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I love Japanese cheesecake. Our whole family does, and in the last 2 weeks I’ve baked more than one, which tells you how fast it vanishes if it happens to be in the same room as me, the husband and our little wombats. Mind you—I was generous enough to share it with a lucky few special mates, and it was an instant winner. It’s no wonder. The last I checked, a packaged skinny oval-shaped Japanese cheesecake (half the portion of what I bake in one sitting) has a retail price tag of about A$17 in the refrigerated section of a popular Chinese grocer at Sunnybank. Is that steep? You tell me. But nothing deters the surge in sales for this extremely hot dessert item which is often sold out at the Asian bakeries, along with custard and red bean buns which have some of the shortest shelf life, shopping-wise. The other thing too, is probably how much ‘trouble’ it seems that may put off most novice bakers from attempting to try baking it for themselves.
Which baker (and it isn’t just the novices) isn’t just that little bit nervous baking a cheesecake?
I admit I was too at the beginning, but as I’ve previously admitted on this blog, I’m the kind of home chef and baker that goes by the mantra ‘NO GUTS NO GLORY’ and I just had to de-mystify this one.
All the fears before trying was absolutely well founded. I reckon so much could go wrong with it—the cracks at the top, the jiggly uncooked bits in the centre, the water seeping through from the base that could moisten the bottom of the cake(if you use a removable base baking contraption like a springform pan) and so on and so on…
It’s nerve-wrecking business regardless of whichever kind of cheesecake you choose to embark on; except the unbaked ones? They say baking is more of a science than an art, and I’ll have to agree to a large extent, seeing that following the best recipes to a T and ensuring I measure out every ingredient as precisely as I can, usually produces a consistent result.
For the following Japanese cheesecake recipe, I’ve adapted several recipes I’ve sampled to come up with the final one that worked for me. Every oven is different, do make sure you get to know yours well and be acquainted with the appropriate adjustments in temperature that would yield you the best results.
Although the texture of Japanese cheesecake is fluffier than its denser counterpart, the New York baked cheesecake (which I also happen to love and bake often!), I’ve found that the same scientific rules apply—things like filling the base roasting pan with some water to increase humidity and to let the steam subtly cook the cake in addition to the dry oven heat, as well as letting the cake stand inside the oven to cool in its tin (without opening the door at first), then leaving the door slightly ajar for an additional 15 minutes before removing the entire cheesecake.
I also line the bottom of my pan, and have used a dark-coloured removable base baking tin (not a springform though) that measures 8 inches (Diameter across) by 3 inches (Height).
I’ve tried decorating it using some melted cocoa and hot chocolate powder with a piping bag and tip, all for the fun of some ‘cake art’. The tricky thing is to get the right consistency, otherwise the ‘art’ tends to split and crack the top of the surface if it is too thick. The most fail proof decorating method is perhaps to sprinkle icing sugar at the top using a stencil if you want to ensure the most ‘crack-proof’ top.
Japanese Cheesecake Recipe
Cheese Cake Batter Ingredients:
250g block of Philadelphia cream cheese
100g castor sugar
60g butter (1/4 block)
100 ml full cream milk
6 egg yolks (separated from whites which are reserved for meringue portion) – note: from Large 70g eggs
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
60g cake flour…preferred (but all-purpose flour will work too)
1/4 tsp salt
3 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
6 egg whites – note: from Large 70g eggs
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
100g castor sugar
Begin by pre-heating your oven at a temperature of 200°C (fan-forced).
Line only the bottom of your baking tin with greaseproof baking paper, brushing some butter on the edges. If using a springform pan or baking tin with push-up base, line with 2 layers of aluminium foil to prevent water from seeping through the cake batter while baking.
‘NON-WATER BATH METHOD’: Bring to room temperature the following: Cream cheese, egg yolks, butter and milk. Using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whisk the cream cheese, egg yolks(added gradually), softened butter and then the milk at the last.
NOTE: ‘WATER-BATH METHOD’—
If these ingredients (Cream cheese, egg yolks, butter and milk) are not at room temperature, it is best to use the ‘water bath method’ (fill about 2 cm of water in a small saucepan and let a clear mixing bowl stand on top of the saucepan but do not let the simmering water touch the bottom of the bowl) in this order: Whisk your cream cheese till smooth, then add the yolks gradually. Keep whisking, adding 100g of sugar, whisking it all to a smooth texture. Microwave slightly to warm the 100ml of full cream milk and butter, then add first the warmed milk, whisk, followed by the warmed butter (keep whisking to mix). Add vanilla extract, salt, lemon juice, grated lemon zest and whisk.
Remove clear mixing bowl from water bath, sift in the flours and fold into whisked batter.
Making the Meringue:
Start by whisking egg whites at low speed till slightly foamy. Add cream of tartar add stability and whisk egg whites at a higher speed till visible tiny bubbles form.
Add 100g of sugar gradually and beat till just before soft (not stiff) peaks form. Start folding the meringue into the cake batter gradually.
Transfer cake batter with folded meringue. Bang the baking tin gently on a flat surface to removed any trapped air bubbles. Place baking tin with batter into a larger ovenproof dish(I used my roasting pan)with about 2.5 to 3 cm of water in it (that’s why you need to line the bottom with foil!)
Place baking tin on your oven’s lowest rack for about 20 minutes at 200°C. Lower the temperature to 180°C for 12-15 mins, then turn off the oven, but DO NOT OPEN the oven door yet. Allow the cake to stand within closed oven for half an hour more. Set an alarm. When alarm rings, open the door of the oven carefully and only slightly and leave the oven door ajar (I stick a wooden spoon to make a gap) for approximately 10 mins for the cheese cake to stand to cool. This helps prevent cracks from a sudden change in temperature.