Japanese Cotton Cheesecake (JCC) is probably one of the most amazing cheesecakes that I have known in my life. I fell in love with it right at the first time I tried it. And until now, it is still in my most-favourite-cake-of-all-time list.
JCC is a special cake because it is the combination of a chiffon cake and a cheesecake. On the one hand, its method is pretty identical to chiffon method, which is to mix the liquids, fats, egg yolks, and flour together, while beating egg whites separately in a different bowl. Once the egg white is ready, we fold it into the egg yolk batter, and then bake. Thanks to the whipped egg white, the cake has a super fluffy, tender and light texture, just like a chiffon cake. On the other hand, the large portion of cream cheese in the ingredients of JCC gives it a rich, creamy, smooth and melt-in-the-mouth taste, which is very much similar to the taste of a cheesecake.
To sum up, JCC features both Chiffon cake’s and Cheesecake’s characteristics: it is smoothly soft, light, fluffy, spongy yet moist and creamy at the same time (Where can we find a dessert which is better than that? ). However, the “dark-side” of a JCC is the procedure to make it. As being the combination of a chiffon cake and a cheesecake, JCC has all of the problems that we may face with when making a chiffon cake or a cheesecake.
The most common problems of JCC are:
- Cake does not rise or rises very little during baking. The texture of the final cake is dense and heavy, just like a cheesecake. There’s eggy smell sometimes.
- Cake starts off at a good size then shrinks during baking.
- Cake shrinks or sinks in the middle (forming a “waist”) after being taken out of oven.
- Cake collapses or deflated after being taken out of the oven
- Cake is dense at the bottom.
From my experience, the 2 main causes of these problems are:
- Cause #1: Egg whites are improperly beaten: either under- or over-beating egg whites can be a problem. Furthermore, if you fold the beaten egg whites with a wrong folding technique, their air bubbles will be deflated, which prevents the cake from rising and developing its fluffiness.
- Cause #2: Improper baking method: Insufficient baking time & incorrect baking temperature.
For cause #1: Egg whites for JCC should be beaten till almost stiff peak. As there are quite a lot of fats such as cream cheese, heavy cream or butter in the cake batter, if the egg white is not stiff enough, the air bubbles in the egg white will break very easily when we fold this beaten egg white into the mixture of the remaining ingredients (including egg yolk, flour, cream cheese, and other diary products such as milk, butter.. ). Hence, there won’t be enough air bubbles for the cake to rise properly in the oven. The texture of the cake may be dense and not fine and smooth.
However, egg white should not be too stiff because it will be very difficult to fold too stiff egg white into the mixture of the remaining ingredients. As a result, inexperienced baker will fold too much to combine the ingredients, which also leads to deflation of beaten egg white, making the cake less fluffy and light.
For JCS, I usually beat egg whites until it is foamy and white, then lower speed to medium and continue beating to the point that if you lift the beater up from the egg whites, they will form peaks but these peaks can bend over a little bit. In addition, when you scoop the egg whites using a spatula, they should have a certain level of elasticity instead of being overly stiff. The egg white also looks quite glossy and shiny.
If egg whites are beaten correctly, you will see them incorporate with egg yolk and flour batter into strings during the folding step. Once they are folded, the mixture should be unchanged in its volume and has a spongy texture developed by the egg whites’ air bubbles. If the mixture otherwise sinks in volume, is too runny and/or excessively bubbly, then it is likely to be improperly folded or have over/under beaten egg whites.
For cause #2: there are 2 things that you should be noted:
* Always bake JCC in water bath in a correct way: place the baking pan into a larger tray, add hot water into the tray at 1/3-1/2 height of the pan, then place all of them into the oven and bake for the exact time and temperature required.
Why do we need to bake JCC in a water bath? JCC contains a large amount of liquid and fat ingredients. Hence, the cake needs to be baked slowly and gradually. If there is no water bath, the high temperature in the oven will cook the surface and edge of the cake very fast, while the center of the cake is still wet due to the large proportion of fat. As a result, the cake can be over-baked on its side and surface while under-baked in the center. Moreover, steam released from boiling water keeps the surface of the cake humid enough that it won’t dry or crack, while allowing the center to be gradually cooked.
I personally tried to alter the above method, either removing the water bath, or by replacing the water tray with a smaller cup of water. Needless to say, they all failed, probably because those alternatives couldn’t maintain the humidity needed to keep the cake moist enough at its surface while slowly cooked in the middle. So I eventually went back to the traditional way, which never left me disappointed.
You might concern whether the bottom of the cake will be too wet if the baking pan is placed into the water bath. I can tell that this problem actually doesn’t lie in the baking method, but the type of baking pan you use. For pans with removable bottoms, water will leak into the pan no matter what (I tried covering the pan with double layers of baking foils and it failed). So my suggestion is using solid bottom baking pans, which will keep the cake at the most perfect quality.
* Be careful when setting baking time and baking temperature.
For the sunk-in-the-middle or forming-a-waist type of problem (collapsed, shrunken, deflated, etc.) the main reason lies in wrong baking temperature (usually too high temperature, or using too large baking pans in a too small oven) or insufficient baking time. You can refer to THIS article to solve these problems.
For JCC, you need to be extremely patient to bake it, which means do not open the oven too soon during baking, and do not take the cake out of the oven unless it is completely done. At 150-160°C/ 300 – 320°F, a 6-egg cake using 20cm round pan usually needs 70-90 minutes to bake. Compared to normal cakes, the JCC cake takes twice as long to bake, so at some point you might feel so frustrated that you take it out of the oven after only 50-60 minutes. If you do so, the cake might initially looks gorgeous: it rises and has a golden yellow color looking like it is cooked; but is in fact partly uncooked inside due to its large amount of moisture. Therefore, the moisture will later make the cake shrink, and eventually sink or form a waist. To sum up, my advice is a bit over-baking is way better than under-baking.
Personal experience: I used a 52L oven, 20cm diameter baking pan, 6 egg recipe, and baked at 155°C in 1 hour and 20 minutes. After that, I turned off the oven and opened it, while leaving the cake inside the oven for 15-20 more minutes before taking it out. If your oven is smaller, you might need to bake at lower temperature and longer time (again, my advice is avoid using large baking pans in small ovens or your cake will likely be undercooked in the center).
The last and most important advice is understanding your oven because each oven has its own troubles, so the more familiar you are with you oven, the better you know how to adjust it to proper temperature: avoid too high temperature (makes the cake sink), avoid too low temperature (makes the cake too thick in the outside while underbaked in the inside), as well as bake long enough (a bit over-baking is way better than under-baking).
So the above are the key notes for making JCC that you should keep in mind. I hope they are helpful and I wish you lots of success right at your first time trying this recipe.
My last note is about the ingredients for the cake. I did try many versions of this cheesecake and some years ago, I was very happy with a version that uses butter with milk and cream cheese. However, later I had chances to try quite many JCC in famous bakeries in Japan. Actually, I should not call it JCC because there was no cheesecake there but only Japanese cotton cheese souffle (let’s take it as JCS). Those cheese souffles taste really really nice, so soft, fluffy with a distinctive flavour that I never tasted in my homemade cakes. Then I started to “play around” with JCC again, trying different “combos” of ingredients to get the “right” taste as the cheese souffle in Japan. And finally, I came up with the recipe in this post,which gives almost the same taste as the taste of the JCS that I tried in Tokyo.
JAPANESE COTTON CHEESECAKE RECIPE/ JAPANESE CHEESE SOUFFLE RECIPE
TOOLS: 15 cm in diameter round pan (For a 18 – 20 cm round pan, double the recipe)
- 125 gram (4.4 oz) cream cheese
- 110 gram (approx 1/2 Cup minus 1 tsp) whipping cream (30-35% fat)
- 3 egg yolks (18-20 gram/yolk) – at room temperature
- 20 gram (1.5 Tbsp) caster sugar
- 50 gram (1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp) cake flour
- 20 gram (2 Tbsp) corn starch
- 3 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract (optional)
- 1 orange (or lemon) zest – finely shredded to avoid bitterness (optional)
- 3 egg whites (33-35 gram/egg white) – at room temperature
- 50 gram (1/4 cup) caster sugar
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (or can be substituted by lemon juice/vinegar of the equal amount)
* Note: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute the whole amount of flour (50g cake flour + 20g cornstarch) with 40g all-purpose flour + 30g cornstarch. Though this couldn’t be a perfect substitution, the good thing is that it will not affect the soft and spongy texture of the cake.
Note: the video is in HD setting and has English subtitle, please press CC to activate it.
1. Line baking pan with parchment paper (make it easier to take the cake out of the pan). No need to grease or line the sides of the pan. Preheat the oven at 180°C/ 356°F, both upper and lower heat.
2. Boil some water in a small saucepan. Place cream cheese, whipping cream and sugar into a bowl (use a bowl that is larger than the pan so that when you place the bowl over the pan, the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Bring the water to boil then lower the heat. Place the cream cheese bowl over the pan, whisk the ingredients together until they are dissolved and incorporated. Take the bowl out of the pan.
3. Wait until the cream cheese is partly cooled, then add in the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and orange/lemon zest (optional). Mix until incorporated.
4. Sift cake flour and cornstarch in the bowl, mix well until incorporated. Run the mixture through the sieve 1-2 more times and place it aside.
(Once this step is done, you can boil water for the water-bath step)
5. Beat egg whites with salt, cream of tartar and sugar until they reach the soft peak stage.
*Note: Bowl, whisk, and the egg whites should all be free of oil, butter, egg yolk, or any fat ingredients.
6. Place 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk and cream cheese mixture, gently stir in one direction. This step will help “lighten” the egg yolk mixture, and thus prevent air bubbles from breaking in the next steps.
7. Dividing the remaining egg whites into 2 parts, mix one by one into the cream cheese bowl. Use the folding technique to fold egg whites into cream cheese and egg yolk mixture. Once you are done, if the total volume of the mixture is almost unchanged while its texture is foamy, smooth, and free of air bubbles, then you got it right.
8. Place the baking pan into a large high-sided tray and put everything into the oven. Pour hot (boiling hot for the best result) into the tray up to 1/3 – 1/2 the height of the pan (you should wear oven gloves during this step to prevent burns).
9. After pouring the hot water into the tray, quickly close the oven door. Bake at 155-160°C/ 311-320°F in about 40 – 50 minutes until the cake top is golden brown. Then lower the temperature to 140°C/ 284°F and continue baking for 20 – 30 minutes more.
If you got the proper temperature, the cake should rise very slowly (if it rises too quickly, the temperature is likely to be too high and you should set it lower next time). After 45-60 minutes, the cake’s surface will turn into a dark yellow color. You can prepare a piece of aluminum foil (poke some small holes on it to keep the cake’s surface from getting too moist). When the cake turns into a dark yellow color, quickly open the oven and place the foil above the cake. Continue baking; you can test the cake after at least 60-65 minutes. The cake is perfectly baked if it fully rises and springs back if you gently press on it with your finger.
Once the cake is baked, turn off the oven, slightly open the oven door and leave the cake inside for about 15 minutes. The cake might shrink a little bit and pull away from the sides of the pan. Now you can take it out of the pan, remove the parchment paper at the bottom and let the cake completely cool on the rack. You can prepare a mixture of honey and warm milk to brush on top of the cake.
Once the cake is taken out from the oven, it will shrink quite a bit – which is completely normal. The perfect cake should not collapse or be overly moist; it should be in good size and shape, moist inside yet spongy, soft, and free of large air bubbles.
You can now brush the honey-milk mixture onto the cake. Store the cake in the fridge and serve within 1-2 days. If the cake is baked in a small pan, you can serve it right after it is baked.
Common problems, causes and solutions:
- Cake rises too high yet sinks in the oven: Either baking temperature or upper heat is way too high; or cake is placed too close to upper heat.
- Cake doesn’t rise, or becomes too dense or chewy: improper egg beating or folding technique that deflates the air bubbles.
- Cake fully rises, yet shrinks after being taken out of the oven (mostly comes with slight smell of raw egg): insufficient baking time.
- Cracks on the surface: (possibly) lack of water in water bath, or too high upper heat. I personally don’t consider this as a big issue as many family ovens have the issue of top heat higher than bottom heat. So it’s kind of non-fixable issue. However, if you do want your cake to have a perfect surface, try lining parchment paper around the side of your cake pan and bake with only bottom heat in the first 2/3 of the baking time. Only turn on the top heat when the cake is fully risen and the color of its surface starts turning golden.