The first year I lived in Japan, I was expecting to feel the most homesick around the Christmas holiday time. Looking back now, I definitely did miss the traditional holiday time with my family, but in terms of helping me to feel at home with Christmas displays and holiday cheer, I found that Japan held nothing back. My high school was located near Laketown, a massive shopping mall that was dizzying in scope. It was so decked out in holiday decorations that it put my hometown holiday commercial displays to shame.
One of the most ubiquitous displays of Christmas in Japan that caught my eye were Christmas Cakes (クリスマスケキー). The most common Japanese Christmas Cake is composed of sponge cake, a whipped cream topping, and a festive decoration of strawberries.
Having researched soft power and cultural influence in college, I decided to dig in a little deeper to examine this Christmas Cake tradition. According to this npr aticle, only about 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. So why the devotion to Christmas? Christmas Cakes first came onto the scene in Japan after World War II. At the time, food in general and sugary treats were not widely available, and the Japanese economy was reeling. American soldiers were the leading force behind rebuilding occupied Japan, and they occasionally gave out sweets like chocolate. Sweets became a symbol of a Japanese desire for monetary prosperity and Americanization. Japanese people began to embrace Christmas and Christmas Cake after the war as the epitome of abundance.
The colors of the Japanese Christmas Cake are also rich with meaning. The cakes are red and white, like the Japanese flag. The cakes are also typically round, which associates them with shrines in Japan. The Christmas Cake is a wonderful example of Japan modifying something from the West to fit its own needs.
Another fun fact, because the Christmas Cakes go on sale after the 25th of December, some old Japanese slang was born. “Christmas cake” was once used to refer to an unmarried woman who was over 25, i.e., past her prime. I guess that makes me a Christmas Cake!
I made this cake using The Spruce Eats’ sponge cake recipe, linked here. Between each layer I slathered on fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries, cut into quarters. A Christmas Cake isn’t complete without Santa, so I made some little Santa munchkins out of strawberries, whipped cream, and mini chocolate chips. You can consider adding sugared rosemary or a fresh sprig of mint for a pop of holiday green coloration.
Thanks for learning a little more about the Japanese Christmas Cake tradition with us! メリークリスマス from Hadley Go Lucky!
As an art educator and a free spirit, my mom has undoubtedly opened creative doors for me. I grew up on a hobby farm in rural Illinois, which means that my childhood was marked by seasonal waves of baby chicks and ducklings, prairie burns that we tell ourselves we had control of, and the occasional biblical-style dust storm (truly). Living in the middle of nowhere meant that we really didn’t have neighbors to look over the fence and wonder what the heck we were doing with the place, or why.
One particularly memorable creative project from my childhood was my little garden in front of the house, inspired by the sweet children’s book “Mandy” by Julie Edwards. My mom gave me free reign over a little plot of soil. Granted, it was a small sliver in the larger scheme of our two acres, but a prominent sliver. In the late winter, I would diligently look through Burpee seed catalogs, cut out my favorite colors and plant varieties, and collage a garden plan. Then, we would order the seeds and plant seedlings indoors, to be transplanted in the warmer months. I transformed the scrap of land into a chaotic celebration of floral color, pollinators, and the occasional cherry tomato plant, and the garden transformed me into someone that cares about adding beauty to the world, even if only a few people will ever see it.
I’m in the big city now, barely keeping some fussy house plants alive, and longing for the wilder, large scale creative projects that come the most naturally to me. While my creative life as a child propelled me to seek bigger and more formidable challenges as an adult and to confront these challenges with an urban backdrop, I’ve found that my searching for these things often feels like a step towards boxing myself in; creating walls where there once were tilled fields and a horizon line. During this quarantine, I’ve found myself especially missing my mom, rural Illinois, and the creativity they afforded.
I know that when I visit home again, every surface will still be covered in my mom’s handmade ceramic pots, cats, or both. There will be chaos everywhere, but it is my privilege to find order in the chaos and draw upon it for my own artistic pursuits, whether that’s the cakes that I create or the delirious scribbles in my many journals that hover around my apartment like friendly ghosts.
The Spring Matcha Cake is dedicated to my mom and all moms. It is a perfect project to embrace the new season, especially if you’re cooped up inside. Three layers of luscious matcha cake are covered in silky matcha cream cheese frosting. In between each layer, there’s a satisfying store of semisweet chocolate ganache. The top of the cake is decorated in Pocky white chocolate flowers, sprinkled with dried rose petals and edible glitter. Even if you can’t enjoy eating this cake with your mom right now, I encourage you to make it anyway. Give her a call while you’re waiting to pull it from the oven.
Scroll down for the recipe!
For the Cake
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups AP flour
2 tbsp matcha powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 5-inch or 6-inch baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and line them with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Whisk together.
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the wet ingredients. On low speed, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
When combined and smooth, pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes).
Let cool. Remove from pan.
When the cakes are completely cool, cut them to achieve 4 even layers. Set aside three of these layers for your cake. Snack on the fourth!
For the Frosting
1 227-gram bar cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon matcha powder
Cream together the room temperature cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer.
Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar.
Add 1 tbsp matcha, or to taste.
For the Ganache
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat.
Once simmering, at chocolate chips. Do not touch for 1 minute.
Stir until smooth. Leave at room temperature for about 1 hour to achieve spreadable ganache.
For the Pocky Flowers
1 package matcha Pocky sticks
1 bag white chocolate chips
Dried flowers, such as rose petals or lavender
Sprinkles or edible glitter
Food coloring of choice
Prepare a baking sheet with wax paper. Arrange a few Pocky sticks on the paper, spaced apart. Make sure your baking sheet fits inside of your fridge, or use a flat plate instead!
In a small bowl, heat the white chocolate chips in a microwave in 30-second intervals. Stir until the entire bowl of chocolate is melted.
Stir in your desired food coloring.
Fill a small piping bag with a small piping tip with the chocolate.
Pipe chocolate on top of each Pocky stick in a flower pattern.
While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on your desired dried flower petals, edible glitter, or other decoration.
Let chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Put a dollop of frosting on a cake board and securely place your first cake layer. Pipe frosting along the perimeter of the layer to create a dam. Fill with ganache. If your frosting or ganache are very wet, you will need to chill your cake before repeating this step and building on top of each layer. Cover the outside of your cake with matcha frosting as well as sprinkled dried flower petals, if desired. Once chilled, decorate your cake with Pocky flowers.