Japanese sponge cakes have in general lighter and softer texture than those I get in Australia, and possibly other Western countries. The texture is almost like my Cotton Cheesecake. The most popular sponge cake by far in Japan is today’s recipe Strawberry Sponge Cake. Japanese people call this Strawberry Shortcake.
It is basically a sponge cake covered with cream, with strawberries on top. Sliced strawberries and cream are often sandwiched inside.
Strawberry Shortcake means different things in different countries
Wikipedia states that the shortcake originated in England in the late 16th century. The original shortcake was not just a sponge cake but could also be a biscuit-based cake, with fruit.
The American version of strawberry shortcake is a biscuit with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
In France, so called ‘shortcake’ does not exist but there is a strawberry cake that is a pink sponge cake with pink frosting, all made with strawberries as the primary ingredient.
The Japanese version of strawberry shortcake is a hybrid of the American version and the French version. The cake is a sponge cake with natural colour but the decorations are similar to that of the American version.
Instead of strawberries, you can use other fruits to decorate the cake and it is still called a shortcake in Japan. If you make it with slices of peach, you call it a peach shortcake. If mixed berries are used, it becomes a mixed berry shortcake, like this cake below.
But, strawberry shortcake became so popular in Japan that the word ‘shortcake’ became synonymous with Japanese Strawberry Shortcake.
Japanese Strawberry Shortcake and Christmas
The Japanese version of shortcake was developed by the confectionary and restaurant chain, Fujiya (不二家) in the early 20th century.
The entrepreneur of Fujiya travelled to the US and encountered the US version of strawberry shortcakes. When he returned from the US, he replaced the biscuit in the US version with sponge cake, as the softer texture of the cake was more suited to the Japanese palate.
To market the newly invented Strawberry Shortcake, Fujiya sold it as a Christmas cake and encouraged people to eat it on Christmas day.
If you visit a cake shop or the cake section of a department store in Japan, you will see all sorts of shortcakes. Many of them are already sliced into serving portions but some are round Japanese Strawberry Shortcakes like my cake today that serve several people.
This round strawberry shortcake is the cake that many husbands and fathers buy and take home after work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (Christmas is not public holiday in Japan!).
There are no religious customs or family celebrations and gathering for Christmas in Japan. But many households still eat Strawberry Shortcakes, aka Christmas cakes as a custom.
What’s in my Strawberry Sponge Cake (Strawberry Shortcake)
My recipe is based on a very old cookbook that contains only the sweets recipes. In my post Salmon Hot Pot (Ishikari Nabe), I showed you the photo of my old hot pot cookbook. This sweets cookbook is one of several cookbooks that I bought together with the hot pot cookbook.
I used the recipe for a basic sponge cake in this book, with a slight adjustment, and decorated the cake with whipped cream and strawberries.
Because the recipe is very old, the ingredients list for the sponge cake does not even include vanilla essence (you can add few drops if you want), or baking powder.
- 125g / 4.4oz all-purpose flour
- 100g / 3.5oz sugar
- 60g / 2.1 melted butter
- 4 eggs
The above ingredients are suited for baking in a 18-21cm round cake tin. The cookbook used 125g of sugar but I felt it was too sweet, probably because I don’t have a sweet tooth. If you wish, you can increase the sugar up to 125g.
To decorate the cake, you will need:
- About 450g / 1lb of strawberries (I used 18 medium-size strawberries)
- About 300-400ml / 0.6-0.8pt cream, whipped
- Syrup (optional) made with 40ml / 1.4oz water and 10g /0.4oz sugar
I am not definitive about the quantity of strawberries and cream. This is because the amount of these ingredients varies depending on the size of the cake tin, how tall your cake is and how much cream/fruits you put on the cake.
Syrup is brushed on the sliced surface of the cake pieces to keep the sponge soft and moist.
How to Make Japanese Sponge Cake
My old cookbook shows two different methods for making a sponge cake – (1) beating egg yolks and egg whites separately and (2) beating eggs without separating the yolks and whites. I used the first method but I added the second method in the recipe note.
- Add ⅔ of the sugar to the egg yolk in a bowl and beat the egg yolk until it becomes whitish and thick (no photo, sorry).
- Beat the egg whites in a different bowl with the remaining sugar to make meringue (first photo at top left of the step-by-step photo below).
- Add the flour to the beaten egg yolk and mix to make smooth batter.
- Fold the batter into the meringue.
- Pour the batter into a cake pan and cook in the oven (last photo at bottom right of the step-by-step photo below).
The second method does not involve beating the eggs separately and folding the batter and the meringue. The eggs are beaten in one bowl. But you need to check the temperature of the water bath in the case of the second method, then remove the water bath when the batter becomes body temperature.
Decorating the Sponge Cake to make Strawberry Shortcake
Decorating the cake is not particularly difficult. Perfectly covering the cake with whipped cream like the cakes sold at the shops is an art in my view, and it is quite hard.
The right thickness of the whipped cream is the key to the evenly coated cream around the sponge cake. You should not whip the cream too much but the cream should not be too soft either. When you lift the whisk, the cream should form a soft peak.
My Strawberry Shortcake has halved strawberries and whipped cream in the middle, like a sandwich.
- Cool the sponge cake upside down so that the top of the cake is perfectly flat and easy to decorate.
- Slice the cake horizontally in the middle to make two round cake pieces. Coat the cut side of the cake with syrup.
- Spread the bottom part of the cake with the whipped cream, then place halved strawberries on top, covering the entire surface.
- Cover the strawberries with more cream, then put the top part of the sponge cake on it.
- Coat the side and the top of the cake with cream, then decorate the outer edge of the round surface using a piping tip.
- Place the strawberries on top of the cake.
There are no rules for decorating the sponge cake. If your cake is not very tall, you may not want to halve the cake horizontally to make two layers of the cake with strawberries and cream in the middle. This will reduce the amount of cream intake. Some recipes do not cover the side with the whipped cream either.
You can decorate the cake anyway you like. But no matter how it looks, I can guarantee you the cake is super delicious.
Japanese sponge cakes have in general lighter and softer texture than those I find in Australia, and possibly other Western countries. The texture is almost like my Cotton Cheesecake. The most popular sponge cake in Japan is by far the Strawberry Sponge Cake, aka Strawberry Shortcake.
- 125g / 4.4oz all-purpose flour sifted 3 times
- 100g / 3.5oz sugar (note 1)
- 4 eggs , yolks and whites separated
- 60g / 2.1oz butter , melted
- Butter and flour to coat inside the cake pan
- 18 strawberries (mid-size, note 2)
- 300ml / 0.6pt cream for whipping (note 3)
- 10g / 0.4oz sugar
- 40ml / 1.4oz water
- 10g / 0.4oz sugar
Pre-heat oven to 180°C / 356°F.
Coat the inside of an 18cm / 7" cake tin (note 5) with butter, dust with flour, then shake off the excess flour.
Put the egg yolks in a bowl, add ⅔ of the sugar and beat the egg yolks until they become whitish and thick. Draw a ribbon with the whisk and if the ribbon disappears slowly, it is ready.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg white. When the small bubbles form and the volume of the egg white doubles, add the remaining sugar in 2-3 batches and beat further to make meringue.
When the meringue becomes firm and it can form a peak when you lift the whisk (see the step-by-step photo in the post), it is ready.
Put the flour through the sifter and add to the egg yolk. Fold the batter with a spatula.
Transfer ⅓ of the meringue to the batter and mix with a whisk until the batter becomes smooth.
Add the remaining meringue to the batter in 2-3 batches and fold.
Pour the melted butter into the batter and fold several times. It's OK even if the butter is not completely mixed.
Pour the batter into the cake tin. Drop the tin onto the work bench to settle the batter in the tin, then, cook in the oven for 25 minutes. Insert a thin bamboo skewer in the centre of the cake to see if the skewer comes out dry. If the skewer is a bit wet, cook further 5 minutes.
Take the tin out of the oven and drop the tin onto the work bench. Remove the cake from the tin and let it cool completely on a rack, upside down (bottom side up).
Put the Syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. When the sugar dissolved, turn the heat off.
Whip the cream until soft peak forms. Wipe the strawberries with a wet kitchen paper, remove the stems and halve 10 strawberries.
Leave the sponge cake upside down as is and slice it horizontally in half (note 6), remove the top half and place it next to the bottom half of the cake, cut side up.
Using a brush, coat the cut surface of the two sponge cakes with the syrup gently.
Drop about 3 heaped tablespoons of the whipped cream on the bottom half of the sliced cake and spread it to cover the entire surface. Fill the surface with the halved strawberries, without a gap as much as possible.
Drop about 4 heaped tablespoons of the whipped cream on and spread it to cover the strawberries and the round edge.
Place the top half of the cake on it, syrup side down. Gently press down, making sure the top and bottom cakes are aligned. Fill the gap around the strawberry filling on the side with whipped cream.
(optional) Thinly coat the top and the side of the cake with whipped cream. It is OK not to completely cover the sponge. Leave the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes (note 7).
Using a cake spatula or a long flat spatula, fully cover the top and the side of the cake with the remaining whipped cream, leaving some (about minimum of 4-5 tablespoons) for piping.
Put the remaining cream in a piping bag with a round nozzle. Squeeze out the cream to make a mound of cream in 8 positions around the edge of the surface. Place a strawberry on each mound.
1. My cake is not too sweet. If you prefer it sweeter, increase the quantity of sugar up to 125g / 4.4oz.
2. My 18 strawberries weighed about 450 / 1lb. I used halved strawberries as fillings but if you slice them, you can reduce the number of strawberries.
Instead of strawberries, you can use other berries to make it a mixed berry shortcake (see the photo in the post), or different fruits such as sliced peaches, kiwifruits, pineapples, oranges, grapes, or all of these mixed together!
3. Amount of whipped cream varies depending on the size of the cake tin, how tall your cake is and how much cream you put on the cake.
4. I did not use it but you can add a small amount (½ teaspoon) of liquor of you choice if you want.
5. I tried with a springform cake tin as well as a non-springform tin. The springform tin leaves a dent at the bottom of the cake when cooked so, I prefer a non-springform tin. There is no problem removing the baked cake out of the non-springform tin.
The size of the tin can be up to 21cm / 8". Any larger than that will make the cake thin, and it will not be easy to slice into two layers.
6. The easiest way to slice the round cake horizontally is to make a shallow cut around the side of the cake first, then slide the knife deeper into the centre ensuring that the blade traces the initial cut.
7. This will make the remaining whipped cream stick easier, particularly on the side.
8. My method of making a sponge cake is to beat the egg yolks and whites separately. There is another method of making the batter by beating whole eggs. If you want to use this method, here are the steps to replace the steps 3-9 in my recipe:
1) Put the eggs in a bowl, mix, then add sugar. Beat the eggs over a 60°C / 140°F water bath.
2) When the egg mixture is warmed up to around body temperature, remove the bowl from the water bath.
3) Continue to beat until the egg mixture cools down and becomes thick whitish batter. When you draw a ribbon with the whisk, the trace of the ribbon should slowly disappear.
4) Add the flour through a sifter to the batter and fold it in with a spatula. Add butter and fold several times.
9. You should consume the cake within 2 days. Although the sponge cake will keep longer, the flavour of the strawberries and cream start degrading on 3rd day.
10. Nutrition per serving.
serving: 146g calories: 346kcal fat: 22g (34%) saturated fat: 13g (65%) trans fat: 0.7g polyunsaturated fat: 1.4g monounsaturated fat: 6g cholesterol: 152mg (51%) sodium: 95mg (4%) potassium: 151mg (4%) carbohydrates: 31g (10%) dietary fibre: 1.2g (5%) sugar: 18g protein: 6.2g vitamin a: 18% vitamin c: 40% calcium: 3.8% iron: 7.6%