Where have all the bees gone? – Japanese Honey Cake (Kasutera/Castella)

First of all, sorry for the erratic posting schedule. The weather this past weekend (cold and rainy) made it really hard to get everything on my list checked off, but really good for snuggling and sleeping in.

This past Friday, a great group of innovative, extraordinary, and caring women gathered in Lincoln Park for dinner and a movie. We call it “Good Food Movie Night”. The theme of the night was food that we’d miss if there were no honey bees, and the movie was “Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?” We had delicious salads, fruits, chicken and of course wine, all that would not exist (ok maybe the chicken, unless their feed is impacted) if the honey bees keep decreasing in population like they are. The movie was at best a B+. It lacked some key honey bee facts and things we can / should do to counter act or at least slow down the downward spiral. But the food, company and conversation I would rate A++! (See bottom for some Honey Bee facts and what you can do to help.)

I volunteered to bring dessert (of course) and because of the theme, I made a Japanese honey cake or kasutera or castella to share. Like the majority of the food on this blog, I have not made honey cake before. I have eaten it since my diaper days, though. This was one of my grandma’s (on my mom’s side) favorite foods, and she would always have a supply in her little fridge in Taiwan. She had excellent taste in the yummies (or I have inherited her taste buds). The texture is like a pound cake, but denser. It’s not heavy though and has an airy quality like angel food cake. I know, it sounds like a total oxymoron, but you’ll understand once you take a bite. Surprisingly, the cake has no butter or oil in it. It gets it’s texture and taste from whipped eggs, lots of them. And with honey (local organic, find it at your farmers market or craft show), it’s not overly sweet, but just a nice touch. We ate it with some vanilla ice cream and fresh berries, but it would bring some sweetness and sunshine to a cup of tea or coffee on a cold rainy Fall day while you ponder about the honey bees.

Maki has a great post with the recipe, technique, and tips, and her blog is super cute that you should click on this link. But here is the recipe roughly converted to the measuring system we use in the US and cut in half to fit a loaf pan (I made my cake with her full recipe and in a cake pan, but think it would be better in a loaf pan). Note that this is not an easy recipe and should be read multiple times before you start. Also, try to pay attention and put the ingredients in at the right steps, instead of what I did, bake like an idiot.

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cups sugar, plus a little extra sugar for sprinkling
  • 3/4 cups bread flour (not cake flour)
  • 2 Tbs. milk
  • 2 Tbs. honey, plus one extra 1/2 Tbs. for the syrup on top

Equipment and other supplies:

  • Electric whisk (or if you want to get a work out a hand wisk)
  • A loaf pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Double boiler (heat-proof mixing bowl on top of a pot with simmering water)
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A small bowl
  • A spatula
  • A pastry brush
  • A plastic ziplock bag
  1. Preheat the oven to 340°F.
  2. Cut the parchment paper so that it’s large enough to fit the bottom and sides of the loaf pan (cut it a little longer so that it hangs off the sides). Line the pan with the parchment covering the bottom and sides. (To make the paper stick to the pan, lightly butter the pan first.) Sprinkle a little sugar on top of the paper in the pan.
  3. Fill the bottom pot of your double boiler with water (about 1 inch) and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  4. Measure the flour and sift the flour (2X) in a large mixing bowl.  (DO NOT add the sugar as I did for no apparent reason and had to start over)
  5. Mix together the milk and 2 tablespoons of honey in a small bowl (you may need to heat up the mixture for a few seconds in the microwave to soften).
  6. Break the eggs into a heat-proof bowl and whisk (with the electric mixer on the lowest setting) with the bowl on top of the double boiler (pot of hot water). Gradually add the sugar. When the mixture feels lukewarm to the touch, take it off the water and continue whisking (you don’t want to cook the eggs). If it cools down again, put it back on the hot water. To create that texture, you have to whisk slowly so that it does not form large air bubbles. I whisked on the lowest setting of my electric mixer for about 15 minutes until soft peaks formed, but you could also do it by hand for a little longer (I do not have Paul Bunyan arms, so I choose the electric way). The mixture will be thick and light yellow to white in color (depends on your eggs). The trick is that when you’re done with the batter it will be thick enough that if you write your initial on the surface with the whisk, it should stay there long enough for you to read it before it disappears.
  7. Whisk in the milk and honey mixture (this is another part that I screwed up on and forgot until I put the whole thing in the oven).
  8. Gently fold the flour in a little at a time, making sure to incorporate all the flour each time.
  9. Pour the batter into the pan up to the top and tap it slightly to release some air bubbles.
  10. Bake for about 40 minutes or until toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.
  11. In the meantime, mix together the 1/2 tablespoon of honey and a little hot water, to make a syrup.
  12. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, brush the top with a pastry brush with the honey-water syrup.
  13. When it’s cool enough to handle but still warm, lift it out of the pan, paper and all, and put into a plastic bag. Seal the bag and put into the refrigerator, for several hours or overnight. This step is necessary to keep the cake moist.

To serve, use a very sharp knife to make clean cuts. Cut off the sides (and put directly into mouth) and slice neatly.

Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

  • Honeybees are mysteriously disappearing from their hives all around the country and even in Europe and Asia from 30% to 90% loss!
  • Spraying pesticides on nearby crops are killing the bees!
  • Mites are attacking the bees, we spraying pesticides on the hives to get rid of them, but consequently we’re helping the mites develop immunity to the pesticides and killing bees!
  • We are breeding queen bees and artificially inseminating them, which causes a shorter life span of the queen, which means less bee births and less hives!

Bee Facts that I thought were interesting and learned from the movie

  • Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in the US crop value (basically they help produce all nuts, fruits and veggies).
  • 1/3 of the bee population in the US is transported each year to California to pollenate the almond crop (and loosing a lot of bees along the way due to stress and long holding times!)
  • Bees do a dance called the “waggle” where they spin around and wiggle their behinds in the direction the food is.
  • Workers bees are all female (unlike the cartoons portray) and control and keep the hive running, the males are called drones and are only used for sex (like boy toys)

What can we do to help the bees?

  • Become a sustainable bee keeper!
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers, herbs, and veggies in your garden.
  • Bees are thirsty, have a small basin of water in your garden.
  • Don’t use chemicals or pesticides on your garden/lawn.
  • Buy local raw honey (there’s plenty at your local farmers market or craft show)
  • Buy local organic food from a farmer that you know
  • Don’t kill bees that are flying around you, just walk away
  • Spread the word, and educate your community!
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