Foreign Foods in Japan – Baumkuchen!

We’re ending our year of Foreign Foods in Japan on a sweet note, with a luscious cake that spans the globe: baumkuchen!

Known as “The King of Cakes”, baumkuchen is most notably a German cake. Variations are claimed by other European nations as far back as Ancient Roman times, but the true delicacy of this spit-roasted cake was perfected in Germany. A baumkuchen cake is made with simple ingredients, like flour, butter, eggs and sugar. The beauty of this cake is that it is painstakingly made, with layers upon layers of sweet sponge cake batter roasted on a rotisserie-style spit, each layer cooked until golden and delicious.

Traditional baumkuchen were made over charcoal or open flames. The base layer was coated on the spit, cooked all the way through and then coated with another layer, which in turn was cooked over the heat. The process was repeated up to 20 times, resulting in golden lines between each layer of cake. The overall effect was similar to the growth rings found in tree trunks, hence the name baumkuchen, which literally translates to “tree cake”. This tree cake, inspired by German forests and open-flamed cooking methods, was transplanted to Japan!

Baumkuchen was first introduced in Japan during World War I. The Japanese Army captured a German expat named Karl Juchheim, who owned a pastry shop while living in Tsingtao, China, during the war. He was interred along with other Germans in Ninoshima Island of Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1919, an exhibition of commercial goods made by the prisoners of the camp was hosted by the Japanese, and Juchheim created his famous baumkuchen cake in a show of German pride for the exhibition. Needless to say, the cake was a smashing hit! Following the end of the war, Juchheim stayed in Japan and opened his eponymous shop. Known as a Master Baker or “Meister”, Juchheim offered the cake to an avid Japanese market.

Today, baumkuchen is prized all over the world. The cake is made in specialized ovens instead of over an open flame and found in specialty bakeries in Japan. The ovens are so prized that the first one was only recently sold in the United States!

In Japan, baumkuchen is a popular return gift at weddings, not only because of its lovely ring shape – which symbolizes love and adoration – but also because of its intricacy and fancy preparation. The ring pattern and light sweetness of the cake make it a perennial favorite, and we hope that the same sweetness and light follow you into 2020! Happy New Year!

Foreign Foods in Japan –
Piroshiki!

So many of our Foreign Foods in Japan have come from Europe, the US and China, so this month we’re finally focusing on Japan’s neighbor to the north…Russia!

Piroshiki are hand-held dough pockets filled with various types of fillings. The original dish from Russia is spelled as pirozhki, piroshki or when plural, pirogi or pierogi. In Russia, pirozhki can be found all over the place, made at home, in restaurants and at street food stalls. The Russian version is commonly filled with meat, vegetables, cheese and infrequently fish, when savory, or with fruit and jam when sweet. The dough is typically a yeast dough, leavened and brushed with egg wash, and the entire pocket is baked in a hot oven…perfect for the cold Russian climate!

Pierogi

In Japan, pirozhki were adapted to Japanese taste and cooking methods. One account states that this dish was introduced to Japan after WWII, and the original Japanese piroshiki were filled with minced onions, boiled eggs and ground beef and deep-fried, instead of baked. Another states that Miyo Nagaya, a Japanese chef from Tokyo, became interested in the cuisine of Russia and Central Asia, and opened a restaurant in Tokyo in 1951, where she modified the Russian dish to Japanese tastes.

Piroshiki

Today, piroshiki can be found at bakeries and restaurants in Japan and frying is still the most common way of preparing the dish. Typical fillings range from ground meat, fish and vegetables such as onions, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. One delicious and unique Japanese-centric filling is cooked and chopped up harusame glass noodles, which add incredible texture and umami to the piroshiki. Some believe that piroshiki were the inspiration for kare-pan or curry pan, which is a beloved Japanese deep-fried dough pocket filled with curry flavored ingredients.

Kare-pan

No matter where you get your piroshiki in Japan, you’re sure to enjoy this hot pocket. Have you had it? Have you made it? Share your favorite recipe with us below!