy whipping cream (with at least 35% fat) but as of late, I’ve begun switching to non-dairy whipping cream for fillings, as well as for toppings and frostings. I love this type of cream as they aren’t as dense or heavy as dairy whipping creams, but are light and airy, which makes it the perfect type of cream to fill and dress up this light strawberry shortcake. Chantilly cream is essentially whipped cream, it’s just another name that sounds fancy!
Whip topping creams are usually sweetened a bit (I like to use RED MAN brand), so if you prefer to use dairy whipping cream (30-35% fat), you will need to add some sugar (I’ve suggested the amount of sugar in the recipe for this). So, feel free to use dairy whipping cream if you want a rich and super creamy taste in your cake. Avoid using heavy cream (36-38% fat) or heavy double cream (48% fat), as this type of cream is very heavy and dense on your palette, and hence, not ideal for Japanese strawberry shortcake.
I hope you’ll try this and share with me your thoughts and impressions of this ever popular Japanese-inspired cake! As always, I’d love to see your bakes, so do share your pics if you’re on Instagram by tagging @foodelicacy.
Japanese Strawberry Shortcake
For the sponge cake:
- 4 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 2 oz water
- 2 1/2 oz vegetable oil
- 1/8 tsp butter oil or vanilla extract
- 4 oz optima sponge mix
- 2 oz Hong Kong flour
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 4 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 1/4 oz caster sugar
For the Chantilly cream:
- 600 g whip topping cream (or substitute with whipping cream)
- 30 g caster sugar (only for whipping cream)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the strawberry filling and topping:
- 16-18 whole strawberries, dry
- 30 g white chocolate curls
Make the Sponge Cake:
- Pre-heat oven to 165°C (330°F) with baking shelf placed on the lowest rack in the oven. Do NOT grease the cake pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine optima flour, Hong Kong flour and baking soda and stir with a whisk to mix well.
- In another mixing bowl, place egg yolks, water, vegetable oil, butter oil (or vanilla extract). Use a whisk to stir until well mixed. Sprinkle in flour-soda mixture from step (2), 1 to 2 tbsps at a time, stirring with a whisk to mix well, before adding more. Mix until mixture is smooth and free of lumps.
- Place egg whites and cream of tartar into a dry and grease-free mixer bowl. Using a hand-held or electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip on high speed until egg whites turn frothy. Sprinkle in the sugar a little at a time, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
- Add one-third of the whipped egg white mixture to the wet flour mixture from step (3), fold gently by hand with a spatula. Then add all the remaining whipped egg whites and fold gently, moving always in one direction, until well mixed.
- Pour out into prepared cake pan and level the surface. Gently tap the pan on the counter a few times to eliminate air pockets. Bake at 165°C (330°F) for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done. To test: (a) Insert a skewer into the centre of the the cake, it is done when it emerges clean and free of sticky batter; AND/OR (b) press your fingers gently on the centre, the cake is done if it feels pillowy and springs back to the touch; AND/OR (c) insert an instant-read thermometer into the centre of the cake, the cake is done when it's internal temperature reaches 98°C (210°F).
- Once immediately out of the oven, invert the cake pan onto a cooling rack, and let it 'hang' for 15 minutes. Turn the cake pan back on its base, run a knife around the pan to loosen the sides and remove the cake. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, if you choose to wash your strawberries, make sure that they are patted very dry with paper towels. Choose 13 (more or less) of the nicest strawberries for decorating the top of the cake. Slice the rest for the filling.
Make Chantilly cream:
- Place the mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the chiller or freezer for at least 30 mins. Make sure whip topping cream (or substitute with whipping cream) is kept chilled until ready for whipping. When ready, place the whip topping cream (or substitute with whipping cream) and vanilla extract in the mixer bowl. (Note: Add sugar only if using whipping cream)
- Using a hand-held or electric mixer, whisk on high speed until the cream just starts to thicken - you will start to see the whisk lines faintly trailing in the cream as you whisk. Reduce to medium speed, continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.Cover with cling wrap and keep chilled until ready to use. (Note: Be careful not to over-whip as whipped cream goes from soft to stiff very quickly – over-whipped cream will start to turn buttery. If this happens, you will have to start over with a fresh batch of cream).
Complete the cake:
- Slice the sponge cake into 3 layers. Spoon some Chantilly cream onto one layer and spread evenly. Arrange half of strawberry slices evenly over the cream,leaving the edge of the cake clear by half an inch (1-cm), and top with enough Chantilly cream to cover the slices.
- Place the second sponge layer on top. Spoon some Chantilly cream onto the second layer and spread evenly. Arrange the remaining strawberry slices evenly, leaving the edge of the cake clear by half an inch (1-cm). Top with enough cream to cover the slices.
- Finally, place the third layer on top. Spread enough Chantilly cream to cover the top and sides of the cake, reserving some for decorating.
- Transfer the remaining Chantilly cream to a piping bag fitted with a tip of your choice. Pipe a border all around on top. Decorate the bottom of the cake with a border of white chocolate curls, if desired.
- Chill the frosted cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving. When ready to serve, arrange whole strawberries in the centre of the cake. Sprinkle remaining white chocolate curls over the strawberries, if desired.