Japanese cheesecake: So light it wobbles
This is about as far from a thick, unctuous New York cheesecake as you can get
Japanese cheesecake. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
Walking through St Stephen’s Green shopping centre recently, a shop selling Japanese cheesecake caught my eye. Freshly baked, these cheesecakes were as light as air and pillowy soft. This is about as far from a thick, unctuous New York cheesecake as it is possible to get.
Japanese cheesecake is so light, it wobbles slightly, and it is this jiggle that has made it something of a YouTube sensation. It gets its name from the cream cheese added to the cake batter.
The finished cheesecake is like an extra-light American chiffon cake in texture. It isn’t overly sweet, and this version has a hint of lime (but lemon can also be used). Of course, you could try yuzu juice for a little Japanese flavour.
The key to this recipe is keeping as much air in the batter as possible, so putting the effort into preparing the cake tin properly, so that it remains watertight once placed in the water bath is important, especially if you are using a loose-bottom cake tin.
This helps the cake to cook evenly and keep that wonderfully soft texture. The steam stops the outside of the cake from drying out before the centre is cooked. Once the cake has finished its cooking time, it is allowed to cool very slowly in the oven to maintain the delicate texture.
As with all things Japanese, minimalism is best and a slice of this cheesecake needs no adornment. Just a quiet corner and maybe a cup of green tea to enjoy it with.
200g cream cheese
125g caster sugar (divided in half)
Pinch of salt
5 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
Zest of 1 lime
1tsp lime juice
65g plain flour (plus extra for flouring tin)
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or equivalent (conventional setting, no fan). Grease the base and sides of a high-sided 20cm cake tin. Coat the base and sides very well with the extra flour. Cut a circle of parchment paper and line the base of the tin. The Japanese cheesecake is baked in a water bath so you will also need a high-sided baking tin to accommodate the cake tin (if you are using a loose bottom or springform cake tin, you will need to pack two crossed-over layers of tinfoil around the exterior cake tin base and sides, followed by a double layer of clingfilm stretched up to the rim of the cake to stop the steam seep inside the tinfoil).
2. Using a bain marie (a bowl set over a small saucepan of gently simmering water), combine the cream cheese and butter in the slightly warmed bowl and beat with a whisk until smooth.
3. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat in 60g of the caster sugar (about half the sugar), salt, egg yolks and milk. Add the lime zest.
4. Sieve the flour and add into the cream cheese mix, whisking to ensure there are no lumps.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and lime juice until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar. Whisk until the mixture is voluminous and soft peaks form.
6. The final step is to fold the whisked egg white mixture gently (in four batches) into the sweetened cream-cheese mixture, retaining as much air as possible. Ensure all the mixture at the base of the bowl has been incorporated and finish folding the batter while it is still pale, airy and no streaks remain.
7. Slowly pour the batter into the prepared cake tin. Place the cake tin inside the water bath (filled with 2cm of boiling hot water).
8. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake at 200 degrees Celsius, or equivalent, for 18 minutes (without opening the oven door), then reduce the temperature to 160 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for 30 minutes.
9. Once out of the oven, run a sharp knife around the inside of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the cake, upturn and allow it to gently unmould from the tin. Turn over once again. Serve warm or cold.
Variation: Infusing the milk (warmed) with a smashed stalk of lemon grass before adding it to the batter would make for a great Asian twist.