Japanese Christmas Cake

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!

Think Pink Lemonade Bars

What’s the first fruit that comes to mind when you think of “summer”?

I think of lazy days on my grandma’s patio, and the taste of sour-sweet pink lemonade.  To me, strawberries and lemons blend to create a magical summer hybrid. This memory of lazy, fruity days contrasts drastically from my feelings right now of being very stuck indoors in New York, a sentiment that we’re all coping with in the United States.  It can be difficult to get into that summer spirit when we aren’t seeing friends or doing the fun things we think of when we want to connect during a balmy summer in the city. That being said, we need to stick to the rules so that we can pull ourselves out of this pandemic mess.

These Pink Lemonade Bars are full of tart lemon mingling with luscious strawberry. The bars are an alluring light pink, dusted with a pinch of powdered sugar, and garnished with strawberry slices and fresh flowers. They are the pure, polar opposite of the tumult we are experiencing this summer. Each bite transports you to a magical outdoor party, complete with your favorite tangy summer memories.

What else is inspiring me this month, besides anecdotes from summers past? 

This Dior Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 video captured my attention recently. Whether you are fashion-forward or comfy and content, Dior’s miniature clothes being prepared for mermaids and other mythical creatures and characters will fascinate and enchant you. Can you guess which stylish creature is my favorite? It will be interesting to see how other fashion brands showcase their designs as the pandemic wears on.

I’ve been enjoying the recipe and restaurant posts by Dom of Dom N’ The City. Her food photography makes me want to lick the computer screen. Check out her recent blog post for a list of some Black-owned businesses to support in Brooklyn.

The Qi floral tea is a beautiful whole flower tea that blossoms in your cup. It’s soothing just to watch the flowers unfurl in a glass mug. A cup of calm is exactly what you need sometimes, especially during months like these.   

The television show Devs captured our attention on Hulu, initially because we are fascinated with Nick Offerman in any role beyond Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation. This ominous show about a tech company in Silicon Valley had us contemplating the future of Big Tech, determinism, and the nature of life itself.

Enough chit-chat. Scroll down for this summery Think Pink Lemonade Bars recipe!

Ingredients:

(Makes about 12 bars)

For the Crust:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

For The Filling:
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3-4 tsp lemon zest
3/4 cup chopped strawberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a baking pan with parchment and spray with a nonstick cooking spray (I used a 9×13 inch pan). I like to leave some extra parchment along the edges, so that the bars are easier to pull out when they are done baking.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar for the crust together until light and fluffy. Then, incorporate the flour and salt. Your dough will be slightly crumbly.
  4. Line your prepared pan with your dough. Pack it into each corner so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust begins to brown along the edges.
  6. Blend the strawberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs in a food processor. Add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until smooth.
  7. Once smooth, pour the filling over your prepared crust.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top of the bars begins to look slightly brown. Take out off the oven and let cool.
  9. Sift on a layer of powdered sugar. Cut and serve.

Recipe adapted from The Baker Upstairs.