A dark, unrefined, deeply caramel flavoured ‘black’ sugar is cultivated and processed on the Southern Japanese island of Okinawa. The almost constant sunshine, volcanic soils and nutrients provided by sea spray have created the ideal growing conditions for producing this mineral rich sweetener which has, quite naturally, found its way into a lot of both island and mainland Japanese cuisine. Pieces of the dense, almost raisiny tasting sugar are often consumed as a sweet along with green tea, or used as a flavouring in rafute pork stew, but our favourite way to use it is in these steamed cakes that we first encountered in a Tokyo depachika. Fresh from the steamer these light, airy cakes remind me of the geothermal, mountainous areas of Japan- their craggy, ruptured exterior, internal veins of rich gooey syrup and vents issuing jets of hot air. They are best eaten greedily, while still scalding hot, to really enjoy the texture and contrasting flavours of the delicate dough and the random nuggets of sugar.
- 180g plain flour
- 20g cornflour
- 175ml milk
- 100g black sugar (you can substitute this with some really dark muscovado sugar)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- Prepare a large pan of boiling water and a bamboo steamer that fits in the pan (steamers of other materials will work just as well, but the damp bamboo’s aroma adds a subtle nuance to anything cooked in one) The steamer basket needs to be large enough to hold four ramekins, each of which will hold a paper muffin case.
- Sift the flour, cornflour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl, then roughly crumble in the black sugar and mix together. The cakes have a lot more character if you leave the sugar in random sized clumps when you crumble it, a mixture of fine dust and pieces up to the size of garden peas works best.
- Blend the milk and vegetable oil together, then gently fold into the dry ingredients with a spatula.
- Divide your cake mixture between the four muffin cases, sit each case in its ramekin holder and place the ramekins in your steamer. Steam the cakes over a high heat for about twenty minutes. To test the cakes, insert a wooden skewer into the centre of one, if the skewer comes out clean then the cake is cooked through, if not, then cook for a further two or three minutes. Serve while still piping hot.
Makes 4 individual cakes.