Guys. I did it. I finally made a cake for no reason at all, which means I could cut out a slice and photograph it without being crippled by the thought of serving a party cake with a missing slice. I realize this is pretty much a non-accomplishment, but I was very proud of myself and walked around with a shiny glow of success all afternoon.
When I was growing up, my mom worked part time coordinating a two-week summer exchange program for Japanese students. So each summer we would have one or two students stay with us for a couple weeks, plus I would get to know about 20 other students by virtue of tagging along on the tours and events with my mom. One of my favorite parts of this as a child was the novelty of trying all the candy and snacks they brought along. I was completely spoiled in this of course - it was like hanging out with a bus full of older siblings who found it highly entertaining to watch my face as I tried a smorgasbord of unexpected flavors. The most memorable was probably a sour-salty seaweed candy, a bit like the texture of a fruit roll-up, that came in a small, rectangular, red box. I hated it at the first bite, but ended up completely addicted by the end of the summer. I've since tracked it down at a local Japanese supermarket - one of the hidden gems of the western Chicago suburbs - and gleefully made Aaron try a bite to have my turn on the amused end of this process. That did not disappoint.
But there was one flavor that showed up in just about any iteration: matcha. Hard candies, chocolates, ice cream, mochi, gum, Pocky (if you aren't familiar with these, find them immediately and eat a whole box)... you name it. Matcha was everywhere.
If you've never had matcha before, you should definitely give it a try. It's a very finely powdered Japanese green tea. Traditionally, you whisk it with hot water in a ceramic bowl/cup until it's completely combined and transformed into a warm, frothy bowl of tea. And if you ever have the chance to be present for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, I definitely recommend making time for that. It is one of the most beautiful rituals. One of our exchange students prepared tea for us using the traditional ceremony while we were visiting her in Japan - her grandmother had taught her - and it's still one of my favorite memories.
We've had it on hand consistently for awhile now so we can sip some on chilly evenings, but I hadn't yet tried baking with it. Until this weekend, that is. I'm not sure what gave me the brainwave, but I was in a nostalgic moment, thinking back on all that candy and the various matcha pairings. And then I realized that it had been paired both with chocolate and with mint, so why not merge those all together? That sounded like a triplet that would play quite well together. And good lord, did they ever. I don't often get bowled over by things I've made (it just seems arrogant), but this cake. I don't quite have words for it. But guys, it's amazing.
It's definitely a rich cake, but the lightness of the matcha and mint keep it from being too heavy. It's a perfect combination of fresh and decadent. I don't think I can go back to making this cake the way I did before (with a coffee-chocolate buttercream) now that I've tasted it with the matcha-mint. The cake itself is adapted slightly from an Ina Garten recipe, now slightly less sweet and oomphed up with that aforementioned matcha.
It would actually make a great St. Patrick's dessert, if you're looking for something green and festive for the occasion. I was originally planning to have this post go up the week before St. Pat's, but I just got too excited to sit on it for that long. So happy early St. Pat's day to all of you!
chocolate cake with matcha-mint frosting
yield: 1 2-tier 9" cake or 1 3-tier 6" cake
Butter for greasing
1¾ cup flour
1½ cup sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1 cup butter
6-7 cups powdered sugar
½ cup cream
3 TB culinary matcha powder
1 tsp peppermint extract
½ tsp salt
For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Butter either 2 9-inch pans or 3 6-inch pans and dust with flour, knocking out any excess.
In the bowl of a standing mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix on low speed until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla and mix well.
While running the mixer at low speed, add the wet ingredients to the dry until thoroughly combined.
Add the hot coffee and stir just to combine.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans (approximately 14.2 oz per pan if you use the 6" route) and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack until they have finished cooling.
For the frosting:
In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the softened butter until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar one cup at a time until it reaches the desired sweetness.
In a small bowl or measuring pitcher, whisk the cream and matcha powder until thoroughly combined. This will be a very thick mixture.
Add the cream mixture, salt, and peppermint extract to the butter and sugar and beat, adding additional milk (1 TB at a time) if needed to create a spreadable texture.
Stack the layers with a generous quantity of frosting between each.
Cover the cake with a thick crumb coat of frosting. Please note that this cake is not a good candidate for creating a naked cake - the layers are very moist and crumble easily.
Place the cake in a freezer for 5-10 minutes to firm the crumb coat, then remove and frost a smooth layer overtop.
Repeat this process until you have a crumb-free cake.
Top with a dusting of matcha powder and candied ginger.