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.

Sakura Cookies

My favorite recipe from this summer by far has been this sakura butter cookie!  Because sakura blossoms are no longer in season, I ordered some pickled blossoms online.   After soaking them in water to get rid of excess salt, the blossoms offered the perfect flavor balance for the sweet cookie.  The pink-on-yellow color combination makes this the perfect light cookie for summer!  They paired perfectly with cold houji-cha (a variety of green tea).

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Kyoto seems so far away right now, but to me, the perfect beauty of these cookies replicates the perfect blossoms that drifted on to the pages of my homework as I studied on the bank of the Kamo River.  Like snowflakes, each blossom seemed to cast its own unique spell.  Each gust of wind offered several gentle distractions from my kanji lesson-of-the-day.  My go-to river perch offered a view of Kyoto’s iconic turtle-shaped rocks, which serve as stepping stones across the river.  With distractions like the sakura and the throngs of children and parents frolicking in the river, it’s amazing that I got any work done at all!

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Some of the gaps between the stepping stones seemed much larger than they appear.  Using crutches at the time, I made it over the river just once.  It was more than fulfilling!  I may need to incorporate these cute turtles into one of my future recipe designs.

turtle detail

Around that time, I discovered a cafe called Saruya, which quickly became the place where I could hunker down and do all of my BA thesis proposal drafting.  When I think of sakura flowers, I also think of Saruya’s amazing coffee and latte art that reminded me of my most-loved Garth Williams childhood story books.

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It’s amazing how so many memories can come flooding back with one batch of cookies!  I highly recommend this recipe to anyone who has fond recollections of sitting outside in the springtime.  Biting into one cookie is almost like catching some spring sunshine on a Japanese river bank!

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Recipe

Ingredients:

90 grams unsalted butter, 50 grams granulated sugar, sakura essence, 1 pinch of salt, 1 egg yolk, 120 grams flour, 1 sakura flower for each cookie, fine sugar for dusting

Directions:

  1.  If store-bought, soak the pickled sakura flowers in a bowl of water to remove excess salt.  I soaked mine for about an hour.  After soaking, remove the sakura from the water and spread them out to dry on a hand towel or paper towel.
  2. Beat the butter, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Proceed to add the sakura essence and egg yolk.  For the sakura essence, I added four drops for a light flowery flavor.  Add more or less according to your taste.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Gradually mix in the flour until the dough is smooth.
  5. After chilling the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, roll it out and cut it into your desired shapes.
  6. After greasing a baking sheet, transfer the cookie shapes onto the baking sheet.  Press a sakura blossom onto each cookie shape.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.  After pulling them out of the oven, dust each cookie with decorative fine sugar.

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