New Recipe: Brighten up the dying days of winter with the power of yuzu

Yuzu are hardy trees that can be found growing even in tiny urban gardens in Tokyo, but the biggest production area of this citrus fruit is Shikoku, where three prefectures (Tokushima, Kochi and Ehime) churn out over 75% of Japan’s yuzu.

At first, the small yellow globes may seem a little difficult to deal with. Yuzu are relatively dry and seed-filled when compared to lemons or limes, and while it takes around 13 to 15 oranges to make a liter of pure juice, it takes up to 80 yuzu to make the same. However, they are a versatile ingredient that can be used in their entirety, with nothing going to waste.

Let’s start with the most obvious ingredient, the juice. A yuzu’s complex, layered citrus flavor means it can be used in anything from drinks or desserts to salad dressing or marinades. As the juice is intensely aromatic, a little goes a long way with this winter staple. Just a couple of drops are enough to give a fresh kick to a cup of tea, and one teaspoon is plenty to flavor a bowl of nabe (hot pot).

Yuzu peel is equally useful. In Japanese cuisine it is used as a light fragrant addition, zested over fish or thinly sliced and scattered over soups or warming pots of nabe. It is often transformed into bright green yuzu koshō — a savory condiment made from yuzu peel, green chilis and salt — that spices up everything from grilled meats to pasta sauces.

And don’t forget the seeds, as even these can be used to make an easy and fragrant natural bath oil. Just place a handful or two of seeds in a clean glass jar, then cover them with four to five times their quantity in 20 proof distilled shochu (kōrui shōchū). Screw on the cap, store in the fridge and shake the bottle once a day for about a week. The alcohol will extract the pectin from the seeds, so pouring a couple of spoonfuls of the resulting gel into a hot bath gives all the hydrating benefits of the pectin and the soothing scent of the yuzu’s limonene.

Of course, there is always the option to cut out the middleman, and go for the traditional yuzu-buro: just chuck a few washed yuzu into a bath and enjoy, as is done countrywide on tōji (the winter solstice).

This recipe for my Italian-style lemon cake with a Japanese twist makes use of both yuzu juice and zest. Like many Italian cakes, it is simple, quick and a relatively forgiving recipe. The cake may look plain but don’t be fooled, the yuzu really packs a sunny punch.

For those who just can’t get enough of the tangy flavor, add yet more yuzu to your life by whipping up a simple icing made with a few spoonfuls of the juice and caster/icing sugar.

Torta di Yuzu (Italian-style yuzu cake)

Serves 3 to 4 people

Prep time 20 mins.; cook 40-50 mins.

  • 150 grams of flour
  • zest of 1 or 2 yuzu, to taste
  • juice of 2 or 3 yuzu (or around 4 to 5 teaspoons, to taste)
  • 2 large eggs (or 6 tablespoons of aquafaba)
  • 115 grams of unsalted butter (or equivalent plant-based butter)
  • 100 grams of sugar
  • 10 grams of baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Let the butter warm to room temperature, then cream it with the sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth. Mix in the eggs or aquafaba, then add the yuzu juice.
  3. Sift the flour into a different bowl, then add baking powder and mix well.
  4. Pour the flour into the butter/yuzu bowl and mix until smooth. Add in the yuzu zest, then taste the batter to check that the yuzu flavor is clear, but not overpowering. If needed, add a little more yuzu juice to taste. The batter should be thick but smooth, if it seems a little too clumpy or dry, add another ½ egg or a spoonful of aquafaba.
  5. Line a small rectangular baking pan with baking paper. The pan should be deep enough to allow the cake to double in height while baking, but small enough that the batter is at least 3 centimeters thick.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes (depending on the power of the oven). Make sure to cover the pan with a sheet of baking paper to keep the top from browning.
  7. When a chopstick inserted into the cake comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow it to cool, then slice it up and buon appetito!

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