By Request

Betty Shimabukuro

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Japanese cheesecake
is addicting

Today's dish goes by many names -- Mushi Cake, Steamed Cheesecake, Soufflé Cheesecake, Golden Cheesecake.

Whatever the label, it is the Japanese version of Western cheesecake. You'll find it sold in snack-size portions in Japanese markets, packaged in plastic like Twinkies -- it's even the same golden color as Twinkies, but not at all similar in taste.

The Japanese import is less cheesy and more cakey than a standard cheesecake. There's really no comparison among Western pastries, so it's hard to explain. But if you try one, you'll likely be hooked.

As is June Williams, who buys a Shirakiku brand cake and sent in the ingredient list in hopes of nailing down a recipe.

A few recipes turned up on Japanese Web sites. Although written in English, much was lost in translation, so I went through three test batches. Two went straight into the trash.

In the end it turned out to be a fairly simple project. Mix up some cream cheese and milk with cornstarch (not flour). Separately whip up a meringue of egg whites and sugar. Combine and bake in a bain-marie, or water bath, which simply is a pan filled with water. One tip here: Most electric ovens vent through the back right burner on the stovetop. Be sure nothing is covering that burner when you're baking with a water bath.

The cake will rise considerably in the oven, then sink as the cake cools, to form a nicely textured, dense dessert. In Japan, this type of cake is often served with melted jam on top as a glaze.

Japanese Cheesecake

7 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup ultrafine sugar (see note)
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2-1/2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch cake tin (round or square) with cooking oil spray.

Beat cream cheese with milk to soften. Add half of the sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and lemon juice. Beat until smooth.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until foamy. Gradually add remaining sugar and cream of tarter, beating on high speed until soft peaks form, about 8 minutes. (If your kitchen is unusually warm or humid, it helps to chill the beaters and bowl. And always make sure both are completely dry.)

Gradually fold beaten egg whites into cream-cheese mixture, stirring gently until thoroughly combined. Pour into cake pan and smooth the surface. Place cake pan into a larger roasting pan and place in lower rack of oven. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come half-way up the side of the cake pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a rack, then unmold cheesecake.

Note: Ultrafine sugar, sometimes called caster sugar, is sold under the name Baker's Sugar by C&H. It is a professional-grade sugar, lighter than granulated sugar and preferred by many bakers. Find it in most grocery stores next to regular sugar.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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"By Request," Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
500 Ala Moana, No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813.
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Asterisk (*) after nutritional analyses in the
Body & Soul section indicates calculations by Joannie Dobbs of Exploring New Concepts,
a nutritional consulting firm.

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