Japanese strawberry shortcake is a layered sponge cake filled and topped with whipped cream and strawberries. It is what I call a ménage à trois made in heaven, because each party brings out the best in the other two.
The red and white cake is very popular in Japan, especially for Christmas. I guess having the same colour scheme as Santa Claus wins a lot of votes during the Yuletide season.
There're a few ways to make a sponge cake. Some people make a dry cake, then spray/brush/drizzle it with a syrup. Others try to make a moist cake by using oil or butter, and water or milk.
I find the syrup option a bit tricky because it's a fine line between moist and soggy. Adding a non-fat liquid isn't ideal either because water, and milk, dilutes the fragrance of the eggs and oil/butter. It also makes the cake shrink more after cooling down.
My sponge cake has lots of oil, more than most other recipes. And there's liquid glucose, my "secret ingredient", to make it really fluffy, moist and fragrant.
Liquid glucose helps make sponge cake moist because it's hygroscopic, i.e. it absorbs and holds water. How does it make the cake soft and fluffy? By helping the cake rise. The higher the cake rises, the softer and fluffier it is. How does glucose help make the cake fragrant? By doing away with the need for any water or milk. Glucose itself is quite tasteless.
If I had a recipe for boiling water, some readers would say, "I don't have water. Can I use something else?" So someone is bound to ask if glucose may be replaced with sugar, or golden syrup, or something, or other. Here's the answer:
If you want to try my sponge cake recipe, be warned that it's quite princessy. This is a recipe you'd want to follow to a T. If you don't – or think you have but actually haven't – you may have a few problems, such as (but definitely not restricted to):
⋈ If the batter is very bubbly after oil is added, that's a very, very bad sign. Something is measured wrongly, or the eggs are underwhisked, or the flour isn't thoroughly mixed, or all of the above. The cake likely will not rise well.
⋈ If the batter is lumpy, you'll find lumps of flour sitting in the bottom of the cake. (These lumps are very evil. They group themselves together to make sure you see them and taste them.)
⋈ If there's too much egg white, the cake will look like an award-winning Shar-Pei (although this is a good thing if you're making a cake that looks like a Shar-Pei, award-winning or otherwise).
⋈ If the oven is too hot, the cake won't rise well. If the oven isn't hot enough, the cake won't rise well either. Yup, this cake is as fussy as Goldilocks.
Of course, don't let my warning scare you. At the end of the day, how difficult can baking a cake be, right?
Once you've got the sponge cake nailed, the rest is easy. If, like me, you don't know how to ice the sides of the cake nicely, then don't. The cake looks prettier anyway with the sides cut off. Icing the top is like spreading butter on toast, so that shouldn't be a problem.
My sponge cake is delicious plain but it's at its best embellished with whipped cream and strawberries. 1 + 2 = >3 and all that jazz, you know? Japanese strawberry shortcake isn't only good for Christmas. I reckon the classic is good whenever strawberries are in season. And since strawberries are never out of season nowadays, the red and white cake is good all year round.