One of my goals for the New Year was to push myself in the kitchen a bit more. Changing our diet in October to help lower Roo’s cholesterol levels was a challenge all in itself, but participating in the VeganMoFo Monthly Iron Chef Challenge seemed like a great way to get out of my comfort zone. That is, reading cookbooks, blogs, etc. and adapting those recipes to meals both Roo and I could enjoy.
The rules for the Challenge are pretty simple in that there is only one rule: make an original dish. It can’t be something that you’ve previously posted that happens to involve the “secret ingredient” or be from, for example, a cookbook.
The “secret ingredient” this month was squash. To be honest, I knew right away I wanted to make a dish with kabocha, but how I was going to do it was a little beyond me.
Growing up, my mother would make kabocha squash for me, braised with a bit of kombu, mirin, shoyu and sake, served in one of her kiln baked bowls; little bare spots that the glaze didn’t cover that I still remember felt rough under my small, clumsy hands.
It remains as one of my favorite meals today. But, it wasn’t original enough, and left me stumped for the Sunday night deadline.
Thankfully, being a creature of habit, I went to Chinatown this weekend, and couldn’t help myself but go into bakery after bakery and see what pretty little pastries they had on display in their cases. Sponge cake, pineapple buns, swiss rolls (these were a favorite of mine as a child) and mochi cake.
Mochi cake sparked memories of my mother waiting for us in the kitchen on winter afternoons after school; plates with squares of broiled mochi, browned and burst open, wrapped in squares of toasted nori and a drizzling of shoyu.
If you’ve never had mochi before, I suggest trying it first before making this cake. The texture alone is something to be cautioned, as it is quite chewy. If you can get past that, it is seriously worth it. I can’t explain how delicious it is, other than glutinous rice is a huge comfort food for those from Asian heritage. It’s like…what the potato is to the Irish.
Cake made with mochi is a sweet, sticky, glutinous dessert. It’s very popular during Chinese New Year and typically steamed. I however wanted to make it a bit less sweet (more to Japanese taste as my mother would be receiving leftovers) and bake it as I didn’t have access to a steamer.
What resulted was a lovely thin crust surrounding the lightly sweet, kabocha filling. I also love that you can see the tiny flecks of ground flaxseed, which do add a slight nutty taste to the cake.
Mochi will always be a comfort food for me. But on days that I’m craving something a little sweet to go with a cup of sencha tea, this will be one of the first things I’ll go for.
Makes One 9″ Cake
2 cups of soy milk (or your choice of non-dairy milk) and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, mixed and set aside
3 flax seed eggs (3 tablespoons of ground flax seed and 9 tablespoons of warm water, mixed and set aside for at least 5 minutes)
One and half cups of sugar (This makes a not-so-sweet cake, which I find very typical of Japanese sweets. If you’d like something more sweet, use two cups)
One third of a cup of mild tasting olive oil (or any other mild tasting oil)
1 cup of kabocha squash puree (You can make this by baking the kabocha squash, then mashing it up when it’s cooled)
1 one pound box of rice flour
One and half teaspoons of baking soda
One teaspoon of baking powder
A stand mixer (or electric beaters and large bowl) *You may be able to do this by hand but the batter is quite thick
A medium sized mixing bowl
A 9″ cake pan
Parchment paper to line the pan or grease your cake pan with baking spray or butter and flour it
Place your oven rack to the middle position in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.
Add your wet ingredients to you stand mixer and mix till well combined. Be sure to use your spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, down and back up.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and whisk till well combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix till well combined.
Scoop out the batter into your cake pan (either lined with parchment paper or very well greased). Bake the cake for at least an hour. At the 50 minute marker, use a cake tester (a toothpick, fork, knife, etc) to insert into the middle of the cake to see if it’s done. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, continue baking the cake and check it every five minutes till it’s done.
You must, I repeat, you must allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan. If you do not, it won’t come out cleanly.
Trust me, I love eating cake right out of the oven because I have the patience of a five year old. You must must must let this cake cool.
Serve at room temperature.