Mona’s Cake Repertoire
Mona Asuka combines two passions: playing the piano and baking. The Munich-born professional musician tells COMPANION why the two disciplines are in fact quite similar - and she also shares her recipe for the perfect summer cake.
I’ve been playing the piano for longer than I’ve been able to talk. As far as speaking is concerned, I was a late bloomer. At the age of two, I still couldn’t form sentences, but I was looking for ways to express myself. That’s how I discovered the piano. Back then, I used to accompany my older sister to piano lessons — she’s a pianist now as well — and I quickly realised that she got a great deal of attention when she was playing. I also wanted to copy everything that she did. So, I climbed up onto the piano stool and set to work. Shortly afterwards, I performed on stage for the first time. I won my first competition at age four, and I haven’t stopped since then.
I never actively planned to become a professional musician. I was once asked at day care what I would like to be when I grew up. My answer? A bunny! I was already a pianist by then - but I don’t see myself as a child prodigy. Alongside talent, there is a lot of hard work involved. And a good education. I first studied at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and later in Würzburg, before returning to my home city of Munich. I travel a lot as part of my job. I play all over Europe and Asia — as I’m half Japanese, I also often perform in my second native country — and I recently performed in Australia for the first time.
After having been travelling, I always enjoy returning to Munich. It’s like a sleepy village; everything seems more relaxed here. And my tiny flat is my sanctuary. It’s here that I practise on my grand piano, sometimes for three hours a day, sometimes eight. I only play classical music; I particularly like Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Music from the Viennese classical, Romantic, and Baroque periods.
When I’m not practising, I’m an avid baker; I usually bake on a daily basis. I find it incredibly relaxing. One day I’d like to open my own café selling cakes, preferably in Japan; people there are crazy about fine confectionery. I have even thought of a name already: Mona’s Cake Paradise.
I have always had a sweet tooth and have been experimenting with ingredients since I was a child. My two passions — playing the piano and baking — actually have a lot in common. First, they are both very tactile activities, and I seem to enjoy working with my hands. With both of them, you also have to stick to basic rules to produce results. Unlike cooking, you have to pay attention to specific mixture ratios when baking cakes. For example, how much baking powder or how many eggs I need for a certain quantity of flour. In a piece of piano music, of course, it’s the notes that have been devised by a composer to which you have to pay attention.
Aside from that, both disciplines share a certain freedom. How do I want to decorate the cake, how much sugar do I like to use? I also have my own style when playing the piano; I can really indulge myself. It’s only through interpretation that something individual, something creative emerges.
Whether it’s playing the piano or baking — they are not things that I do just for myself. At a concert, I am only happy if I can see that my music is making the audience happy. That becomes a precious moment which gives me a great deal of satisfaction. For this reason, every concert is special; I enjoy playing for 30 people just as much as I enjoy performing in front of 3,000.
That’s the same kind joy that I feel when I bake. A cake just for me? I could eat three slices and then I’d be full! I prefer conjuring up things for other people. Presenting someone with a homemade gift, that’s the best feeling. That’s why I never buy presents for my friends — instead, I give them a cake. I always put a lot of thought into which sort of cake would be right for each person. I’ve also come up with something special for COMPANION which is perfect for the summer — a fresh, fruity strawberry sponge cake, which is easy to make too. And it’s adaptable — feel free to interpret it as you wish.
Strawberry Sponge Cake à la Mona
Ingredients for the Batter
- 6 eggs (room temperature)
- 200g sugar
- 200g flour
- 100ml milk
- 60g cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Ingredients for the Cream Filling
- 300g mascarpone
- 200g cream
- 40g sugar
- 200g strawberry jam
- 500g fresh strawberries
- First, preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius, with upper and lower heat, and line an 18-centimetre-diameter springform cake tin with baking paper. If you don’t have a large cake tin, simply divide the batter and cream filling between two small tins. Separate the eggs and set the yolks aside for later. Using a hand or electric mixer, beat together the egg whites and half of the sugar. As soon as the texture starts to become firmer, add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff.
- Add the yolks and vanilla extract to the egg white mixture and mix on a low setting. Sift the flour and carefully mix it in with a whisk. Melt the butter and milk over a bain-marie and gradually incorporate it into the mixture a little at a time. Be careful: if you do this too quickly, the mixture may split.
- Transfer the mixture to the tin(s) and bake at 170 degrees, with upper and lower heat, for 45 to 50 minutes. If you are using two tins, reduce the baking time to approximately 30 minutes. Allow the cake to cool and then cut it into two or three layers. For the filling, use the mixer to briskly beat the mascarpone until smooth and then add the cream and sugar. Stir until a firm but creamy consistency is reached.
- Spread some of the cream onto the first cake layer and drizzle the jam over it – this is easier to spread when slightly warmed – then place the next layer on top of it and continue to stack until the final layer is in place. To decorate the cake, arrange the fresh strawberries on the top layer.
- If you don’t like strawberries, you can use other fruit instead. They are less likely to slip if a little jam or cream is spread on the top of the cake first. Allow the finished cake to rest in the fridge for around an hour — and then enjoy it fresh.