Satsumaimo Layer Cake

I don’t recall hearing the sing-song jangle of ice cream trucks during my time living in Japan, but I do remember a yakiimo cart that made its rounds near Yoshikawa station.  Yakiimo are warm,  whole roasted satsumaimo, Japan’s sweet potato with red skin and a white interior.  The cart owner would always be bellowing a steady song dedicated to the celebrated yakiimo.

To me, roasted satsumaimo are mouthwateringly good without any alteration; butter and sugar aren’t necessary.  When you do add those two ingredients into the equation, you’ll float away on a rich flavor cloud!

One popular treat in Japan are satsumaimo cakes, reformed into a small potato shape after mixing mashed satsumaimo with sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and a few other key ingredients.  There are even some regional Kitkats that are flavored after Japan’s ubiquitous sweet potato varieties.

This luxuriant layer cake is dedicated to the lovely, sweet tuber that has grown close to my heart.  Three layers of satsumaimo cake are topped with daigaku imo, a caramelized, candied version of the wonderful root.  The cake is slathered with kuromitsu (black sugar) cream cheese icing, and drizzled with kuromitsu syrup.

Taking a bite out of this cake reminds me of helping one of my host grandmothers tend to her satsumaimo crop in the garden.  There are so many moments in Japan that I hope to always carry with me, and rooting around in the dirt with someone I couldn’t communicate with well over the common goal of nurturing latent sweetness is definitely one that takes the cake.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Satsumaimo Layer Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups mashed cooked satsumaimo sweet potatoes, cooled (about 4-5 sweet potatoes)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 6-inch round cake pans with canola oil. Line bottoms with baking parchment and spray the top of those too.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium-high for 5 minutes until creamy.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl, so all is well incorporated.  Add in eggs one at a time.  Beat on medium-high for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl as needed. Add vanilla and sweet potatoes and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed (scraping down the bowl is important stuff, y’all).
  4. Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Beat on low speed until just incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake at 350-degrees F for 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cake and placing on a cooling rack.  Torte each cake in half when the cakes are completely cool.

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons kuromitsu syrup 
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Instructions:

  1. Beat butter with the cream cheese on high, until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar
  3. Add the kuromitsu, salt, an cinnamon.  Beat until well incorporated

For the Daigaku Imo

Ingredients:

  • 2 satsumaimo, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or another neutral-flavored oil)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Wash the skin of the potato carefully.  You will not peel it.
  2. Cut the potato diagonally in the rangiri style – by rotating the potato a quarter between cuts.  Soak the pieces in water for 15 minutes to remove starch.  Change the water half way through.
  3. Wrap the lid of your frying pan with a kitchen towel and tie on the top near the handle.  By doing this, you prevent condensation from the lid dripping down onto the potatoes.
  4. Before turning your burner on, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and oil in your frying pan.  Stir well.
  5. Dry the potatoes with a towel before placing in your pan.
  6. Cover with your prepared lid and turn the stove on to medium heat.  Every two minutes, open the lid and flip the potatoes so that all sides are cooked.
  7. Cook in this style for approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Take off the heat and sprinkle with black sesame seeds, to taste.

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!