Moist, airy, and light Japanese strawberry shortcake recipe with homemade whipped cream. This simple and elegant cake is perfect in celebrating all occasions. Detailed step-by-step picture instructions included.
Strawberry Shortcake is probably one of the most popular and classic cakes in Japan. Whether it’s for birthdays, Christmas (did you know this cake is also sold as “Christmas Cake”?) or any type of celebration, we enjoy Strawberry Shortcake all year round. Cakes have such a special place in Japanese culture that we even bring them when we visit friends and family.
If you need a classy dessert to serve at your dinner party or something special for a bridal shower, a beautiful homemade Japanese Strawberry Cake fits the bill for the most special occasions. With some basics from the pantry, this simple yet elegant cake is one to remember when celebration season hits. Or when the strawberry is in season in your area, you have good enough reason to whip up this sweet treat to celebrate. I promise, your guests will fall hard for it!
What is the Japanese Strawberry Shortcake?
The concept of Japanese Strawberry Shortcake may have been originated in the US with some adaptation. Instead of sweet biscuits, a Japanese strawberry shortcake is made of 2-3 layers of sponge cake, with fresh strawberry slices, whipped cream filling, and whipped cream frosting.
This cake might seem rather simple, yet when all the components are prepared perfectly, it comes together as an amazing dessert.
The majority of recipes for Japanese strawberry shortcakes are very similar, so what makes them different? It all comes down to the various techniques you use when making it. I want to thank my dear friend Naomi for spending hours in my kitchen testing different variations of strawberry shortcake recipes with me. We spent days testing and made so many cakes, and we decided this is by far the best one.
Because this recipe requires detailed explanations, it was impossible for Mr. JOC to take step-by-step pictures AND film the video at the same time. Therefore, we decided to focus on the step by step pictures this time because I can’t explain everything in our short video. We’ll add a video for this recipe in the future.
Components of Japanese Strawberry Shortcake
This recipe is probably the longest recipe ever on my blog, with close to 50 steps. I know it’s a bit of an overkill but I really think these step-by-step pictures are helpful and I can explain the step a little more in detail along the way.
Japanese strawberry shortcake consists of 3 components: sponge cake, whipped cream, and strawberries. It’s simple as that. However, to create the perfect sponge cake and whipped cream involves many techniques.
And to make a really good shortcake, precise measurement (please use a kitchen scale and thermometer!) really helps, especially if you don’t bake often.
Japanese sponge cake is very moist, airy, light, and it’s not overly sweet. Personally I think this is the most important part of the cake.
The sponge cake is a genoise cake, made by beating air into the eggs to make it rise rather than using a chemical leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder.
The dimensions of the sponge cake we need to consider include sweetness, elasticity, and texture.
The sponge cake cannot be too sweet or else it overpowers the whipped cream and the tartness of the strawberry. The sweetness has to be perfectly balanced with the rest of the cake.
When you bite into the sponge cake, it needs to have some elasticity and firmness of bite. Once again, if it’s too hard or too soft, it ruins the cake.
Lastly and probably the most critical is the texture of the sponge cake. The size of the bubbles within the sponge needs to be consistent. It should not be too rough on the tongue yet it does need some structure so you can feel them. This is probably the part I tested the most to achieve the perfect result.
By the way, if you want to bake a flat cake (my cake is a little curve on the top), I found a great article to solve this problem!
Freshly Whipped Cream
To make fresh whipped cream is not too difficult. Before you begin whipping cream, make sure to chill your bowl and the heavy cream so that the cream will stay cold longer during the whipping process. Basically, cream whips better when it’s cold. The temperature affects how long it requires to whip, how light and fluffy it will get, and how long it is likely to stay that way (more science here).
My friend and I have tested the different amounts of sugar and we concluded that 8% of sugar to heavy whipping cream ratio gives perfect sweetness for the cake.
Fresh strawberries might not be the easiest ingredient to purchase depends on where you live. I know I’m spoiled in California where we literally have strawberries all year round. When you select the strawberries, make sure they are equal in size and not too large so they’ll be more visually appealing.
Last note, since we do not wash the strawberries but clean them with a damp cloth (to prevent them from going bad and adding moisture to the cream.), I do recommend buying organic ones.
Japanese Strawberry Shortcake for the Holidays
After several recipe testings, I am really happy with my results. My friends and family who enjoyed the cake agreed as well. Since then, I’ve served the Japanese strawberry shortcake several times over the holidays and it’s been a huge hit.
The flavor and texture of strawberry shortcake get even better if you let it rest overnight, so it is also a great make-ahead treat.
Japanese Strawberry Shortcake
For the sponge cake
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp whole milk (I highly recommend using whole milk instead of reduced-fat milk. I’ve tried using both, and I concluded that whole-fat milk makes a difference with the final result.)
- 4 large eggs (50 g each w/o shell)
- ½ cup sugar (½ cup + 2 Tbsp to be precise)
- 1 cup cake flour (No cake flour? See Notes; if you use a measuring cup, fluff your flour with a spoon, sprinkle it into your measuring cup, and use a knife to level it off. Otherwise, your flour ends up with more than 120 g.)
- 1 Tbsp butter (for greasing; can also use shortening or cooking spray)
For the syrup
- 2 Tbsp water
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp your liquor of choice (optional, you can skip; I like orange liqueurs like Grand Manier or Cointreau.)
For the cream
- 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream (36% fat; must be at least 30-35% fat)
- 3 Tbsp sugar (8% of heavy cream weight: 480 ml x 8% = 38g)
- 1 lb strawberries (for filling and decoration; if you like to decorate your cake with strawberries, you want to look for similar size strawberries to make it look pretty. Buy an extra pack to increase your chance of finding the same size strawberries!)
- 10 blueberries
- 2 sprigs mint leaves
- Gather all the ingredients.
Before we start
- Make sure the eggs and butter are at room temperature. Sift the cake flour at least twice.
- Place the cake pan on top of parchment paper, trace around the pan and cut out the circle. Grease one side of the parchment paper and also both the bottom and sides of the cake pan with butter. Then fit the parchment paper in the cake pan. (I avoid parchment paper on the side because sometimes it pulls the batter and affects the final result of the cake).
- Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). For a convection oven, reduce cooking temperature by 25ºF (15ºC). It’s always better to preheat longer, preferably 15-20 minutes extra. Tip: You preheat the oven so that all the surfaces inside your oven (walls, floor, door, racks) are the desired cooking temperature, which makes for more even temperatures throughout the oven and you won’t lose as much heat when you open the door for a few seconds. Depending on your oven, regular preheating might take 10 to 20 minutes.
- Prepare a double boiler. If you have never done this before, please see Notes section below. Turn on the stove’s heat to high and bring the water in the saucepan (Pot A) to a rapid boil. When boiling, reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Put the 40g (3 Tbsp) of butter in the small bowl (Bowl #1) and set over the saucepan. Let the butter melt gently.
- Once the butter is melted, remove the bowl from the saucepan. Then add 30 ml (2 Tbsp) whole milk and whisk to combine. Set aside to keep it around 104ºF (40ºC).
For the sponge cake
- In the stand mixer bowl (Bowl #2), add 4 eggs and break the egg yolks and whites.
- Add 120 g (½ cup + 2 Tbsp) sugar and whisk to combine.
- In the large pot (Pot B), bring about 2 inches of water to 140ºF or 60ºC and maintain the temperature. Then set the stand mixer bowl (Bowl #2) directly in the pot and whisk constantly so the eggs don’t become scrambled eggs. This method is called bain marie (or water bath), where the bowl of food is set directly in a larger container of hot or simmering water. You can also use the double boiler method, where you set the egg mixture bowl (Bowl #2) over the Pot B. The bowl doesn’t touch the simmering water of the pot. In both cases, the water tempers the heat to permit gentle, even cooking.
- Whisk until the temperature of the egg mixture reaches 104ºF (40ºC). Remove Bowl #2 from Pot B and set it up on the stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
- Whisk on high speed (level 10) until the mixture is fluffy, for about 2 minutes. The batter should be loose yet thick and glossy.
- When the batter is pale and fluffy and tripled in volume, slow down to low speed (level 4) for several seconds. Stop and lift up some of the mixture and fold it in, and if the batter stays on top of the mixture, that’s “ribbon stage” (see Notes). Remove from the stand mixer.
- Add half of the flour. Using the whisk, fold gently but thoroughly. Do this by rotating your bowl slowly, and simultaneously moving your whisk in a downward-then-over motion.
- Add the rest of the flour and fold gently to make sure all the flour is incorporated quickly so your mixture doesn’t deflate.
- Take out 1 (spatula) scoop of the batter from the bowl and add to the butter & milk mixture.
- Mix very well. We incorporate butter into batter first because fat in butter will deflate the batter if we add the butter directly.
- Add the mixture back to the batter by pouring over the silicon spatula. This prevents the mixture from deflating the batter and helps disperse the mixture. Gently fold in. When you lift the spatula, the batter should fold down like ribbon.
- Pour the batter into the center of the cake pan, from right above the cake pan. You want to avoid introducing extra air into the batter at this point. Collect the leftover batter in the bowl and pour around the edges of the cake pan, not the center.
- Drop the cake pan on the counter to release air bubbles in the batter.
- In the preheated oven, bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 20-25 minutes. Check if the sponge cake is done by inserting a skewer in the middle and comes out clean. Meanwhile, move on to the cake assemble prepping stage.
- As soon as you take out the cake pan from the oven, drop it on the counter to give shock to the cake (so it stops shrinking). Separate the cake from the pan by running a sharp knife or offset spatula around the pan.
- Take the cake out of the pan by placing the wire rack on top and flipping it over.
- Immediately remove the parchment paper.
- Place another wire rack on top and flip it back. The top of the cake is now facing up.
- Cover the cake with a damp towel until cooled (to keep moisture in the cake). Make sure the towel is thin (not heavy) and squeeze the water out VERY tightly so that it’s damp, not wet. I use IKEA’s thin dish towel. If you keep the sponge cake for later use, wrap with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge (See Notes).
Preparation for cake assembly (while the cake is baking)
- Divide the strawberries into 2 groups, for decoration and for filling. Keep the beautiful, same-sized strawberries for the decoration. Remove the husk and clean the strawberries with damp paper towel (do not wash, as we don’t want strawberries to have moisture and become moldy). Slice off the core for all the strawberries.
- For the strawberries that we use for topping, cut in half. For the strawberries that we use for filling, slice them into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices.
- To make syrup, in a small bowl (Bowl #3), combine 30 ml (2 Tbsp) water, 38 g (3 Tbsp) sugar, 1 Tbsp. liquor, and microwave for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.
For whipping cream (while cake is cooling)
- Prepare ice bath by placing ice cubes and water in a large bowl (Bowl #4). Place a clean and dry mixing bowl (Bowl #2) over and add 473 ml (1 Pint) heavy cream and 38 g (3 Tbsp) sugar to keep cool.
- Once cooled, transfer the mixing bowl to the stand mixer and whisk on high speed. The cream will become thicker and smooth. When you lift the whisk out of the cream while it’s still liquid, but holds it shape as it drops, then it’s ready. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and put it back in the ice bath.
The cake assembly
- With a serrated knife, slice the middle of the cake horizontally into half. Now you have 2 layers (top and bottom).
- Place the bottom of the cake on the cake circle. Brush the syrup on top and the sides of the bottom layer. This will keep the sponge cake stay moist.
- Start to whisk the cream at one location by the edge of the bowl instead of whisking the entire cream. We will be making the whipped cream as we need. With this approach, we can also control the hardness of the cream.
- When the cream reaches “soft peaks”, take out the cream and transfer to the bottom of the cake. Soft peaks means when you lift the whisk, the cream will hold its line but the top peaks will be soft and after a second or two will fall back on itself.
- Spread the whipped cream evenly. If the whipped cream is not enough, whip more and add onto the cake.
- Place the strawberries on top of the whipped cream as you see in the pictures. Keep the center area open by not covering with strawberries. This will be easier to cut the cake into slices.
- Whip the cream again at the edge of the bowl.
- Transfer the whipped cream to the top of the strawberry layer. Spread just enough cream to cover the strawberries, do not put too much.
- Place the top layer of the sponge cake. Brush the syrup on the top and sides of the sponge cake.
- Whip more cream and place on the top.
- Place the tip of the offset spatula in the center at 30 degree angle, turn cake turntable toward you to create a smooth top. Lightly cover the sides of the cake with thin layer of the cream.
- Now add more cream to the side little by little. Place the offset spatula at 90 degree angle and push the turning table away from you.
- Remove the excess cream from the cake and put back into the bowl.
For cake decoration
- For a basic decoration, I use Wilton 2A decoration tip. Put the tip in the piping bag and cut off the tip so the metal will show from the bag. Fold the top half of the bag outward as you see in the picture (over the hands).
- Whip the cream to “stiff peaks”. When you lift the whisk, the peaks will hold firm. Put the cream into the piping bag. Once you fill out the bag half way, lift the bag and push the cream down to the tip.
- Squeeze the pipe to test to make sure the cream comes out smoothly. When you’re ready, hold the piping bag at 90 degree angle and squeeze about 1 inch diameter of whipped cream around the edge of the cake. This will be the base for the strawberries.
- Decorate and place the strawberries sideways on top of the whipped cream. Then squeeze more whipped cream in between strawberries, dropping small whipped cream all around. Place blueberries between the whipped cream dollops. Place the small mint leaves in some area to add colors.
- 1 cup Cake Flour = Measure 1 cup All Purpose Flour, then take away 2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour, and add 2 Tbsp cornstarch. Be sure to sift the flour to distribute the cornstarch well before using it in your cake batter.
- 1 small heat-resistant bowl (Bowl #1)
- 1 small saucepan that fits Bowl #1 for double boiler (Pot A)
- 1 stand mixer bowl or large mixing bowl (Bowl #2)
- 1 large pot that fits the Bowl #2 for bain-marie (Pot B)
- 1 small bowl (Bowl #3)
- 1 large bowl that fits Bowl #2 for ice bath (Bowl #4)
- Parchment paper
- cake pan (8"/20 cm)
- 1 good whisk
- Silicon spatula
- 2 wire racks
- Offset spatula
- Cake decoration tip Wilton 2A & plastic bag
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on December 14, 2015