“After we came back to Jakarta, we tried to find it here, but it was very hard,” Pitarto said.
“They sell it at the Japanese supermarket, but it’s imported, so sometimes it is out of stock.”
Last month the three siblings decided to open Otaru Cakes, a store in Kemang, South Jakarta, where the baumkuchen, known in Japan as the King of Cakes, is the star attraction. But instead of just importing the cake, they now produce it themselves.
“We called the bakery in Japan and asked them if it was possible to purchase their machines and recipe to make the cake ourselves. They actually invited us to come over again to take a look at the whole process,” Pitarto said.
The round cake with a hole in the middle features a thin, golden lining between each layer, resembling tree rings.
The soft texture of the cake seems to melt in one’s mouth, and even though it is normally eaten as a dessert, baumkuchen doesn’t taste overly sweet.
Pitarto said it takes around two hours to produce 300 pieces of baumkuchen.
“We bought the machine and got the original recipe from Japan, but the ingredients we use are local,” he said.
“At the moment, it is still me and my brother who bake the cakes. We are in the process of teaching our staff how to make them.”
The most interesting fact about baumkuchen is that it actually originated in Europe, not Japan.
There are different versions as to the cake’s origins, but given its German name, which translates as “tree cake,” it was most likely first made in Germany.
“Apparently, the baumkuchen was introduced to Japan in 1920, during a German exhibition in Hiroshima,” Pitarto said. “It became popular really quickly and Japanese people started to learn how to make it.”
Nowadays, the cake is such a common treat in Japan that some people think of it as a local delicacy. In Japan, it is often presented as a gift to wedding guests.
“That’s one thing I really like about the Japanese,” Pitarto said.
“As soon as they feel passionate about something, they master it — from the taste to the packaging.”
In that regard, he added, the trio did learn a lot from their trips to Japan, such as how to make simple things look beautiful.
The new shop in Kemang has already attracted an eager following, including many Japanese expatriates happy to find a little piece of home in Jakarta, Pitarto said.
While most of the customers stop by for takeout, the shop also offers a cozy seating area, where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee along with the cake.
“The recipe we had was for the original baumkuchen,” Pitarto said.
“But we decided to add some additional flavors as well, so now we have chocolate, tiramisu and green tea cakes too.”
The original cake is the most popular among the Japanese customers, he added, while Indonesian customers often pick the green tea flavor.
Pitarto said he was happy to be able to introduce this sweet delicacy to the country.
“Even though this is the only store so far, people can also order baumkuchen via our Web site,” he said.
“So we can deliver the cakes to almost anywhere in Indonesia.”
Jl. Kemang Raya No. 31
Kemang, South Jakarta
Tel. 021 719 3631
Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Price range between Rp 18,000 and Rp 95,000 ($2 and $11)
Article by Katrin Figge