Want a bit of a baking challenge? The Castella or Kasutera Cake is a very popular Japanese sponge cake that has a wonderfully soft and delicate texture. It is actually a cake that improves with age - eating Castella cake 2 or 3 days after you bake it and it really comes into its own. She needed a great name-Sophia it was.
Traditionally castella cakes are baked in a wooden hako (hako means box) and are a specialty of Nagasaki. Japanese cakes aren't usually overly sweet (except for wagashi) but this is a sweet cake flavoured with honey. It is said that Portuguese traders brought over the Pão-de-ló (Portuguese sponge cake) and it was taken on by the only port open to trading in Nagasaki. It became essentially a rather Western sponge cake. It is a beautiful cake in its simplicity and only calls on just four ingredients: eggs, sugar, bread flour and honey.
It is also one in which I used over a dozen eggs to arrive at this recipe. I didn't realise how hard it would be but finally, after several attempts I had a Castella cake that I loved and tasted like the ones I had eaten in Japan. It only took a couple of months!
I don't know if you remember but I mentioned Nina dog sitting five dogs. She has now decided to open up her own dog minding business. And well the castella cake was not the only hotly anticipated thing in our house. I was also looking forward to meeting her dogs. This was before we had Mochi so I was very excited.
She asked me over for afternoon tea and to play with the dogs one Thursday afternoon. I had to text her when I was there because she was effectively the pied piper and all five dogs would shadow her, like she was their mother and she didn't want to lose any of them out the front door. She cracked open the door, "I think some of them snuck through!" and sure enough Cinnamon and Spice the sausage dogs had already managed to get into the lounge room.
Then all of the dogs were in the room licking and playing and bowling me over. I couldn't tell where one dog began and the other ended as they worked in concert, their enthusiasm for a new human barely contained. Cinnamon and Spice are sisters that are inseparable-they sleep intertwined and on top of each other. Cinnamon is shy while Spice loves attention. And Lloyd is a labradoodle that doesn't really look like one. He looks more like a wise old man with his long whiskers but he is in fact a puppy.
Samantha, Nina's in laws labradoodle (who I LOVE) plays with Lloyd and teaches him the lay of the land chiding him when he gets out of control. Samantha has been very gracious with the new dogs especially since it is her home. And little Millie the Maltese does her own thing. She can often be found on top of the dining table looking exasperatedly at the other dogs.
After a while the dogs calmed down and I took stock of what Nina had just bought. She offered me half her basil and coriander because she wasn't able to use them all (I wish they sold herbs by the weight!) and then I started tinkering around and made dinner for her and Garth. Since Garth has been a bit perturbed by the sudden appearance of five dogs in his house I thought that maybe a nice dinner would keep his mind off it, at least for a little bit :)
So tell me Dear Reader, how many dogs do you think you could look after maximum? Have you ever tried a Castella Cake? Do you think a nice dinner would put someone in a good mood?