Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A Japanese Birthday

This post is fashionably late. To be exact it's one month and 3 days late. Any acceptable reasons? I only have one: Exams. It's out of my control that ShinChan's birthday falls on the exam period in Australia. If he was in taiwan, he would be in luck. He would be celebrating his birthday during summer vacation. Too bad he's now in the land of kangaroo and koala.

© foodies date: 18th June 2004
© where: pinkcocoa's kitchen

I went through at least one whole week of headache to come up with a very different cake for ShinChan. My pickiness always bring me headache and problems as a matter of fact. What have i got to say? I like to give myself challenge. Life is meaningless without challenge.

Rules to this cake
- no baking
- simple to prepare
- heart-shaped (ok i admit. i am obsessed with heart-shaped. it was star last year)
- not a sweet cake

Ireally had fun looking up for ideas and thinking about the type of cakes to make during my study break. My first thought was to make him a greentea-flavoured layered crepe cake filled with black sesame ice-cream. By the way, I did set up a theme for ShinChan's birthday surprises. It's Japanese. The problem with crepe was I didnt have any flour and milk on hand so the thought was scrapped. Beside it's sweet. I then remember reading in my comics that the Japanese enjoys chirashi sushi or bara sushi when they are celebrating something special.

My search on 'sushi cake' on google
- Sushi: making at home (a cookbook. check out the beautiful sushi cakes)
- Martha Stewart's sushi cake
These look rather comprehensive and I had second thoughts about making sushi cake until I found this and this. The sushi cake described in these 2 chinese weblog seems easy enough to make. So sushi cake it is for ShinChan.

♥ sushi rice
first step to a sushi cake is sushi rice!
i consulted my faithful japanese cookbook comics.
for the rice
2 cups rice
2 cups water
2 tbsp japanese cooking wine*
1 sheet konbu**
for sushi vinegar ***
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

1. Rinse and wash the rice until water runs clear
2. Soak the rice in water for 1-2 hour to let the rice absorb moisture
3. Clean konbu with wet towel then soak in water for 1 hour
4. Place rice, water, wine and konbu in rice cooker to cook. Once it is done, let the rice sits inside the rice cooker for another 8-10 minutes
5. While waiting for the rice, make sushi vinegar by combining all ingredients together.
6. Place cooked rice into a large bowl (wooden container is preferable in traditional japanese cooking. but i didnt have this on hand so i used the largest soup bowl i could find at home). Pour sushi vinegar evenly onto surface of rice.
7. Using a wooden rice spoon, mix the vinegar into the rice by making 'cutting motion' or 'cutting strokes'. By this I mean using the rice spoon like a knife and cut into the rice. Bo not use the usual scoop-from-bottom-to-top mixing method. The reason being the common mixing method can damage the cooked rice and one will not be able to enjoy the wholeness of the rice.
8. Fan the rice vigorously using magazines or newspaper, anything to your fancy, to cool the rice down.
9. Cover the rice with a wet tea towel to keep the rice moist if not using immediately.

* I used japanese cooking wine. i think chinese cooking wine might do too. adding wine and konbu gives the rice a 'glossy' finish and also making the rice soft and fluffy.
** I didnt add konbu, a type of dried japanese seaweed. I didnt have any on hand so it was left out. I am not sure how different the rice would taste with and without konbu.
*** I used instant package of sushi vinegar in powder form. you can also buy premixed sushi vinegar from any good japanese groceries store. i got my powder sushi vinegar at the chinese groceries store.

♥ filling ingredients
- several sheets of nori (seaweed)
- sweet scrambled egg (beat eggs with sugar and pinch of salt. pour into hot cooking pans. using 4 chopticks, scramble i.e. making circling motion, the eggs continuously until cooked.)
- fish floss
- mayonnaise (i used japanese kewpie mayonnaise)

♥ fish floss
Ibought this at a taiwanese groceries stores near unsw. I was looking for pork floss or beef floss but couldnt find one that i like. The groceries store I went did have pork floss. But the brand, 'xin tung yang' (a taiwanese brand) was far too pricey. So i ended up buying fishfloss, also from a taiwanese company.

♥ Assembling
1. Take a springform cake pan* and place a large sheet of glad wrap inside. Make sure the glad wrap is big enough so that you are able to cover the top of the cake.
2. Place a layer of sushi rice at the bottom. Pressing it down with the back of a spoon.
3. Spread a layer of mayonnaise on top of the rice
4. Place a sheet of nori** (cut to the shape of cake pan) on top
5. Place a thick layer of either eggs or fish floss on top. Press down hard
6. Repeat step 2-5 and finish with a layer of sushi rice.
7. You can decorate the sushi cake to your liking using various ingredients. I went for the minimalist way - a sheet of nori. Simple and easy
8. Put something heavy, say your not-so-useful volumes of encyclopedia on top of the cake to weigh it down. Just like how you would make a pressed sandwich. For hygience purpose, please do not forget to wrap your sushi cake with glad wrap before putting heavy volumes on top. (all the dust! *yikes*) Leave it for about 15-30min.
9. Take out the cake by removing the spring-form on the cake pan. If not using a springform cake pan, simply lift the cake out by lifting the glad wrap.

* I was destined to make a heart shaped cake so i used a heart-shaped cookie cutter instead of a cake pan. you can use any sort of container you find at home. bowls, food storage containers, mugs etc.
** I cut out my nori into heart-shaped using a knife to carve around the cookie cutter. It's a little time consuming. my advice. use a scissor if you can.

♥ sushi cake a la pinkcocoa's style!
I ended up making 3 small individual sushi cake. each cake contains roughly one large bowl of rice. I would imagine it to be very filling just consuming one.

♥ bird eye view of the cake
If only I had a bigger gift box (and round too) i would have arranged the giftbox like this. The arrangement looks a little like a lucky-clove, dont you reckon?

♥ a closer look
This is a 2 layered sushi cake. I wonder if I can make more layers out of it. On another note, this sort of sushi that I made actually stems out from the traditional osaka-style sushi called 'oshi-sushi' ot 'hako-sushi', meaning box-sushi. It's made by layering rice and ingredients inside an oshi-sushi pressed box.

♥ happy birthday, my dearest ShinChan

I felt contained and happy the moment I saw ShinChan's eyes lighted up when he opened up the gift box to find his birthday cake to be one made of rice. I first noted the 'happy birthday' candles in Newtown last year and had been wanting to buy it and use it ever since then but didnt have the chance until now.

ShinChan: o wow! this is so nice
pinkcocoa was very happy *big smile*
ShinChan: o wow! a heart-shaped rice ball!
pinkcocoa: O_o |||
pinkcocoa:'s not a rice ball. it's supposedly to be a sushi cake.
ShinChan: Oops. o wow! a sushi cake!

So much so for my effort in creating a sushi cake, it was recognised as a rice ball. hmrf! Nevertheless, I was happy to find out that ShinChan was well-fed on his birthday thanks to my sushi cake. He ate the 2 cakes as breakfast on his birthday. Not to mention the third one that he goofed down fast at 1am when pinkcocoa presented him his birthday cake.

This is by far the easiet cake I have ever made, although a little time consuming due to irregular shape I wanted to make. It's also the healthiest cake. Just think all the fat, sugar, cholestrol problems waived in this version of cake. Maybe i can make it a sweet sushi cake the next time by using fresh fruit ingredients and a sweeter eggs.