Thursday, August 06, 2009

Nagasaki Kasutera: Thank You Portugal!!

Kitty and Daisy in ruffs, galligaskins and cloaks? A carrack in a harbor? What's going on? It must be about food, right?

One of the things that tend to end up along with Hello Kitty items in my international internet shopping cart are special sweets and cakes. While some end up being a permanent part of my associated Kitty collection (meaning unedible and fossilized) some never make it past the box it was shipped in. Japanese sponge cake is one of those things.

Kasutera (also called Castella) was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese back in the 16th century. It's name relates back to it's original Portuguese pão-de-ló or bread of Castille. Unlike its modern French cousin, this cake is slightly denser and kept moist by the use of starch syrup or honey. It is eaten unadorned by strawberries and whipped cream (the combo I expect with my understanding of western spongecake) and is often paired with a spot of tea.

Nothing more disconcerting slicing up a piece of this tasty, eggy cake and finding a Hello Kitty face. I guess she's trying to compete with San-X's NyanNyako designs. While I love my collection, I have to admit, these ball-bearing appendages mystify me.

Nagasaki is regarded as the homeland of Kasutera. Thanks to its geographical location and the political independence of its surrounding smaller islands, Nagasaki was open to foreign trade during Japan's "Sakoku" period. This allowed the Portuguese to introduce many new things to Japan like sugar, firearms, tobacco and a tasty cake that could be preserved for long sea voyages.

On the flip side, Kitty's backside bears the proud stamp of a Nagaski Kasutera

Eventually, the Portuguese came under the suspicious eye of the ruling daimyo Hideyoshi who didn't like the possibility of his unification plans being thwarted by Christian missionaries. The Portuguese missionaries and eventually merchants were expelled, but their influences remained.

There are lots of recipes out there in internet-land and the truly devoted home cook strives to improve their techniques so the results can compare to the Kasutera Standard: Bunmeido. Another company website (Fukusaya) has a rather impressive flash video of the "mass production" that goes on in their bakery, but it doesn't look like the kind of mass production I'm used to seeing when it comes to a Hostess Twinkie.

Check out the video


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