Stick Cakes: An Elegant Confection

Although the concept of individual sticks of cake may not seem unusual, a look at the Japanese Tiny Stick Cakes Recipe Book (ちっちゃなスティックケーキのレシピブック) by Yuko Kurokawa (黒川 愉子) published in 2006, reveals how a simple form can inspire infinite creative variations. Kurokawa's recipes are accompanied by charming photos of the cakes artfully arranged with pretty serving pieces, textiles, and ephemera such as books, and vintage packing cartons. The images are playful yet sophisticated and Kurokawa's refined, cosmopolitan aesthetic comes across as fresh and natural.

Within her stick cake genre, Kurokawa plays with a variety of cake types, including pound cake, cheese cake, shortbread wafers, mini gâteau-like sponge and cream confections, cream-filled pastry, puddings, and even doughnuts. The variations seem endless and range from easy pumpkin stick cakes, flecked with chunks of kabocha squash, to more complex soy custard cream napoleons. The text is in Japanese with recipe titles in French but even if you do not read Japanese, the pictures will inspire and delight.

I was able to translate some recipes and provide a rudimentary English version below of Kurokawa's "Baton de cake au thé indien" (Indian tea stick cake), made with Assam tea and aromatic spices, with a flavor reminiscent of chai. These cakes make wonderful snacks for travel, or to have at home with tea or coffee.

Baton de cake au thé indien (Indian tea stick cake), adapted from Tiny Stick Cakes Recipe Book by Yuko Kurokawa.

You will need a perfectly straight square metal baking pan. The sides must meet at sharp right angles in order to produce the cake's precise, neat lines. Kurokawa's recipe is for a 15 x 15 cm baking pan but the smallest I was able to find on was 8" (roughly 20 cm) square. In this case, double or even triple the recipe to accommodate the larger pan.


60g (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
scant 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger powder
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
60g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
60g granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp milk
1/2 Tbs Assam tea leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line the pan with parchment paper. You may need to cut the parchment paper at the corners to allow for a crisp fold. Make sure that no part of the pan will touch the cake batter- this will ensure a smooth transfer from the pan.

2. Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and add the dry ingredients. Stir until combined and pour into the pan. Smooth the surface with a rubber spatula and then make it flat and even by gliding the edge of a metal or plastic ruler across the batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool off for about 5 minutes, then pull parchment lined cake out of the pan and trim off edges so the sides of the cake are perfectly straight. Cut into 1.5 cm sticks.

The book, and others by Yuko Kurokawa, such as Tiny Square Cakes Recipe Book, can be found outside of Japan at Japanese bookstores such as Kinokuniya.