Back in Brooklyn for just a week, I feel like I’m in some strange borderland between my life in Japan (where I spent the last 2 months apprenticing at a sake bar) and my life at home. I’m longing for the mountains I could walk up into just outside my door; for the little veggie shop two doors down from my apartment that has something new each day; for the camaraderie and fresh sake at the bar where I spent my evenings working.
But I’m glad to be home to my fiancé and my three plump hens in the backyard, to catch up with my brilliant and goodhearted friends, and to be in my kitchen full of familiar tools and ingredients.
It’s funny that, in Japan, I made myself a Western breakfast of granola, yogurt and coffee nearly every day, but within two days of getting home, I was up at 5am cooking miso soup and rice.
My suitcase is still fragrant from the half-dozen packages of sake kasu (also known as lees, the fermented rice sediment from sake making) that I carried home. I can close my eyes and conjure up the sake kasu soft serve from the brewery near the onsen in my little town. I’m going to make so many things with sake kasu…
But the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was bake a cake. I have an OVEN! An oven that’s MINE! I made some pretty terrible desserts in Japan with tools and ingredients that were just different enough that it mattered.
So I baked a sake kasu pound cake. It’s dense and aromatic, and ever so slightly savory—a flavor that’s not entirely American or Japanese, but bridges smoothly from one to the other.
Recipe: Sake Kasu Pound Cake
Adapted from Julia Child and Flo Braker's Vanilla Pound Cake.
You can buy sake kasu (also called sake lees) at Mitsuwa on the East Coast (or online), and from Uwajimaya on the West Coast, and presumably directly from a sake brewery if you are lucky enough to live near one. Most often in the US it is sold in the form of paste about the consistency of miso. It can also be sold in sheets. If you are working with the sheets, mix it in equal parts with sake to make a smooth paste and use ½ cup of the mixture.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, more for greasing the pan
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sake kasu
- 1/2 cup sake, milk or water
- powdered sugar to finish (optional)
1. Bring all your ingredients to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan; set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and stir them together using a fork or whisk.
3. Put the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat it on medium speed until soft and smooth. Add the sugar and salt, and beat on medium until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. (Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula every few minutes to make sure the butter and sugar mix evenly.)
4. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing thoroughly and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
5. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the sake kasu (see headnote) and liquid—sake if you want a strong taste, milk or water if you prefer it milder.
6. Stirring by hand, add the flour mixture and sake kasu mixture alternately—3 additions of flour, 2 additions of the wet mixture—starting and ending with flour.
7. Scrape the batter into the bundt pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 55-65 minutes, rotating once halfway through baking. It's done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool the cake for 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a plate. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. (You can serve it warm, but allow it to cool completely before covering). This cake keeps well, covered, at room temperature for at least 3-4 days—I think it tastes best the second day.