The Raindrop Cake is New York City–based chef Darren Wong’s take on the mizu shingen mochi, an intriguing Japanese cult dessert made from mineral water and gelatin or agar and served with roasted soybean flour and sugar cane syrup. “It’s a light, delicate and refreshing raindrop made for your mouth,” Wong writes on a website created for the dessert, which is newly available at NYC’s Smorgasburg.
Wong says he got the idea to make the raindrop cakes available in the U.S. after reading about their popularity in Japan. He says that it took a lot of trial and error to test various agars and gelatins to achieve the right consistency. “The cake has to maintain its shape but still have the texture of water,” he says. “This makes the cake a nightmare to store and transport. Each cake has to be individually packed in a way that protects it from movement and temperature.”
Another challenge was figuring out the best way to photograph something as fragile as the water-based dessert. Photographer Tim Ireland told me in an email that he had to grapple with “how to approach an object that can be translucent, opaque and completely transparent depending on lighting and angle and how to really get across the texture in images,” as well as the fact that the translucent cake functions “essentially a lens, magnifying whatever it is in contact with.” Ireland added that working with powder and syrup “had its own challenges as powder is finicky and syrup doesn’t like to stay in one place for long—not to mention a cake that will evaporate if you leave it too long in open air.”
The Raindrop Cake is a stunning piece of translucent food design, as whimsical as its name implies. Whether the ethereal dessert qualifies as an actual “cake” is another question, and some have likened it to a breast implant or a head-scratching waste of its almost zero calories.
Wong says the cake reminds him of “that scene from A Bug’s Life where they drink water drops off of leaves,” adding that it perhaps unsurprisingly “tastes like eating a giant raindrop.” The cake itself, he says, “is very mild and very much about the delicate texture the melts in your mouth. Together with the toppings it has a strong, sweet kick with a tinge of molasses and roasted nutty flavor.”
Does a streamlined Japanese whisper of a concoction like the Raindrop Cake have any chance of achieving cronut or rainbow bagel status in our land of excess, where cult desserts usually succeed in proportion to how unhealthy and overdesigned they are?
“There are very few foods that engage this many senses at the same time,” Wong says, “which is what attracted me to this dessert in the first place.”
See more in Slate: