Last week I was in another country, and this may be out of place in a foodblog, but I always think the measure of a country is best judged by the state of its public loos. *Ahem*  Every single public loo I was in last week was absolutely pristine and each commode had a multi function bidet attached! Without exception. In one mall washroom, there was an attendant who entered every cublicle the second it was vacated and spruced it up lightning quick before inviting the next person in line to enter! Every wondered what clean is? Or what good service means?

In this glorious land, manhole covers were works of art. The shopping was absolutely insane. There was no escaping the malls. Everywhere you turned, EVERYWHERE, there was a department store you hadn't seen before! The underground train stations were like some Enid Blyton or JK Rowling tale of enchanted labyrinthian caverns where new shopping malls keep magically sprouting and where you walked by yesterday and swore there was nothing, today stands a new treasure trove of sparkling temptations to entice you!!! Strangers left their umbrellas at your disposal, when it drizzled and you had no umbrella in hand.

me trying to look as tall as my 13-year-old

the jewel in the crown of my tea caddy collection - found in this wonderful city

The food I could eat every day of the rest of my life and not want anything else. The people were a wonder amongst peoples; the most polite, thoughtful, considerate and disciplined I have ever met anywhere in the world. That was probably a dead giveaway, so I will just tell you that I LOVE TOKYO!!!

While I was there, eating my way through the capital of the land of the legendary Samurai, the majestic Mt Fuji and the delicate cherry blossom, I saw and fell in love with a cake called baumkuchen, which is German and means tree cake because it looks like the cross section of a tree trunk. It came to Japan through a Mr Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim . While living in Tsingtao, China, he was captured and interned in Okinawa, Japan as a prisoner of war, shortly after the start of the second world war. When the war ended, he decided to remain in Japan and sell baumkuchen for a living. Take a peek here to see how it's made commercially.

Baumkuchen has been embraced by the Japanese to the extent that it's become part of their food and social culture. You will see it everywhere in Tokyo, from the most upmarket patisseries, to the ubiquitous all night corner store and ridiculously expensive, beautifully presented ones make coveted wedding gifts because of their ring-like appearance.

Back home, I couldn't get baumkuchen out of my head and in a moment of inspired insanity, I decide to try making one myself. After scouring the depth and breadth of the internet, I found what looked like a good recipe here. It was pouring outside and I only had 6 eggs instead of the required 10, so I revised the recipe somewhat and added matcha as a flavour accent. The layers came out a bit wavy but the cake tasted gorgeous, and I thought it was pretty good for a maiden effort.

hubby-sized serving for my man

The cake that emerged is something of a cross between the traditional baumkuchen and an Indonesian cake called Kueh Lapis, which has horizontal layers, as opposed to the vertical layers of the traditional baumkuchen. It was lovely, in a word. I will be making another soon, hopefully one a little less vertically challenged. Ten eggs should do the trick I think. Just a tip - it REALLY helps to have two mixing bowls for your standmixer for a recipe like this.

Before I start with the recipe, TRAVEL ALERT : If you love food and travel, here is an amazing opportunity to combine the two in An Epicurean Voyage to Sicily from 9 - 17 October 2011. Your guide will be Devaki Das from Weave a Thousand Flavors.  Devaki has taken a lot of care to arrange a dream culinary vacation, so if you've never been to Sicily or would love to return, you should definitely check it out. Now let's get down to business!

Green Tea and Vanilla Baumkuchen (Adapted from a recipe at How-to Baker)

Prep 20 mins     Cook 25 mins     Serves 8


6 egg yolks
3 tsp natural vanilla extract (fake vanilla bakes up bitter in large amounts)
120 g (3/4 cup) butter
120 g (3/4 cup) sugar
120 g (1 1/4 cup) cake flour (or a mix of 2/3 plain flour and 1/3 corn flour/starch)
1/4 tsp salt
6 egg whites
3 tsp matcha


100 g (1 level cup) icing or confectioner's sugar
1 tsp matcha (I recommend half the amount as my icing turned out a swampy green)
4 Tbsp water

Thoroughly (I mean it) butter a 20 cm (8in) tube pan, so the baked cake will release easily. Preheat oven on the grill setting and shift the rack so it's about 15 cm (6in) down from the grilling element.

In one mixing bowl of your stand mixer, using the balloon whisk, whis the yolks and vanilla until mousse-like and lemon yellow. Leave till later.

In a separate mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. I find this quite easy by hand. Scrape butter and sugar mix into whisked yolks in the standmixer bowl and whisk together until smooth and fluffy.

Combine and sift the flour or flours and salt and sift again in two lots, into the yolk and butter mix. Gently fold in after each lot.

Wash the balloon whisk with soap and hot water, making sure it's absolutely grease free. In the other standmixer bowl, whisk the egg whites until peaks form. Fold the whites into the yolk, butter and flour mixture. Be gentle but thorough.

Divide the batter into two and gently stir the matcha into one half, leaving the other half yellow.

Pour about 1/3 cup of either the vanilla or matcha batter and gently tilt and swirl the pan until the base is completely and evenly covered in batter. Place under the grill for exactly 1 minute and 15 seconds. I am not fooling around people - anything longer and your layer will shrink. If the layers keep shrinking, you will end up with a lopsided cake or bumpy topped cake.

Remove from oven and add 1/3 cup of the other batter and again tilt and swirl until the first layer is completely and evenly covered with batter. Grill for another 1 minute and 15 seconds. Repeat the process to make up about 12 alternating green and yellow layers.

Turn off oven, lower rack and cake to the bottom of oven, close the door and leave cake inside for 2 minutes only, to dry out so it will pop out easily from the pan later.

Remove from oven and let cake cool for about 15 minutes. It should shrink away from the pan. Run a thin bladed knife around the outer and inner edge of the cake then gently turn out of pan. If you greased the pan really well, it should come out quite easily.

Cool cake completely then glaze. To make icing, combine all ingredients then stir with whisk until smooth. Pour over cool cake and tilt and swirl cake so icing coats top and sides evenly. Let icing set before slicing cake.

Serve with hot Japanese roasted green tea which is called hojicha or normal Japanese green tea.