Yuzu-Castella Strawberry Shortcake

One of my favorite childhood memories growing up was coming back from a long day at school, and being greeted by my mom with some sort of baked good from the local Taiwanese bakery. Sometimes it was cheesecake, other times, mont blanc, but one particular favorite of mine is castella. Castella is a fluffy sponge cake made by whipping eggs with either honey or mizuame(sweet rice syrup), which gives it a light texture, and a custardy flavor. For AAPI Awareness Month, a bunch of us in the Subtle Asian groups(I represented for Subtle Asian Baking!) were challenged by Facebook to create a recipe that embodies either our own heritage or a cuisine we were passionate about. Castella is prevalent in both Taiwanese and Japanese cuisines, which is why I felt like it would be a wonderful way to bridge my love and affinity for Japanese desserts with my own heritage! I did lean more towards the Japanese side of things, since I’m much more familiar with wagashi(Japanese confectionary) making anyways, and knew how to incorporate both traditional and modern techniques from that into this plated dessert.

For the flavors, I wanted to focus on yuzu and strawberry. Since this would be a summer recipe, citrus and berries just felt right. I know technically yuzu is a winter citrus, but it is available year round in the form of both juice and marmalade(which is what this recipe calls for!), so I knew that it could work in this recipe fairly well. Instead of using honey or mizuame in the castella, I opted for yujacha, which is a sweet yuzu marmalade, just to give the sponge a pleasant yuzu aroma. I paired that with a yuzu kanten jelly, which is a sweet clear gelee made from seaweed that is often eaten in Japanese desserts such as anmitsu. With those components, we have a yuzu namelaka, which is a more modern Japanese technique – meaning “ultra creamy” or “ultra silky”, it is essentially a whipped chocolate ganache that has a super soft, delicate texture. I used Valrhona’s Yuzu Inspiration(yuzu-flavored chocolate) to lock in more yuzu flavor to it. We also have some fresh strawberries macerated in yuzu, and a strawberry sorbet that uses yujacha as the stabilizer in the actual ice cream! This dessert eats similarly to a Japanese style strawberry shortcake, which is comprised of a fluffy cake(castella) with cream(namelaka) and fresh strawberries, and is a nod to that as well! With the plating, I wanted to keep it whimsical and fun, which is why I cut the castella into smaller pieces, and layered all of the components together in a way where it would be easy to eat, but would offer slight variety between each bite.

For the yuzu castella:
4 eggs, separated
¼ cup granulated sugar
2oz yujacha(citron or yuzu jam)
A pinch of salt
2/3 cups all-purpose flour

In a bowl, whisk the egg whites with sugar until stiff peaks form. In another bowl over a double boiler, whisk together the egg yolks, yujacha, and salt until they reach ribbon-stage: the eggs should be pale yellow in color, very thick and fluffy, and you should be able to write the number “8” with them using a whisk.You should not need to whisk the eggs for longer than 5 minutes on medium-low heat to accomplish that.

Sift the flour into the yolk mixture first, then fold into that flour-yolk mixture the whipped egg whites to form your batter. Pour into 3 lined loaf pans(I used mini 5”x3”x3” loaf pans for my recipe) and gently tap the pans to release any excess air. Bake the cakes in a water bath, at 300 degrees F, for about 35 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool fully before unmolding and slicing into cubes. Store in an airtight container to keep the cake from drying out.

For the yuzu namelaka:
1 tsp gelatin powder
1 tbsp cold water
2oz Yuzu Inspiration
2oz white chocolate
¼ cup milk
A pinch of salt
¼ cup heavy cream

In a bowl, mix together the gelatin with cold water. Pour the gelatin mixture into a pot with the Yuzu Inspiration, white chocolate, milk, and salt, then stir together on low heat until everything is combined. Pour the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the heavy cream to finish. Allow the mixture to cool down in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before softening with a spatula and transferring to a piping bag for final plating.

For the yuzu kanten jelly:
2 tbsp yujacha
1 tbsp yuzu juice
2 tbsp water
A pinch of salt
1 tsp agar agar

In a pot, bring all ingredients to a simmer. Once the agar is dissolved, pour the jelly into a shallow container and refrigerate for 10 minutes to firm it up. Slice into cubes that are smaller than the castella.

For the yuzu-macerated strawberries:
¼ cup sliced strawberries
1 tsp yuzu juice
2 tbsp yujacha
A pinch of salt

Mix together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and allow the berries to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using.

For the strawberry sorbet:
1 cup strawberries
¼ cup yujacha
½ cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
¼ cup water

In a blender, puree everything together. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a freezer and chill down for at least 1 hour before attempting to use.

To plate:
Start with piping the namelaka on the bottom of the plate first. Then garnish with cubes of the castella, gelee, and slices of the macerated strawberries. Finish with a quenelle of the sorbet on the side of the dessert.

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