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