"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Friday, February 11, 2011

Castella from Ukeian (烏鶏庵) – February 6, 2011

Castella is a Japanese cake, usually in the shape of a long rectangle with deeply browned top and bottom; and between the “burned” brown skins lies the golden sponge. Its origin traces back to Portugal in the form of pão de ló or alternatively, to Spain, bizcocho (yes, I think biscotti shares the root of this word - "baked twice").  Either way, it was brought to Japan by the zealous missionaries, who battled the ocean to travel half the world to spread the word of god; sweets apparently did not hurt in this endeavor even in this holy pursuit. What is this cake with such a complex lineage, not to mention a very long one? It is a simple cake made of sugar, eggs, flour and starch syrup – mind you, but no oil. The defining characteristics of this cake are the ultra rich egg-ness and the crunchy torbinado sugar crystals at the bottom, intentionally left by incompletely dissolved sugar.

Although the most famous castella is, without doubt, from Fukusaya (福砂屋), which has been making castella for close to four hundred years. However, I confess that the heavy traditional cavity-inducing sweetness had never appealed to me beyond the first few bites. Therefore, I had opted to order from a new – relatively speaking as there are many shinise (meaning “old stores” in Japanese) in the world of castella – shop called Ukeian, featuring the use of the eggs of silkies. In short, silkies are white chickens with black bones and flesh; at least that is what 烏骨鶏 literally translates to. Silkie eggs are renowned for its health benefits, the superior taste and the resilience so that they can be turned into fluffier and more elastic products.

When I held the cake in my hand – freshly ordered from Japan despite a ridiculous hold-up in New Jersey; a castella’s destiny seems to call for intercontinental travel, the weight was noticeably lighter than a customary castella. Ukeian noted the reduction of sugar to minimum in their castella in order to give more prominence to the silkie eggs. I presume, therefore, the lightness stemmed from not only sugar, but also flour and syrup. The texture, as my knife slid into the silkie castella, was more like a sponge cake – fluffier and more elastic than others – and each molecule seemed smaller and thus the surface more even – as in the difference between linen and cotton.
The cake exuded a wonderfully sweet egg aroma. The first cut of my folk gave me the very subtle caramel flavor of the top, but in no way was it bitter. The second bite of purely the golden sponge was delightful as the sugar and eggs were released fully into the mouth. For the third bite, I chose the bottom browned portion, in which the caramel flavor was more pronounced. However, the decrease of sugar seemed to have led to the disappearance of the fun crystal crunch at the bottom. With the airy texture and almost normal sweetness, the cake strayed far away from the traditional. The traditionalists would not approve of this cake as a true castella, and indeed, it might not be if strict rules were followed – the lack of sugar crystals! Nevertheless, it was artfully executed both in terms of esthetic and also gastronomic.

Ukeian (烏鶏庵)
Address:  4-22 Sainen, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan (石川県金沢市西念4丁目22)
URL:  http://www.ukokkei.co.jp/

No comments:

Post a Comment