His response was, "I wish there was a way to have a sushi cake."
That was not in the universe of things I thought he might say.
I asked for more information. "Do you mean a cake that looks like sushi, or a cake made of sushi?"
"A cake made of sushi!" he responded with enthusiasm.
"You know, I think I could do that."
And so I did. I pressed a layer of rice into a springform pan, then added a layer of fillings, and kept doing that. And it worked!
Every year since, we've done the same thing. I've gotten pretty good at it. This year, R8S2 asked for one for his 8th birthday.
For the Cultural Potluck at the end of this past school year, D4S1 said he wanted to bring sushi. I reminded him that we are in no part Japanese. This did not dissuade him. I decided that, given its relevance to our family's particular culture, sushi cake was an acceptable contribution. While I completely failed to get pictures of them, I made two smaller cakes... one with fish and one vegan. I figured that sixth graders would be shy about consuming raw fish. I was wrong; that one reportedly disappeared in short order, while there were leftovers of the vegan one. Lesson learned.
I've now made nine different sushi cakes in all. It takes me about 45 minutes to do the actual assembly and decoration, but there's some prep work with making the rice and slicing the fillings.
People ask how I do it. It's not terribly hard, though having the right equipment helps. Here's the rundown...
What you'll need:
Sushi rice (regular short-grain rice can work too, but sushi rice is finished slightly differently)
Sushi fillings (vegetables, fish, whatever you desire)
Seaweed for decorating (optional)
Large bowl, preferably wooden
Rice paddle or other similar implement
Springform pan (I have never tried doing this in a regular cake pan. I really don't know if it would come out.)
What to do:
Make Sushi Rice
4 cups Sushi Rice (uncooked)
water sufficient to cook
Cook sushi rice per instructions. If you have a rice maker with a sushi rice setting, that works great. If it's a Zojirushi, that's 6 of the little cups that came with it (which are 2/3rds of an American cup).
1/2 cup Rice Vinegar
3/8 cup sugar (6 tablespoons)
2 tsp. sea salt
until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Dump the rice into a large bowl (a wooden salad bowl is great for this), and pour over the vinegar/sugar/salt mixture. Mix with a rice paddle or large spoon until thoroughly integrated.
While that cools a bit, chop up your fillings of choice. Our favorites are cucumber; avocado; sashimi-grade salmon, yellowtail, and tuna; salmon roe; and shrimp (butterflied). If you choose to use raw fish, make sure you are using a source that is intended to be consumed raw. Use anything you like in sushi... crab meat, cream cheese, tamago, tofu... it's all good. (By the way, the shrimp come already cooked and butterflied that way in a frozen package from the market where I get all my sushi-specific stuff. I have no idea how to make them look like that.)
Take a 9" springform pan and cut a circle of wax paper that fits pretty well in the bottom.
Using a rice paddle or something similar (maybe a rubber spatula or something? I haven't tried other tools), press a thin layer of sushi rice into the bottom of the pan. I used to use my hands for this (get them wet first, so the rice doesn't stick to them!) but the paddle gets a tighter layer. Press it allll the way to the edges-- you want the edges really tight so your cake looks smooth and round (and doesn't fall apart) when you take it out of the pan. The layer shouldn't be more than a quarter-inch thick-- the thinnest you can do without being able to see the wax paper through it.
Add your ingredients in a radial pattern. This is something I've refined over the years-- at first I'd just line them up across the pan, but that makes the cake harder to cut. So I started arranging them in a radial pattern and that works much better.
More recently I've used even smaller pieces:
Now, repeat until you've filled the pan:
Next, turn it over onto your chosen cake platter:
Next remove the sides of the springform pan:
Next you decorate. This is really just a matter of arranging things in an artful pattern on top. But this year, I actually cut letters and numbers out of seaweed to put D4S1's name on it:
The Sushi Cake has developed quite a bit over the years. My first year, this is what it looked like:
For his 8th birthday, I used rice molds to try to make it cuter:
I started to get that by year three:
That was, you'll never guess, his 9th birthday. After that, he said, "Mommy, will you please put the salmon roe inside the cake too?"
...but they're still fun to decorate with some.
By the fifth time, I was starting to get the hang of it: