Tuesday, March 25, 2008

* Happy Birthday to Me *

My Homemade Birthday Cake

Pink has never been my favorite color. When I took photos of my birthday cakes with flowers in previous years, I never used pink flowers. However, I do love the delicate pinkish white of cherry blossoms. I can never fully explain how much I love to see that color in spring -- the season when everything looks fresh and alive.

Usually cherry trees start blooming in late March around here, but I don’t see too many of them around my birthday. That is why it never occurred to me to relate my birthday to that beloved blossoms. But this year, because of the warm weather, some cherry trees in this neighborhood are already in full bloom now. And as I was riding my bike enjoying the view of such early blossoms yesterday, I thought, “Maybe the day I was born was a warm, sunny day like this, and some cherry trees might have been in half-bloom then, if not full-bloom.”

I remember that there were a couple of cherry trees near my parents’ house, including the big one at the gate of our local shrine. I have heard from mom that when she gave birth to me, it was not easy because I was a breech baby. So when I was born safely, someone in my family must have run to the relatives’ house to tell the good news (because we didn't have the phone at that time yet. Ahem!) and visited the shrine to thank God on his/her way home. That “someone” might have looked up the cherry blossoms blooming in the spring sunshine, with the blue sky in the background, and felt rejoiced. When I thought about that, I suddenly felt like making a birthday cake with cherry blossoms.

Actually, using cherry blossoms for baking is not such a crazy idea. Recently I see more and more sakura (cherry blossom) cakes and cookies being sold at the stores as well as their recipes shared on the net. You think we make jam out of the blossoms and use it for baking? No. Usually we use salted cherry blossoms or liqueur flavored with the blossoms. For the cake I made this time, I used the sakura liqueur to flavor the top layer and sank some salted sakura in it. The white layer is the mixture of canned white peach and yogurt set with gelatin, and the bottom is a graham cracker crust. The original recipe (Japanese) is here.

As you can see in the photo on top of this post, the pink layer of my cake was a bit too soft and the edges didn’t turn out as sharp as I wanted. I was too lazy to buy gelatin sheets (leaf) and used regular gelatin powder, thinking that it would turn out firm enough if I refrigerate the cake longer than recommended in the recipe. Wrong! :P Now I know that there was a good reason for using different kinds of gelatins for those layers: sheet (leaf) for the top layer and powder for the white layer.

I tried to hide the ragged edges with whipped cream, but obviously it wasn't a good idea... :P

So I can't say that this was a great success. But there’s something I like so much about this cake – maybe the color combination? – and I'm glad that I chose to make this one for my birthday 2008.
(I might try another sakura cake sometime soon...)

Let me add a little more about the aroma of the cherry blossoms. It’s kind of tricky. I don’t think that the blossoms themselves have such a distinctive fragrance like roses or plum blossoms do. When most Japanese smell things like incense, soap, cologne or sweets with “cherry blossom fragrance,” we are not associating it with the smell of the blossoms on the tree; actually we are associating it more with the smell of a Japanese wagashi called Sakuramochi. The smell of sakuramochi comes from the salt-preserved cherry leaf wrapped around the rice cake, and according to some scientific websites, the smell is caused by a substance named “coumarin“ which is contained in the cherry leaves. They say that the substance does not produce the smell while in the live cherry leaves, but does so when the leaves are salt-preserved. Interesting!

Now, many Japanese kids hate sakuramochi because of its smell, and I was one of them, too. I don’t know how to describe the smell… it is somewhat sweet, but different from typical floral fragrance. It’s more… how shall I say… starchy? I don’t know… Anyway, I would say that whether you love sakura-flavored sweets/drinks really depends on whether you can truly love the smell of coumarin or not. (I’ve read that Polish vodka called zubrowka has the coumarin smell, too. So don't be surprised if a Japanese who smelled zubrowka would say, "Gosh, this smells like a cherry blossom rice cake!")

Now, being an adult, I don’t hate that smell of salted cherry leaves any more –- I even love it. But let me warn you… If you are interested in trying out some cherry-blossom flavored sweets/drinks, don’t feel too discouraged if you find them quite different from what you expected. ;)



Rinshinomori said...

What a wonderful cake for your birthday! Happy Birthday to you.

I love the colors. Can you actually taste the sakura in liquer and salted sakura blossoms?

I have made my own sakura shio using salted sakura leaves and that turned out really well. Sakura leaves taste and smell like sakura.

Allison said...

Ooh happy birthday!
As for the cake - It's so beautiful!!! So beautiful that I just spent about an hour trying to translate the recipe. Haha I am a dork... but I really want to make this cake!
And even though the whipped cream is there because of the questionable edges, I think it looks awesome! =)

Maud said...

Happy birthday Obachan! The cake is beautiful!

Piccola said...

happy birthday obachan~ your sakura cake is lovely :) hope you had a wonderful day.

Karen said...

Happy Birthday! Your cakes is really lovely! Loved it!

spajonas said...

happy birthday! the cake is very pretty!

Amanda said...

Happy birthday, obachan! Your cake is absolutely beautiful, I really like the whipped cream piped along the rim, it sort of looks like it's floating there. Was it yummy?

Marcela said...

Happy birthday Obachan! This sakura cake is lovely. And the inspiration is so delicate and intense that I even could see the trees and the messenger almost running...
Have a sunny day. :)

Fiona said...

Happy Birthday, Obachan!

Your cake looks really beautiful. ^_^


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Obachna and may you have many many more wonderful ones.!!

Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday .. Obachan..!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Obachan, your cake is totally beautiful.

Pinkity said...

Happy Bday Obachan! Beautiful cake! It reminds me of clouds on a sunny day floating by sakura trees in full bloom...

And the colour, LOVE IT! :D

Happy Bday again Obachan.. wish I can be there to celebrate it with you!!


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!
And many good wishes! Love the birthday cake, loos so beautiful!

sairuh said...

I love when the seasons are reflected in food. Your cake does it so well.

The cherry blossoms here in the San Francisco bay area are blooming. It's interesting that the fruit-bearing cherry trees have white blossoms, whereas the ornamental ones are pink (like your cake!).

I keep returning to your cake. ;-) I was wondering if the gelatin you use is the animal-based one, or agar (seaweed) based? I've been trying to bend my head around using the vegetarian agar.

Happy birthday, Obachan!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Obachan! Your cake looks absolutely lovely - very light and simple/clean, and reminiscent of spring. :)

I hope you had a lovely day and someone to share your cake.

- Ea

yamo said...

otanjoubi omedeto

K and S said...

what a beautiful cake! Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday from New York Obachan!


☆Hachiko☆ said...


Beautiful cake there! I think I'll try out this recipe sometime.

Hollywood Tai Tai said...

happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday oooobachan...
happy birthday to you!

hope you had a sweet birthday! the cake's so pretty!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday obachan, wishing good health and another fantastic year. The cake looks wonderful and elegant.

Anonymous said...

happy birthday obachan!! Your cake looks very pretty! enjoy the cherry blossoms!

post4tina@yahoo.com said...

From one obachan to another.

O tanjobi omedeto gozaimasu.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Obachan, may you celebrate many more!

The cake is truly gorgeous.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful cake!!!
Happy Birthday from Seattle

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Obachan!

That cake definitely looks very nice. I'm sure that if I were to have made it using the exact same recipe, it would turn out to be a complete mess, with the layers blending in together.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Obachan!!
Your cake is lovely and I like pink.
Could you please send me the English version of the recipe? I tried to translate the page to English using Bablefish, but it turned out some words that I don't understand.

Anonymous said...

otanjou-bi omedetou gozaimasu obachan!

the cake just looks so good:)

Anonymous said...

Belated happy birthday, Obachan! When I saw the first picture, I thought that it was a store-bought cake. It was that beautiful :)

obachan said...

Thank you, Rinshinomori, Allison, Maud, Piccola, Karen, Gleek, Amanda, Marcela, Fiona, Keona, Mama bok, Umami, Pinkity, Cocogirl, Sairuh, Fools-trifle, Yamo, K & S, Nicole, Hachiko, Hollywood tai tai, Anonymous commenter, Tiptup, post4tima, Winnie, Marijoe, Sirpaul, March, Jean and Another anonymous commenter. Thank you all so much for warm birthday wishes. And some of you sent me the wishes in perfect Japanese! So great. Arigato! :D

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure if it’s really the “taste” of the sakura or the “aroma” from coumarin that we are feeling when we taste sakura liqueur or salted sakura blossoms. But we do think, “Ah! This is sakura!” when we taste them. Funny.

Check your email in-box. ;)

It tasted OK, but next time I make this cake, I would make some changes.

Wish you were here. ;)

Looks like most of gelatins sold in Japan (both leaf and powder) are animal-based ones. We do have agar-based gelatin powder, too and they are usually so indicated on the package. And we have kanten, which is undoubtedly agar-based and produces much firmer jelly than gelatin does. These days there is such thing as kanten powder.

Oh, I’m sure you would do just fine. They don’t blend together, of course, if you follow the recipe and refrigerate each layer long enough.

Check your email in-box… oh, and the spam folder, too, just in case.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday! I love your blog. You make me grateful for many things in my life. I wish you the best of luck with your job situation as well.

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday Dear Obachan, and many happy returns! What a lovely treat you made for yourself.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Happy belated birthday! Your cake looks gorgeous!



Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday to such a talented beautiful lady with a cake to match!

Anonymous said...

Tanjoo-bi omedato gozaimasu Obachan!
Sorry to be so belated in wishing you happy birthday. Your cake is beautifully made and I trust delicious as well.
Hope I haven't missed too much. My computer's hard drive died a week ago.

Anonymous said...

I am inspired to try and recreate your birthday cake. It looks so beautiful and delicious (I'm drooling again)! ;p
Thanks for inspiring me! I will have to substitute on a few ingredients though, but it will be fun.

rach said...

happy belated birthday oba-chan! that was a beautiful birthday cake you made for yourself! rachel xxx

obachan said...

Thank you, Anonymous commenter, Lannae, Rosa, Steph, Rei and Rachel
It’s raining now and most of the cherry blossoms will be gone by the time it stops. Your warm wishes made my birthday 2008 something special! :D

Charlotte-Ann Photography said...

Happy Birthday Obachan! I'm glad to hear you had enjoyable time and I think the cake was lovely - even if you think there were some mistakes :)
I'm sorry to hear that your cherry blossoms are gone now; here in Wisconsin ours haven't bloomed yet (2-4 more weeks yet!)
I hope you will have a wonderful year and enjoy many more birthdays!

Anna said...

I'm sorry that I'm ridiculously late to wish you a happy birthday, but I felt I had to comment cause this cake is so beautiful! I love cherry blossom, and the idea of using it in baking is completely new to me. I'm dying to try and recreate this now, it looks so professional - like something you'd buy from a fancy cake shop ^__^.

I hope you had a happy birthday, anyway.x

obachan said...

My bento diet
So your cherry trees bloom in late April or May? The weather must be pretty cool up there.

To be honest, "enjoying" birthdays is getting more and more difficult as I get older...

Oh, no. It's been only two weeks and not too late for a birthday wish. Thanks. :)

Charlotte-Ann Photography said...

Yes, it can get pretty cold here and I live in the Southern part of Wisconsin! Out of curiousity I wanted to see what part of Japan is on the same latitude as my town; Sapporo is very close.

obachan said...

Ah, no wonder! It must be cold. In my mind, Sapporo is not too different from Greenland. LOL
I just googled and found out that in Sapporo, too, cherry trees bloom in early May.

Mmmmm... maybe I should forget about the cherry blossom viewing around here in March - April and stay indoors until my pollen allergy will be over, then go to Sapporo in May to enjoy the beautiful blossoms there.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely cake! It's the color that is catching me the most, feel so relaxing. Hope I will able to find all the ingredient here and able to make it asap. I will love to have the recipe in English, try to translate but it came out incomprehensible. For the gelatin sheet, if I use the powder how much do i need? It's little hard to find the gelatin leave here.

Thanks Obachan,

Stephie (Canada)

obachan said...

Hi Stephie,

I emailed you today (Sorry about the delay).
If you didn't get my mail, please check the spam folder and if still you don't find it there, let me know.

Anonymous said...

I would love to get a translated version of this recipe if you could email it to me at ctalcarez@gmail.com

I was thinking of making this for my birthday well this sunday ^_^ Of course change the color to suit a boys birthday

Anonymous said...

Hi Obachan,
I have browsed thru your recipe and indeed it's lovely cheesecake.
Hope you can help to translate in English text so that I may try to bake this cheesecake for my family.