Hanami cake

Hanami roughly translates into “flower viewing” from Japanese. It usually refers to the blooming of cherry blossoms, or sakura, in early April, and signifies new beginnings. One thing I love about hanami, besides how gorgeous the cherry blossom-filled skies look during that time of year, is of course the desserts that come with it. Cherry blossoms are usually preserved in salt, which results in this fragrant and almost pungent salty flavor. It works hilariously well with sugar, and that is why you see salted sakura used in things like ice cream and mochi during this time of year! Since I usually do a hanami dessert every year, I figured, why not do the same this year? And that was the main inspiration for this cake! I wanted to use the salted cherry blossoms to create a fun visual, so I decided on placing them in a gelee that will capture the movement of them. I wanted to also do an homage to senbei(crunch soy-glazed rice crackers) by using super crunchy tuiles as a garnish. The tuiles are made with rice flour and soy sauce to echo that inspiration. There are also homages to Japanese wagashi(traditional Japanese confections) in several of the ingredients that I used in this recipe, just to tie it all back in with the country of origin that this cake was inspired by!

For the components, we have a chiffon cake with a soy milk soak, a pink cherry blossom gelee, homemade mochi, a shiroan(sweet white bean paste) mousse, and crunchy tuiles surrounding the entire thing. With the components, I mentioned before that several of them are nods to Japanese cuisine. The gelee uses agar, also called kanten, which is highly popular in several Japanese confections, and of course, the salted cherry blossoms as well. Shiroan is a common filling for several different kinds of mochi, and is used alongside rice flour to make a variety of Japanese sweets as well. And I had already mentioned the homage to senbei in the tuiles. With this dessert, it is all about salty-sweet, with floral notes sprinkled throughout. The dessert was a ton of fun to make and I just love how it all came together to be this discovery of different flavors and textures throughout all of the different layers(I put 2 layers of cake, 2 layers of gelee, and 1 layer of mochi in total inside of the mousse).

For the mochi:
1/4 cup mochiko
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

In a pot on medium-high heat, whisk everything together for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture has come together into a solid white ball. Pour into a lined 5-inch ring mold and press down to form a solid disk. Freeze for at least 1 hour before attempting to unmold, and keep frozen for assembly.

For the gelee:
7 salted cherry blossoms
2/3 cups water
2 tsp agar agar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp pitaya powder

Place 4 cherry blossoms, the water, agar, and granulated sugar into a pot. Heat up together until the agar is dissolved, then stir in the pitaya powder. Line 2 5-inch ring molds with cling film and oil. Pour half of the gelee mixture one of the molds. Place the remaining blossoms into the remaining gelee mixture and stir until combined. Then pour into the other ring mold. Freeze both molds solid, just to guarantee that the gelee disks are set completely solid for assembly.

For the chiffon cake:
2 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt

Whip egg whites to stiff peaks with the sugar. Mix everything else together in a separate bowl. Fold the egg whites through the egg yolk-flour mixture to form your batter. Pour and spread the batter onto a lined quarter sheet tray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Allow the cake to fully cool, then cut out 2 5-inch disks of cake.

For the soak:
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Mix together. Keep cold for assembly.

For the mousse:
4oz shiroan(white bean paste)
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp gelatin powder + 1 tbsp cold water
1/4 cup soy milk
1 salted cherry blossom
1 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff

Whip shiroan with egg yolks and sugar. In a pot, heat up the gelatin, soy milk, and cherry blossom. Pour half of the milk into the egg yolks and whisk. Then pour the egg-milk mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk and whisk on low heat for 2-3 minutes. Pour everything through a sieve to remove any lumps and the blossom bits. Allow the egg mixture to cool down to just above room temperature before folding in your cream to form your mousse.

For initial assembly:
Line a 6-inch ring mold with acetate and place over a cling wrap-lined sheet tray. Place down the gelee disk that has the blossom pressed into it first. Then pour in about 1/4 of your mousse. Brush the cake with the soak. The place down one disk of the cake, and another 1/4 of the mousse. Then the mochi, and another 1/4 of the mousse. Then another layer of gelee, and your remaining mousse. Soak the last round of chiffon cake and press that into the cake as well. Freeze solid, about 4-6 hours, before attempting to unmold and transfer to a serving platter.

For the tuiles:
1/4 cup rice flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp canola oil
1 egg white
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Mix together to form your batter. Either pipe the batter into twigs or spread over a Pavoni bonsai tuile mold. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes. Allow the tuiles to cool completely before using to garnish the sides of the cake with.

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