Preface: I’ve visited Japan 8 times in the last 7 years, I enjoy the neon hustle-bustle of Tokyo, the serene beauty of Kyoto. The contrast between their Shinto & Buddhism and their extreme commercialism. It’s a fascinating culture, and always makes for an enjoyable adventure. Every trip has its own set of unique adventures which I rarely get around to writing down. They are usually relegated to reminiscing with my fellow travellers over beer, or prep stories for newbie travellers. The following anecdote was a unique experience from my most recent visit.
On our last day in Tokyo this fall, we made another stop in one of my favourite stores, Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands is a large 8 floor department store south of Shinjuku station described as a ‘creative life store’. While it features home outfitting and small appliances, it also features one of the most incredible selection of crafting and hardware. Think of it as a Home Depot and a Michaels, but with a wider selection than either.
We were on our way out when we saw a girl setting up a table for a craft seminar. As we looked on curiously, she brought us the finished product, a plastic model Christmas cake (kurisumasu keki of course). These frosted sponge cakes are Japan’s national Christmas dining tradition, and the model was very cute. We asked her how long it would take and she said 45 minutes, which we sadly thought might be too long for our rushed schedule. 5 minutes later we realized it was a unique opportunity that we couldn’t turn down and went back to learn how to make a model cake. We were sent to buy tickets (1500 yen each) and wait the 8 or 9 minutes until 11 o’ clock rolled around to begin.
The girl teaching us was clearly very excited to have foreigners, and with her very good english (by Japan standards) plus some fumbling along and using her phone to translate, we had a fantastic time. The craft begins by putting on disposable gloves. We then measured out 10 grams of what was described as ‘liqi A’. I didn’t get a translation of the liquids, but she wrote the name down for me, of course in Japanese. ‘Liqi A’ came in a much larger jug than ‘liqi B’, and was VERY vicious and heavy. We poured it into a styrofoam cup on a tarred scale. If we over poured we were able to pour it out into another cup. Eva and I used each others cups to balance the liquid. We set that aside and measured 4 grams of “liqi B’. Our teacher delightfully verified each of these liquids were correct before moving on.
Next we would add the ‘chocolate’ to ‘liqi A’. The paint was a specific pigment for this type of mixture, also sold in the store. We precisely counted out 10 eye dropper drops into ‘liqi A’ and mixed it thoroughly. The next portion was explained to us in detail ahead of time because the timing was very critical. We would add ‘liqi B’ into ‘liqi A’ then stir *rapidly*, she was very specific that it had to be rapid for 30 seconds on a cooking timer. Once that was done we would immediately pour it into our silicone baking molds, half and half. The molds appeared to be tiny cupcakes. She stressed how rapid we would have to stir.
We began adding the liquid then stirring rapidly. 15-20 seconds into the stirring the mixture became very hot, exothermic. We scooped the goopey brown mixture into the molds. As soon as the timer was up. I was worried I didn’t get it all in, but it really didn’t seem to matter. Eva made hers rather lopsided, but we later found out it too didn’t matter. Our instructor had us feel the molds to see how hot it got and said this was good! We let the mixture expand for 10 minutes. It grew well past the end of the mold. Once this was done she squoze them to hear the ‘woosh’ of the air coming out, she imitated the ‘woosh!’ sound which was also very cute. We were then instructed to begin squeezing (quite hard) as evenly as possible across the molds. This would dislodge it from the silicone so we could yank it out. We continued this for quite awhile and she would periodically check, looking at the corners on top and squeezing listening for the air sound. She made sure we both heard the air sound too, as thats how you knew it was done.
When they were done we were able to pull our cakes out. With our cakes out we were instructed to slice the parts that stuck out above the mold (and thus lacked the cake texture) off using an exacto blade. The exacto blades didn’t have handles, which was more than amusing (that’d be a liability back home for sure), and we were to oil them using baby oil and q-tips to aid the slicing. We were instructed to slice by sawing while rotating the cake itself. At first it was tricky but once you had scored the outside it was easy to saw all the way through. Next we then had to chose which cake we wanted to frost, and were instructed we could take the other unfrosted cake home. I chose the less even of my two, and made a minor adjustment using the blade and a pair of scissors. The chosen cake was double sided taped onto a little metalic-plastic square tray where we would paint it.
While we’d been squeezing our cakes we were instructed on the frosting. The chocolate frosting consisted of clay and brown water color paint that had been premixed to us. Quite cool. We were instructed to lay it on quite thick, as she tried to explain to us that it would reduce as it dried. This was tricky for her to explain, it involved her pinching the skin under her neck, us going back and forth with many possible words for what she was describing, so she pulled out her phone and translated it as “to become thin”, which was good enough. We were also instructed to fill in the top dimple slightly, but not fully it seemed, this was slightly un clear to me but she liked my results. I started dolping it on the top ridges, and stroking it down until it was quite thick. Over strokes onto the tray were desired. Eva’s wasn’t quite thick enough and she referenced mine. We were then told that we had a choice, we could go for a smooth frosting look or more of a rough look, she had examples of both. We both agreed the decadent rough look was better and proceeded to swipe at our cakes to create less of a clean stroke pattern. When we had both frosted our cakes to our liking, we were instructed on the whipped cream.
The whipped cream was silicone caulk in a cake frosting bag. She described it as the stuff between the floor tiles :) She asked us if we’d worked with a frosting bag, and both of us had, though this was quite a different experience. She demonstrated and I could tell how hard she was squeezing by the way her hands shook. She offered to let us try on a piece of scrap paper, and I must admit it was pretty hard. She had instructed us to do 3 circles and then release, getting it spread evenly and in a nice circle was tough. My first frosting dolop was nice and even, but I didn’t remove it properly, so it wasn’t very pretty. She redemonstrated and instructed us to release pressure on the bag at the end, push down a bit then release. Sure enough my next dolop looked good. Before we were allowed to actually frost our cakes, we had to chose a bow and take some holly, a small jewel and the traditional strawberry. She stressed that we needed to figure out how we wanted to arrange them because we’d have to do it very quick after laying the frosting. The frosting would harden on the outside within minutes (though take a couple weeks to become completely solid I believe she said).
Once we had assured her that we’d planned our decorations we began frosting. I frosted my cake and was very happy, I immediately stuck my decorations in as I’d envisioned, Eva did the same. Our instructor came around and inspected our cakes, exclaiming both to be cute. We were quite pleased. She then began to bag our cakes, putting a little transparent box over the tray and taping them to the bottom of a bag. She asked us individually if we’d like to take our unfrosted cake and the sliced off tops home, and then proceeded to neatly bag those as well. We were instructed to unbox our cakes when we got home and let them air out for at least a week to dry properly. We thanked her very much for the experience, something I am truly grateful for. What a lot of fun.