Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baking in Japan

I made these cupcakes. Yum!!

Aside from running, baking is one of my favourite activities (they go hand in hand: running allows more indulging, and my motivation for running stems from my love of cakes). I'm not quite sure why I'm writing about baking in the midst of the August heat, but I've been in slight hibernation mode since returning from Shikoku, and I've somehow kept myself occupied with books, magazines, and sweets.

Baking can be rather challenging in Japan, due to the lack of ingredients, required appliances and space, but it's not impossible and I managed to make it work.

Here is a little guide to baking in Japan.

You can find all the basic baking ingredients at your local supermarket: flour, baking powder, sugar, chocolate chips, butter, milk. Most grocery stores have a small baking section, stocked with tiny bags of cake decorations, cake mixes, as well as cupcake tins. Everything is just a notch smaller and more expensive than back home, but it's there. Reading some packagings can be difficult if you don't know how to read kanji characters, but here are some of the staples you can easily locate, as they are written in katakana:

Baking powder


Vanilla essence

I prefer brown sugar

Certain ingredients such a powdered sugar, coconut, cocoa, and other types of flours are only available at import shops, but you can most likely find everything (at a cost!), as Japan does baking extremely well.

Most small apartments in Japan are not equipped with an oven, but you'll be surprised to find out that most microwaves in Japan double as an oven. There is a button that changes the function to oven, in katakana: オーブン

If not, a toaster oven is a cheap and convenient alternative to a full-size oven. I spent my first year in Shikoku baking tiny cakes and individual cupcakes in my toaster oven. It requires more time and patience, but the result is just as good. You can easily find cake tins of any size (and shape: try heart or star-shaped!) at the supermarket.

Once again, kitchens in most Japanese apartments do not offer much counter space, but that's the part where you can get creative. I usually would cover the stove with a cutting board and use the extra space, the top of the microwave, a coffee table, or a pile of books. No one has to know...

You can practically re-create any recipe you like, even if you have to adjust the quantities to fit a smaller oven, or substitute ingredients. Unlike cooking, baking does not allow much room for creative measuring, so make sure you calculate everything accordingly. Math never was my strongest skill, but it is necessary for baking.

Here is my favourite cupcake recipe, and it's very simple to make in Japan.

Buttercream Vanilla Cupcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon milk

Mix the sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the batter in individual lined tins, and bake for 17-20 minutes at 180 degrees C. Keep an eye on the cakes, as each oven varies, so stay near!

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons milk

Mix everything together until it becomes light and fluffy, it may take several minutes if you don't own a mixer, but be strong and patient.

Makes about 12 cupcakes, but feel free to do the math to downsize the recipe.



Judith said...

It really isn't as hard to bake here as I assumed it be. When I first moved over here, I had mentally kissed my baking days goodbye. However, I've been pleasantly surprised that most of my favorite recipes have not been hard to recreate here, even if they are a little more expensive. I can't get creative with different type of flours and anything that requires the use of a stand mixer is a little out of the question, but we still enjoy cakes, brownies, and cookies like we did back home. We splurged a little on a microwave that functions as a regular oven. I can do anything but a turkey in there, but really who needs that here?
As a side note, Amazon.jp has been very useful for me for purchasing items I can't find in large quantities here, like cocoa powder.

Judith said...

Oh and I'll have to try your vanilla cupcake recipe! Anytime I've tried a vanilla cake recipe it comes out super dry. Maybe it's me?

Noire said...

I love baking in Japan. All my treats are half the size, meaning half the calories.
I find I cook more now living in Japan as I'm unable to my favorites from back home. I make everything from scratch. I've become a little Martha Stuart.
One thing I'm having trouble finding for a decent price is rolled oats..

Vivian said...

Judith- Thanks for the tips!! Glad you like baking as well, and indeed we just have to adjust to whatever is around and the smaller sized ovens. This vanilla cupcake recipe should not be too dry, it's a tad crumbly but it depends on the butter/milk quantities I think.... Try it and let me know!

Noire- I agree!!! Half size is better, as I tend to eat everything I bake in like, one day.... haha. As for rolled oats, they're all quite hefty, maybe places like Costco would be cheaper, but I just get mine at the import shop and look out for sales...

Principessa said...

Aside from the name, I started following your blog because of your baking adventures in Japan. I wish I could make cupcakes and muffins but as of right now, I still don't have an oven. Perhaps, that's next on my list...after a bicycle.

Danny Klecko said...

This is one of the better baking posts I've read in the last couple of years, and I have read more than a few.
Good work here, and if you want me to repost this on my baking blog....

Just give me a shout.

Your friend....
Danny Klecko

Matthew said...

Noire - I have found cheap bags (big bags, about 1kg) of rolled oats at the wholesale supermarket - gyomu suupaa 業務スーパー. I think these stores are all over Japan.

Indonesia Gourmet Vanilla Beans said...

Interesting recipe when it use pure vanilla extract. Thank you for the information.