The Challenges of Baking in Japan

Baking has always been a hobby of mine. For as long as I can remember, I’ve helped Nan and Mom in the kitchen as they whipped up the most delicious goodies, from tea biscuits and shortbread cookies to Easter cakes and creamy desserts. (Although, sometimes my “helping” consisted of licking the batter from the beaters… But someone’s gotta do it, right?!) So, when I came to Japan, I didn’t even think twice about being able to continue with this delicious hobby of mine.

It wasn’t until I attempted my first batch of tea biscuits that I realized how difficult my baking adventures would be.

Challenge #1: Translate all of my existing recipes from imperial to metric.

In Canada, we tend to use a blend of metric and imperial units. All of (my mom’s) recipes that I used in Canada were written in cups and Fahrenheit, with the odd millilitre or two thrown in.

Not in Japan.

Japan exclusively uses the metric system, so all of my measuring tools are in millilitres and grams (not to mention the ingredients themselves are sold in millilitres and grams!). I had to take the time to translate my tea biscuit recipe from imperial to metric before I began to make it. Unfortunately, my dough turned out incredibly runny.

Which brought me to Challenge #2: Despite what you’ve been told, 1 cup is not 250 mL. (At least, not in Japan.)

Since that first batch of tea biscuits, I have learned how to translate “accurately” between imperial and metric. 1/2 cup of butter is actually 100 grams, not 113 grams; 1 cup of flour is one scoop of my 200 mL measuring cup; and 1/4 cup of milk is actually 50 mL. As well, I found that Japanese milk and eggs react differently in recipes – for what reason, I’m not sure – so I have to reduce the amount of each that I use whenever I can.

Even though my dough was too runny, I had already invested a lot of time into my baking (and I really wanted those tea biscuits!), so I went ahead and baked them anyway in my “oven.”

Challenge #3: My “oven.”

Just like everything’s bigger in Texas, everything’s smaller in Japan. My oven actually isn’t an oven at all; it’s a microwave with a heating element in the top that masquerades as an oven. Also, it’s puny. It’s much smaller than the microwaves we see in Canada to the point where I can’t even use my six-cupcake baking tray because it won’t fit! To be fair, it does a great job for its small size, but I’ve had to get creative – with only a single element so close to the food, the tops can burn before the food has baked through, so I have had to use tin foil on multiple occasions to keep my creations from burning.

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See? I wasn’t lying when I said my “oven” was puny!

In the end, my tea biscuits didn’t turn out to be the prettiest ones I had ever made, nor did they have the tart Cream of Tartar taste that I’m used to (finding ingredients in Japan is a whole other challenge!), but they were delicious with my cup of Tetley tea later that night!

So far, I’ve overcome all of the baking challenges I’ve faced and I’ve made (and eaten!) some pretty tasty desserts out of it. I’ve even tried new recipes!

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One of the new recipes I tried for Valentine’s – French Silk Tarts! Delish!

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My Christmas cake!

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My very first Apple Crisp that I made for (American) Thanksgiving!

I’m not one to back down from a baking challenge, which brings me to this weekend’s Ultimate Baking Extravaganza: to make 210 chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in two days to give to all 160 graduating 3nensei students (whom I will see for the last time in class on Monday), plus extras for the teachers… and my belly. Wish me luck!

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7 thoughts on “The Challenges of Baking in Japan

    • Christina says:

      Hi there! I actually don’t have a Japanese-measurements cupcake recipe from scratch… Yet! I’ve only used cake mixes from the import store so far. With those, the only change I’ve made is to the liquid ingredients so that 1/4 cup of oil/water/etc. equals 50 mL. I’ve kept the amount of eggs the same.

      That being said, maybe cupcakes from scratch will be my baking and blogging project for this weekend! :)

  1. Breeze says:

    A few notes:
    – the Japanese cup is 200 ml; an ‘American’ cup is 237ml. Imperial???
    – flour is something that you really need to look at, both in terms of protein content and characteristics. If in Tokyo, go to Cuoca or Tomizawa Shoten (or visit their websites) to get an idea of the range available. You might want to start with a domestic (Hokkaido) kyoriki with protein at around 11% to replicate AP.
    – eggs may actually be heavier. Weigh one and get a friend to do same back home. Of course, without the shell.
    – you will definitely become an expert at scaling (down) recipes.
    – BTW, I use 125 grams for 1 cup of AP flour.
    HTH

  2. Asha says:

    I feel your pain with the baking issues as my son is living in Japan and I want to bake him brownies and pavlova and profiteroles when I visit him I have never worked out how. He has a very small toaster oven and , a microwave that has oven mode . I figured maybe I could bake using the oven mode but I’m not even sure what type of pan/ dish can be used while using the oven mode. Any info would be greatly received. Thanks in advance Asha

    • Nick Overacker says:

      Hello, Asha! I’ve been in Japan for just over a month myself. When using oven mode, you should be able to use anything that you would put in a regular convection oven… but smaller. There won’t be any trouble with metal, for example.

      • ashexample91366 says:

        Thanks for your reply Nick I appreciate your response. I hope you are enjoying your time in Japan. I will give the microwave oven a go when I visit him in July. There was a metal cake dish in the apartment so will use it. Since they are smaller and I won’t be able to make as much, I’ll just have to bake more often . 😜. Thanks again , Asha

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