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Spice and Vice: Apricot Cake

More fun cooking with Gia!

Some of you already know that I love cooking, and a few of you also know that I love making substitutions to make my cooking a bit healthier...or at least less completely unhealthy. So of course, I was really excited last year when Vertical, Inc. announced that it would be translating Kumiko Ibaraki's cookbook The Worry-Free Bakery: Treats without Oil and Butter
I've been through low-fat cookbooks before, and so many of the desserts are fruit and/or ice treats, I was really excited to see something that actually featured honest-to-god baked goods sans butter. But would they be any good? Of course I had to try it out!
First off: be aware that you will probably have to make a pitstop at your local organic/health-food/expensive/specialty grocery store if you're going to bake from this book. Cake flour is in almost every recipe that involves any kind of baked texture, and ingredients like almond powder(/almond meal/almond flour) and "starch syrup"-- any of a number of sweet syrups, probably most commonly corn syrup --may not be available in your local Safeway. There's also a recipe for cherry blossom muffins that look delicious, but I'm not at all sure where to tell you to go to get 6 salted cherry flowers and leaves, unless you have a Japanese grocery store near you as I do. A page about these less common ingredients, "translation notes" style, would be very useful, especially if it contained some possible substitutes for the ingredients in the event that they aren't acquirable.
But the techniques used are all pretty standard and great for any baker to be familiar with. I didn't come upon this in the apricot cake recipe, but some recipes have very unusual measurements-- 2/5ths a cup of sugar, 4/5ths a cup of plain yogurt, etc. This is the result of a transition from metric to our cups and tablespoons, of course, and if you're good with fractions you can get by well enough (you'd know, for example, that 2/5ths = .4, and put in a bit less than half a cup). But that still adds another small hurdle.
My experience with the first recipe is that it turned out good, but not quite like it was in the cookbook-- which I'm betting is due to my substitution of corn syrup for honey, which I found as a possibility online. I suspect this altered the texture significantly (honey is thick and sweet like corn syrup, but probably a lot stickier, which would affect the texture), so I think that's the only big change I would make. That and that I would buy two cans of apricot halves instead of one-- this was supposed to be 16 2" square pieces, each with an apricot, laid out in a 4x4 pattern over an 8" square pan. But the single can only had 13 apricot halves, so I made it 12 pieces instead, a 4x3 pattern. 
For the record, here are the nutritional facts from the original recipe, and from the way I did it, as calculated on SparkPeople's irreplaceable Recipe Calculator. You'll notice, of course, that mine's a bit heftier, but it's primarily due to cutting the cake into fewer, larger pieces than anything.
Original Recipe
Gia's Version
  Calories 77.4
  Total Fat 1.1  g
      Saturated Fat 0.3  g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1  g
      Monounsaturated Fat 0.3  g
  Cholesterol 27.2  mg
  Sodium 14.1  mg
  Potassium 41.8  mg
  Total Carbohydrate 14.9  g
      Dietary Fiber 0.3  g
      Sugars 8.8  g
  Protein 1.8  g
  Calories 104.1
  Total Fat 1.5  g
      Saturated Fat 0.5  g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1  g
      Monounsaturated Fat 0.4  g
  Cholesterol 36.3  mg
  Sodium 14.9  mg
  Potassium 57.4  mg
  Total Carbohydrate 20.1  g
      Dietary Fiber 0.4  g
      Sugars 11.9  g
  Protein 2.4  g
Pretty low in fat, and not even ridiculous on the sugar front-- and without ANY reliance on fake sugars or anything. How cool is that? And even if the texture didn't turn out quite right, the flavor was okay. Next time I'll add the optional apricot jam on top, too, which will add a bit more in sugar(/carbs).
So in summary: it seems like a pretty good cookbook, though you may have to tweak your recipes based on what you can get ingredient-wise, and it's really great to see some attempt at real baking without butter and oil, instead of just giving up a bunch of recipes that started out without butter and oil from the get-go. That said, if you're looking at this because you think it might be good for the lactose-intolerant...don't. Most recipes involve milk, condensed milk, and/or yogurt, and you'll just be disappointed (unless you're adept at finding non-dairy versions of these products).
GodLen staff on Oct. 14, 2009 at 5:46 p.m.
Oh John, doesn't leave home without his xbox 360 controller. 
GodLen staff on Oct. 14, 2009 at 5:47 p.m.
Great video, though next time I demand that you cosplay! 
sunfloweron Oct. 14, 2009 at 6:46 p.m.
We actually have all that stuff at our grocery store yay.   I've heard the Japanese prefer their desserts very sweet with lighter flavor.  Does the cake come across that way?  Any chance you could post just that recipe so we could try it before we buy the book?
JJOR64on Oct. 14, 2009 at 6:50 p.m.
Yummy.  Can I have some?
Black_Roseon Oct. 14, 2009 at 7:33 p.m.
@GodLen said:
"next time I demand that you cosplay!  "
giaon Oct. 14, 2009 at 9:46 p.m.
@sunflower: I actually find that it least when I was in Japan, I came upon plenty of very heavy desserts, and i always seemed like there were a subset of desserts that were designed for people who DIDN'T like things *too* sweet, too. So far this cake isn't above and beyond what I would call standard, although the recipe does call for adding apricot jam AND some more sugar on top,  which would certainly add to the sweet factor.
Sonata moderator on Oct. 14, 2009 at 10:04 p.m.
Awesome Vid Gia looks yummy and everything tastes alittle better with some BrandyXD
sunfloweron Oct. 14, 2009 at 10:32 p.m.
@gia: Oooh, does the book contain any of the desserts for people who don't like things too sweet?  Because that's me!  My husband hates that I put only half the sugar in stuff like drinks or fruit desserts because I like it really tart.
giaon Oct. 15, 2009 at 7:50 a.m.
@sunflower: Hmm, nothing that's specifically aimed at that, but there are definitely some desserts here that aren't too horrendously sweet. There are both pumpkin and carrot cakes, and the scones are probably not very sweet. The New York cheesecake also is probably not too sweet (the only sweetener in it is less than a half-cup of sugar), and even the apricot cake I made isn't terribly sweet without the added jam and sugar. In fact, if you skipped the apricots, you'd have a nice just-slighty-sweet cake. There are also tiramisu and coffee cakes, which can be less sweet since the focus is more on the bitter coffee flavor.
There are also a lot of recipes that I think can be adapted. There's a no-fry donut recipe (cannot WAIT to try that), and theoretically you could put whatever you wanted on the donuts-- including nothing. There's a frozen yogurt recipe that they use for a mango fro-yo but you could probably put anything on it, including a tarter fruit. 
So I guess the sum-up is: there are probably things you can find in here and adapt, but there are probably also lots that you probably wouldn't even wind up bothering with ^^ it's a $14.95 cookbook, though, so you can probably get some good use out of it for that money.
sunfloweron Oct. 15, 2009 at 10:35 a.m.
@gia: That does sound good.  I had no idea it was so cheap!  I'll be buying it then.   
Whoa, I just checked out their site and they have some other good ones too, don't they?  I've only bought their regular books, so I wasn't even aware they'd branched into food.   I'm so happy that Vertical is bringing over stuff like this.  Have you tried any of the other books?
giaon Oct. 15, 2009 at 2 p.m.
@sunflower: They have some excellent cookbooks. I highly recommend Donburi Mania, which we also did a video for-- a bacon mushroom donburi. :)
FoxxFireArt moderator on Oct. 16, 2009 at 3:17 a.m.
One thing I often find troublesome with Japanese cookbooks are the few ingredients that are hard to track down.

Cake flour doesn't 'require' scissors to open. It's just a very smart idea. Last thing you want is for that to suddenly burst open in your hands.
Have you ever tried making micro cookies that are popular in Japanese bento boxes for kids? They are incredibly easy to make.

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