Halloween is catching on in Japan and if you know me, I’m ready to celebrate. Naturally, I had to share my love of spooky season with my girl by making Halloween cupcakes! That’s nice, you’re probably wondering, but what do cupcakes have to do with life in Japan?
If you’ve spent your entire life accustomed to certain baking equipment and the imperial measuring system, baking in Japan can certainly feel like a form of culture shock! But, rather than writing about the limitations of baking in Japan, I want to focus on all the fun we had with “Baking Cupcakes in My Tiny Tokyo Kitchen.” I have very fond memories of being in the kitchen as a child, so it’s only natural that I want to create new memories with my daughter.
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Baking Cupcakes In My Tiny Tokyo Kitchen
During our first summer of Covid, I kept my daughter busy with a homeschooling routine that included plenty of outside play and crafting. Once she started Japanese kindergarten, I scaled back on our homeschooling activities and shifted to hands-on cooking experiments with the Poppin’ Cookin’ series by Kracie:
Eventually these mini-boxes were no longer enough to satisfy her kitchen curiosity. She wanted to actually cook and bake!
When Miss M first asked me if we could make REAL cupcakes, I knew I needed to find a recipe that met 2 important points:
- It had to be a recipe with ingredients readily available in Japan
- It also needs to be kid-friendly!
After much research, I discovered the best cupcake recipe: Sophie Godwin’s “Cupcake recipe” from BBC Good Food. (By the way, Ms. Godwin’s “Easy chocolate chip cookies” recipe is also a good one!)
This recipe takes only 35 minutes, but depending on the ages of your kids, just go ahead and put aside at least an hour of your time!
Here are the list of ingredients, with the Japanese equivalent in parenthesis, followed by the baking directions:
* 110g softened butter (食塩不使用バター)
* 110g golden caster sugar (三温糖)
* 2 large eggs (卵)
* ½ tsp vanilla extract (バニラエッセンス)
* 110g self-raising flour (薄力小麦粉)
Buttercream Frosting Ingredients
* 150g softened butter (食塩不使用バター)
* 300g icing sugar (粉糖/粉砂糖)
* 1 tsp vanilla extract (バニラエッセンス)
* 3 tbsp milk (牛乳)*
* food colouring paste of your choice (食用色素)
*Substitution: I used soy milk (豆乳) instead of milk (牛乳)
Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and fill a 12 cupcake tray with cases.
Using an electric whisk beat 110g softened butter and 110g golden caster sugar together until pale and fluffy then whisk in 2 large eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
NOTE: We don’t have an electric whisk. What I did was leave the butter out to soften at room temperature. Then we used a silicone spatula to soften the butter more and fold in the caster sugar.
Add ½ tsp vanilla extract, 110g self-raising flour and a pinch of salt, whisk until just combined then spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases.
Bake for 15 mins until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the buttercream, whisk 150g softened butter until super soft then add 300g icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.
Whisk together until smooth (start off slowly to avoid an icing sugar cloud) then beat in 3 tbsp milk.
If wanting to colour, stir in the food colouring now. Spoon or pipe onto the cooled cupcakes.
Baking Cupcakes in My Tiny Tokyo Kitchen
Our Halloween cupcakes were actually our third attempt at cupcakes using this recipe, and you can see the evolution of our ~skills~ in the photos below!
During our first attempt in July, I didn’t (want to) make buttercream frosting. Instead, we used chocolate decorating pens and sprinkles.
The chocolate was way too sweet and overpowered the taste of the cupcakes.
The cupcake liners were another problem as they were not sturdy, resulting in flat cupcakes.
However, Miss M was more than happy to play around with the decorating pens and sprinkles. As for me, I knew I had to do better!
For our second attempt, we went with homemade pink and purple buttercream frosting because Miss M wanted “princess cat” cupcakes.
Unfortunately, our second attempt was in late August, and I couldn’t keep the buttercream at a thick consistency. The cupcakes were moist and delicious, though! The non-stick paper cupcake liners helped the cupcakes bake into a more suitable cupcake shape.
It was a huge improvement from the first attempt. But I was not satisfied with the color of the purple frosting and consistency of the icing pens. On to round 3!
As the saying goes, “third time’s a charm,” and I learned from all the mistakes that we made in our previous attempts!
Since it’s Halloween I wanted to go all out with the buttercream. First, I divided it into two batches, so I could make orange frosting.
After we decorated the Jack o’lanterns, they just didn’t look pumpkin-y enough. I also wanted a Frankenstein cupcake. So, I quickly whipped up a small batch of green frosting and went to work!
The only problem with this attempt is that we had a collection of chocolate icing pens with different consistencies! Some were liquid at room temperature but others needed to sit in a container of hot water before using. This resulted in uneven lines with some cupcakes, but I think it added an overall spooky charm to these sweets.
Overall, it was a fantastic project and we’ve already decided that we’ll make Sumikko Gurashi themed cupcakes next!
I bet you’re wondering how I baked these – and you might not believe me – but I honestly baked them in my oven toaster! (a Zojirushi EQ-AG22)! I put the dial on 1000 W and baked for 12-15 minutes!
Where To Buy Baking Ingredients in Japan
For the most part, you can easily source basic baking ingredients like flour, sugar, milk, eggs, salt, and butter at your neighborhood supermarket, drugstore, or even convenience store.
Japan Life Tip: The next time supermarkets are out of butter, don’t despair! Just pick up a few boxes at the convenience store. It’s how I’ve always gotten around previous butter shortages in Japan!
Now, when it comes to specialty ingredients like food coloring, vanilla extract, baking powder, icing sugar, yeast, etc, you’re better off shopping at a large supermarket chain. Try Ito Yokado, Aeon, Life, Maruetsu, etc.
However, if you want to find all of your baking materials in one location, go directly to Don Quijote! YES, it will take you a while to find everything on your list, and your child(ren) will no doubt add unnecessary stuff to your cart. But, rest assured that you will find everything you need for your cakes and cupcakes, including a variety of sprinkles and decoration icing sugar.
One final place to look for all your specialty baking goods is Daiso and/or Seria! I find that Seria has a better variety of baking instruments while Daiso has all the food related stuff.
In fact, according to this Daiso chocolate cookbook, here’s what you may encounter on your next Daiso run:
Of course, there’s always Amazon Japan for stuff you absolutely can’t find anywhere else.