Hanami Chiffon Sandwich

I’ve made it a point to make hanami desserts every single year, so I definitely did not want to stop that trend this year. Hana-mi refers to flower viewing, specifically the viewing of cherry blossoms blooming every spring. As a whole, this is meant to symbolize the beginning of a new year, or at least to new beginnings, which is why in Japan, the school year starts every April, when the cherry blossoms are abundant. For this year’s hanami dessert, I have been making lots of chiffon cake sandwiches, and I figured that would be the best way to go, especially since I had half of a gluten-free matcha chiffon cake stored in my freezer in mind for making this exact recipe with. I knew right away I wanted to go with matcha and cherry blossom, for that spring-forward green-pink color contrast. For the other components, I wanted to use the salted cherry blossoms I purchased, so I used the salt from those, which are infused with cherry blossom flavor, to make dango, a cream, and a gelee with. The cherry blossom gelee is one of my personal favorites, because it is a gorgeous visual to see the petals scattered and suspended in the pink gelee itself! What I love here is that between the agar-based gelee, which is called kanten jelly in Japan, and the dango, there are some traditional Japanese pastry, or wagashi, techniques that went into this recipe! Other things worth noting are that I usually go with pitaya powder when making my pink-themed desserts, but I opted for red beet powder this year, because I have so much of it, and needed to start using it up someway, somehow. I found that a light enough amount of it worked almost as well as the pitaya powder, so I was pretty happy with it!

In terms of the technical aspects of this dessert, I went with a gluten-free chiffon cake, using mochiko, or glutinous rice flour, since we were already using that to make the dango with. The trick behind making a gluten-free cake is that you need to make sure that there is enough fat or hydration in the batter, since a lot of the times, these gluten-free flours tend to bake off really dry. As a general rule of thumb with all chiffon cakes, temperature plays a big part in the baking of these. Even after they are done baking, chiffon cakes need to be gently brought down to room temperature, by leaving the oven open, and turned off, for 5 minutes. This allows the steam to be slowly released from the sponge, instead of the cake just deflating right away. I like storing my chiffon upside down when cooling them down completely, since that keeps the sponge really light, instead of it collapsing onto itself and deflating again. Deflating is a chiffon cake’s worst enemy, in short, so doing those two steps will result in a super light and airy cake! With the dango, these are poached sweet rice dumplings, which add a pleasant chewy texture, and another pop of pink color, since I dyed those with the beet powder. I also went with a cream that was infused slightly with the cherry blossom salt, as well as using the salted blossoms in the aforementioned gelee, since it really is such a beautiful component to add to any cherry flavored desserts! All in all, I felt like these sandwiches are the perfect accompaniment to any hanami-related activities, which typically involve picnics anyways. They are super easy to carry, they are light as a cloud, and the flavor is fragrant, delicate, and perfectly translates that salted cherry blossom in a dessert-friendly manner!

Makes 8 sandwiches:
For the chiffon cake:
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cups mochiko, 1/4 cup tapioca starch, and 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
2 tbsp matcha powder
1/4 tsp green spirulina powder
1 tsp baking powder

In a bowl, whip the egg whites with sugar to stiff peaks. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with vanilla, canola oil, and milk until combined. Into the egg yolk mixture, sift the flour, matcha powder, spirulina powder, and baking powder. Fold into that the egg whites to form your batter. Pour the batter into an 8-inch chiffon cake mold. Bake at 350 degrees F for 50 minutes first. Then turn off the oven, and let the cake sit in the oven for 10 minutes, with the oven door slightly opened. Finally, take the cake out, flip upside down, and allow the cake to cool completely, while upside down, at room temperature.

Once the cake is fully cooled, scrape the sides away from the tin using an offset spatula. Then gently remove the cake from the pan. Cut the cake into 8 pieces, cutting each piece halfway down the middle to create slits. Store these cakes in an airtight container.

For the pink dango:
1/4 tsp red beet powder
1/2 cup mochiko
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup water, with more to boil
a pinch of sakura salt

Mix everything together to form a dough. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, rolling each into a smooth ball, and poach them in boiling water until they begin to float. Store in clean, cold water in an airtight container until time to use.

For the salted sakura cream:
a pinch of sakura salt
1/4 tsp red beet powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a bowl, whip everything to stiff peaks. Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate until time to use.

For the sakura gelee:
2 tsp agar agar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cups water
1/2 tsp red beet powder
4 salted cherry blossoms

In a pot, melt down the agar, sugar, and water first. Then stir in the red beet powder, then the cherry blossoms. Pour into a shallow container, and refrigerate until firm. Cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Refrigerate until time to use.

To assemble:
Start by piping the cream into each chiffon cake sandwich. Then garnish with the gelee and dango to finish.

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