Let Them Eat Cake

Combine your love of Japanese food and cooking in one place

As students lined their cake pans and became familiar with ingredients neatly arranged in the middle of the large island-style table, the coziness of Star Kitchen (www.facebook.com/starkitchenvietnam) was evident. Warm lighting, crisp white walls, state- of-the-art ovens, and modern clear chairs fill the petite space situated above the bustling Pizza 4P’s Le Thanh Ton.

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Six students, including one attending to bake a cake for her son’s birthday, were there to learn how to make a sakura shortcake. A delectable baked treat with layers of white wine, raspberry and blackcurrant mousse, interspersed with pink sponge cake and decorated with whipped topping, each layer requires various steps and precise measurements.

The class is taught in Vietnamese by the main chef, Minatha, who has been working at Star Kitchen for five years. She studied cooking at university and began baking because she prefers cooking without meat. Classes can also be taught in Japanese and English and most of the dishes are a combination of both Japanese and Western flavors because the CEO is Japanese.

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The ingredients listed are almond flour, powdered sugar, regular sugar, butter, egg, gelatin and sakura leaves. First, we begin with the sponge cake. We sift flour into a bowl and mix in melted butter. Minatha teaches us how to divide egg yolks from egg whites by pouring eggs half-shell to half-shell until the whites are separated. We then use the egg whites to create a foam, pouring sugar slowly to change the foam to something resembling whipped cream. Once everything is combined, we each place our light pink batter in our own individual ovens for 12 to 15 minutes.

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As the cake is baking, we begin work on the white wine mousse. Minatha shows us how to soak the sheets of gelatin in cold water in order to help it dissolve easily. Next, we whisk egg yolk and sugar with the gelatin until it is all melted together. After adding whipping cream and sugar, we add wine and chopped sakura leaves, giving the mousse its titular flavor. The mousse is placed in the refrigerator to cool.

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The cakes come out of the oven, fluffy, pink and smelling like warm sugar. We then use rulers to cut the cake into specific measurements for our final product, sampling the cut pieces as we go along. We need three sheets of the sponge cake for layers. Once the mousse has cooled, we carefully lay down the first piece of sponge cake in a deep, square pan. We then measure and cut the mousse, placing it ever gently on top of the cake. We place another layer of cake on top of the mousse and it is all set aside.

Now it’s time to make the raspberry and blackcurrant mousse. Using a purée, we again melt gelatin and sugar together. This is set aside to cool as we prepare to add yet another layer. Once cooled, we pound on the mousse, creating an echo of clanging tools and laughter in the small space. We cautiously measure, cut and layer again, then place the third and final sheet of cake on top.

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Finally, we make a whipping cream to be the topping, layering it on last. Minatha brings out a torch and heats the sides of the pans to ease the cake’s hold, then she removes the bottom and ever-so-slowly lifts the sides of the pans up to reveal six layers: pink to green to pink to purple to pink to white. All varying textures. We decorate the tops of the cakes with delicate flowers. Once this is completed, we box up our cakes and dive into Minatha’s sample cake and warm tea. The cake tastes both tangy and sweet, each layer landing uniquely on the tongue. The sponge texture is offset by the coolness of the mousse, creating a distinct and delicious flavor.

Not only does Star Kitchen teach various styles of baking, but they teach traditional cooking classes twice a month that focus on sushi, pizza, udon and curry. Baking classes take place twice daily during the regular season and are often in the afternoon, evening, and weekends. Subjects include cheesecakes, crepes, tiramisu and even mochi. During the summer months, their class load is much heavier and includes classes specifically for children three times a day.

Images by Vy Lam

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