Japanese cheese cake is yet another wonderful yoshoku, or Western-influenced, dish that evolved with the introduction of foreign imports like dairy cream cheese. Many countries have their own rendition of cheesecake; most are basically custards that are thickened with eggs and sweetened with honey or sugar. The resulting texture is very rich, creamy and dense.
Unlike those types, Japanese cheese cake is light and airy with an almost soufflé-like texture. The reason for that is the basic recipe is somewhat similar to a soufflé. It uses whipped egg whites as the leavening agent, little to no flour and only a little cream cheese. With less flour, sugar, eggs and cream cheese than the American version, the Japanese cheese cake has fewer calories and less fat and carbohydrates. (I haven’t actually done the nutritional calculations since it seems like an obvious deduction.)
If you’re expecting a dessert that resembles an American-style cheesecake, you will be disappointed—or pleasantly surprised. It needs no added flourishes, but if you feel so compelled, you can sprinkle on some powdered sugar, fresh berries or a drizzle of chocolate sauce. I've seen the same batter used to make large cupcakes, too.
Japanese Cheese Cake
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup baker’s sugar (superfine), divided use
¼ tsp. salt
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
½ tsp. cream of tartar
¼ cup cake flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with non-stick cooking spray, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat cream cheese until softened. Continue beating and add 1/4 cup sugar gradually. Slowly add milk. Then, add egg yolks, salt, flour, cornstarch and lemon juice; beat until smooth.
In a separate mixing bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar and ¼ cup sugar and whip until soft peaks form. Add some of the whipped egg whites to the cream cheese mixture and blend (this step is called “lightening the batter.”) Then, carefully fold in the remaining whipped egg whites into the batter.
Pour this into the prepared cake pan. Place this pan into a larger baking pan and then put both of them into the middle oven rack. Into the larger pan, pour in boiling water from a kettle until the water level comes up to the halfway point of the cake pan. (this is called a bain marie or water bath.) Do not get water into the cake batter. The cake will rise above the edge but not fall over.
Bake at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (remember this Japanese version is more like a cake than a custard.) Turn off the oven and let the cake cool gradually for about an hour, opening the door ajar after the first 15 minutes. The cake will settle quite a bit after it cools.