During our recent holiday in Yilan, we were looking for places to visit near our minsu (B & B). So the owner suggested we visit a nearby bakery. We were quite surprised to find that the ‘bakery’ was in fact a museum (Kuchen Kenwort Museum) attached to the factory of the R. Den bakery (亞典菓子工場). And that the tourist-bus attraction was situated in an industrial area on the outskirts of Ilan. The specialty of the bakery was even odder — Japanese-German style cakes.
I was befriended at the museum entrance by a chatty security guard; he was studying English part-time and keen to take the opportunity to practice his new-found skills. And he was very helpful in pointing out the top sellers of the bakery, and making sure I got to taste everything. Sometimes I get annoyed by people trying to practice their language skills with me, but I was very impressed with how genuinely helpful this security guard was. It is so nice when you meet someone who obviously loves their job and goes the extra yard to assist people.
The signature cake of the R. Den bakery is a German style cake called baumkuchen. The tyre-like round cake consists of several layers; each individual layer painstakingly baked rotisserie-style on a large steel post. There was a display oven showing how it was made, but as it was behind glass I couldn’t get close enough the secret of the baking. The cakes in the oven looked too big to me, and did not yet have the distinctive ‘ruts’ of the baumkuchen. Maybe the cakes shrink during the cooking process?
I was curious about how a German-style cake ended up being the specialty of a popular bakery situated on the fringes of Yilan. According to my friendly security guard, a German was captured by the Japanese in China and he subsequently taught them the art of baking. This story is consistent with an article on Wikipedia, which outlines that Baumkuchen was introduced to Japan by Karl Joseph Wilhel Juchheim, a German living in China during World War I and subsequently removed by the Japanese Army to Japan.
In addition to baumkuchen, the R. Den bakery also makes several varities of honeycake. The packaging labels the cakes as ‘Taiwanese honeycakes’, but actually this type of cake was also introduced to Taiwan via Japan via Europe. In Japan the honeycakes are more commonly known as ‘Nagasaki cake’ (where it is popular), or ‘kasutera cake’. But the cake is actually based on a Spanish Castella cake recipe, likely introduced to Japan by Portugese traders in the 16th century.
Whatever the origins, the honeycake is delicious — you have to try it to experience how soft and fluffy it is. In addition to the original version, R. Den makes orange, green tea and red bean versions. I especially liked the red bean cake: it must have been a challenge to keep the cake so light even with the addition of the red beans, but R. Den pulled it off.
We also sampled small pieces of R. Den’s rich baked cheesecake, which used cream cheese imported from Australia. It was wickedly rich. And also a ‘Japanese’ style chocolate cake, which was incredibly moist and tasted like a lighter version of a Sara Lee chocolate cake except without the icing. If only we had access to a refrigerator during our travels I would have bought something, but somehow I don’t think the cakes would have held up well in the mid-summer’s heat. (Probably a good thing for my waistline, too!)
The Kuchen Kentwort Museum is at 122 Meizhou Second Street (宜蘭市梅洲二路122號), telephone 03 9286777. It is around ten minutes out of Ilan, towards the Longtan lake. The museum is open to visitors from 9.00am to 6.00pm daily. Entrance is free, and includes complimentary self-service tea and coffee. I challenge you to visit without buying a single cake — most people (including us) left with several.