Caramel Koala Cracker Cake

I grew up in rural Illinois, jumping on the trampoline in my backyard to see above the cornfields, a good mile down to our neighbor’s house.  What’s beyond the horizon was always more appealing than where I was.  This hunger for leaping to the next thing has led me around the world to live in Tokyo, Chicago, Paris, Kyoto, and finally, New York.

I finally feel like I’m at the heart of where I’ve been striving to be for so long.  I’ve survived the University of Chicago and pastry school (somehow), hustled my way through food service jobs, and have found my place, at last, marrying digital media with my love for restaurants and branding.  I’m settling down in my new Prospect Heights neighborhood, finally in an apartment that I could picture staying in for more than a year.

It’s a good feeling, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think what’s next?  Is this really where I’m supposed to be?

I made this sweet caramel layer cake a few weeks ago to celebrate a special birthday.  It’s a birthday cake that I would have loved as a kid.  It’s a birthday cake that makes me feel like a kid in the best way.  It’s a birthday cake that I’m going to make for my kid someday.  Focusing on this cake, I am content.

This two layer caramel cake is covered in a thick caramel, spread in lieu of frosting.  Each substantial layer is actually a full 6 inch cake!

By frosting the outside of the cake with a thin layer of caramel, you can adhere a Pocky fence border.  Carefully attach, and tie securely with a bow once complete.  After creating the cute fence, you can pile the top of the cake high with your favorite snacks.  I chose to use Koala Crackers, sweet potato wagashi, and Japanese Kitkats.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Caramel Koala Cracker Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup salted caramel sauce

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans and set aside
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks individually until smooth.  Add in the vanilla and caramel sauce and mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
  4. Gradually add in half of the dry ingredients.  Slowly stream in the milk and mix until combined.  Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mix until the last streaks of flour disappear.  Mix on medium for no more than about 30 seconds.
  5. Evenly distribute the batter between the two pans.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the pan.  Once the cakes have cooled, cut off the rounded tops of the cake, so that the cakes lay flatly on top of each other.

For the Icing

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 cans evaporated milk (12 ounces each)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Add butter, evaporated milk, and sugar to saucepan over medium heat until everything has melted together and is well incorporated.
  2. Leave over low heat stirring periodically for about 30 minutes (watch the entire time to make sure it does not burn until thickened.  The caramel should turn a golden brown color.)
  3. Make sure the caramel clings to the spoon – this is the perfect thickness.  Watch the pot closely, adjusting heat temperature to avoid burning.
  4. Remove from heat and add in vanilla extract.
  5. Cool for about 15 minutes to allow the caramel to thicken further before icing the cake.

Assembly:

After frosting the outside of the cake, adhere Pocky sticks to the edge while the caramel is still wet and pliable.  Tie with a bow.  Pile the cake high with your favorite sweet snacks!  My selection was procured in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Koala Crackers never fail to put a smile on my face!

 

Sakura Mochi Layer Cake

This cake is inspired by sakura mochi, a wagashi treat that is served during the springtime in Japan.  It is typically sweet rice covering a dollop of red bean paste, then wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf or topped with a pickled sakura blossom.  I incorporated these elements and gave them an American layer cake twist.

Three layers of sakura cake are covered with ethereal sakura frosting; not too much of it, as I wanted the flavor of the cake to really shine through and buttercream can often dominate.  In between the cake layers are two layers of sweet red bean paste (koshian), and bits of chewy homemade mochi. The cake is dotted with pickled sakura blossoms. You can preserve the sakura flowers yourself if you have access to cherry blossoms, or you can buy small packages of them on Amazon.

Last year, I went to the sakura matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and was blown away by the number of people.  I don’t think I had seen so many New Yorkers in one place before! The people watching proved to be just as delightful as the petal watching.  I went to the festival alone, lending it a similar feel to the days I wandered Kyoto’s streets alone as an exchange student.

This cake reminds me of the beauty of wandering alone in a strange place.  When you’re alone, you can absorb the little details without being distracted or rushed.  I hope that you can make and eat this cake in a similar fashion – leisurely and with the luxury of noticing every deliberate detail.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Sakura Mochi Layer Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons sakura extract
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Pink gel food coloring

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare two 6 inch circular baking pans with cooking spray and parchment.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Incorporate the egg yolks one at a time, and add the sakura extract.
  5. Add pink food coloring, if desired.
  6. Alternate adding the milk and the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  7. Evenly distribute the batter in your pans.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 12 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1.5 teaspoon sakura extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Instructions:

  1. Beat the butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar.
  3. Incorporate other ingredients and mix until all are combined.

For the Mochi

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup mochiko flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • corn starch, as needed

Instructions:

  1. Mix the mochiko with the granulated sugar.
  2. Add the water to the mixture and mix until a paste forms.
  3. In a microwave, heat mixture for 2 and a half minutes.
  4. Using corn starch to prevent the mochi from sticking to the table or your hands, roll the mochi into small balls.

Additional notes:

Add store bought packaged red bean paste in between the cake layers.

When working with pickled sakura, be sure to soak the blossoms before use, as they are preserved in salt.  I soaked the blossoms for about 30 minutes and sprinkled sugar on them after laying them out to dry on a paper towel.