food

Baking in Japan

15 Comments
By Vivian Morelli

Baking can be rather challenging in Japan, due to the lack of ingredients, required appliances and space, but it’s not impossible and I managed to make it work.

Here is a little guide to baking in Japan.

Ingredients

You can find all the basic baking ingredients at your local supermarket: flour, baking powder, sugar, chocolate chips, butter, milk. Most grocery stores have a small baking section, stocked with tiny bags of cake decorations, cake mixes, as well as cupcake tins. Everything is just a notch smaller and more expensive than back home, but it’s there. Reading some packaging can be difficult if you don’t know how to read kanji characters, but here are some of the staples you can easily locate, as they are written in katakana:

Certain ingredients such a powdered sugar, coconut, cocoa, and other types of flours are only available at import shops, but you can most likely find everything (at a cost!), as Japan does baking extremely well.

Appliances

Most small apartments in Japan are not equipped with an oven, but you’ll be surprised to find out that most microwaves in Japan double as an oven. There is a button that changes the function to oven, in katakana: オーブン

If not, a toaster oven is a cheap and convenient alternative to a full-size oven. I spent my first year in Shikoku baking tiny cakes and individual cupcakes in my toaster oven. It requires more time and patience, but the result is just as good. You can easily find cake tins of any size (and shape: try heart or star-shaped) at the supermarket.

Space

Once again, kitchens in most Japanese apartments do not offer much counter space, but that’s the part where you can get creative. I usually would cover the stove with a cutting board and use the extra space, the top of the microwave, a coffee table, or a pile of books. No one has to know.

Recipes

You can practically re-create any recipe you like, even if you have to adjust the quantities to fit a smaller oven, or substitute ingredients. Unlike cooking, baking does not allow much room for creative measuring, so make sure you calculate everything accordingly. Math never was my strongest skill, but it is necessary for baking.

Here is my favorite cupcake recipe, and it’s very simple to make in Japan.

Buttercream Vanilla Cupcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter 2/3 cup sugar 3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 1/2 cup flour 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon milk

Mix the sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the batter in individual lined tins, and bake for 17-20 minutes at 180 degrees C. Keep an eye on the cakes, as each oven varies, so stay near!

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar) 1/2 cup unsalted butter 2 tablespoons milk

Mix everything together until it becomes light and fluffy, it may take several minutes if you don’t own a mixer, but be strong and patient.

Makes about 12 cupcakes, but feel free to do the math to downsize the recipe.

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15 Comments
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Hmm, I've had no problems finding powdered sugar and cocoa at regular supermarkets, even different types. Although I usually get fair trade cocoa online, (in a larger box than the small plastic packs) which is quite affordable. Some 100 yen shops have a bunch of these ingredients as well, so that's a good place to look to save money. Most regular stores also do carry a variety of flours, so unless you use whole wheat pastry flour or something like that you're usually ok.

It's also possible to buy a larger-sized convection oven, which is what we did instead of getting a microwave. It can also act as a toaster but it's much larger than the tiny toaster ovens, and it wasn't too expensive either.

Tokyu Hands (if there's one around), is another good place to look for baking supplies. For better quality vanilla extract, I've had to go to the import stores, as well for a couple other extracts. I get my flours from Natural House and Tengu Natural Foods.

And sometimes I just chop up chocolate bars to replace chocolate chips, as they're often on sale and cheaper.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes, cocoa and powdered sugar are available at any supermarket. Van Houten's cocoa tends to be the most common, Hershey's is usually in an import store.

Powdered sugar is on the sugar aisle in small resealable bags (usually) marked 'kona sato' 粉砂糖.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

With the prices of the raw ingredients in Japan, it's sometimes cheaper just to buy the end product in the supermarkets.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Most of the ingredients needed for baking are far too expensive and are sold in such small amounts that it is not worth trying to do any serious baking in Japan. Certain other ingredients needed for baking are not even available in the stores and have to be imported privately.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Anyone seen raw yeast?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anyone seen raw yeast?

Yes, you can get it from Rakuten or Amazon.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Meidiya sells big blocks of raw yeast.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The temperature displayed on the microwave is completely unreliable though. It may say 220 degrees, but it isn't.

Also, most microwave ovens aren't fan assisted, so there is only one source of heat, the bar at the top, and the heat isn't being spread evenly inside the oven. S0 - buy a 100yen metal thing which is normally used for putting hot pots on to protect a table, and put that in the oven before preheating. Then when putting in the cake or whatever, put the baking tin on top of the metal thing - this allows air to get inderneath and cook it more evenly.

Finally, if you're baking something for any length of time, you might want to cover it in tinfoil for part of the baking time, so the top isn't burnt.

All of this post is irrelevant though, if you're lucky/rich/dedicated enough to baking to have a fan assisted oven.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

TOKYO — Baking can be rather challenging in Japan, due to the lack of ingredients, required appliances and space, but it’s not impossible and I managed to make it work.

I admire the exploit since the author probably lives at walking distance from the many Tokyo baker paradise stores like "Il pleut sur la Seine".

Certain ingredients such a powdered sugar, coconut, cocoa, and other types of flours are only available at import shops

Yep, since supermarkets are import shops.

if you're lucky/rich/dedicated enough to baking to have a fan assisted oven.

Rich ? They sell some new from 20 000 yen. Mine is already big and pretty sophisticated (oven, microwave, grill... and yes, it has a fan !) and it was in the 30 000 yen range. For 40 000 yen, you can get the wide big models. Even cheaper in recycle shops. Now, if you live in a cardboard, unlucky/poor/undedicated, there are recipes to bake on firewood in a dutch oven. "I live in remote inaka, my house has no electricity, the next Aeon is a 2 hour trip by bicycle, so my tips to cook in the irori and to make my own flour by grinding rice in a mortar....".

it is not worth trying to do any serious baking in Japan.

At that rate, you can say it is not worth living in Japan. I bake most types of European cakes and breads, and I'd say that cost me in average 30% more than if I baked them in France as dairies will never be cheap here. That's still much more economical than buying your cakes. And you get ingredients for wagashi cheaper.

it's sometimes cheaper just to buy the end product in the supermarkets.

Rarely, unless you compare pears and apples. You buy cheap products made with industrial ingredients (palm oil, yeast food, etc...) or you pay premium price.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It seems business has pretty much prevented the people from doing their own baking by high pricing ingredients. Good one, business. Small kitchens, no ovens completes the scam.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Most of the ingredients needed for baking are far too expensive and are sold in such small amounts that it is not worth trying to do any serious baking in Japan

Scones are cheap and delicious. Bread, too.

If you want to impress your Japanese friends, bake bread.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All of this post is irrelevant though, if you're lucky/rich/dedicated enough to baking to have a fan assisted oven.

They are getting cheaper all the time....for Sharp's latest model, 24,000 on Rakuten. Full oven function, can bake two trays at a time, has a cup for water to use with a function that reheats fried food crispy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Baking is great, I would love to bake some pies but 99% of Japan does not have an oven and the microwave oven (using the oven part) isn't quite the same.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would love to bake some pies but 99% of Japan does not have an oven.

That's, um, logical.

I think some people in this thread have already made the point that if you want to do something enough, you work out a way to get it done. If it costs more, you just pay more. If it requires special equipment, you get the equipment, or you improvise.

If you won't do any of that, you just don't want it enough.

Baking is easily possible in Japan. It's not even close to difficult.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

VicMOsaka-san,

Most of the ingredients needed for baking are far too expensive and are sold in such small amounts that it is not worth trying to do any serious baking in Japan. Certain other ingredients needed for baking are not even available in the stores and have to be imported privately.

Not necessarily. Try to find a supermarket that caters for restaurants, bakeries and bars rather than housewives.

The ingredients are not expensive.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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