Thursday, November 08, 2012

Potluck Experiments: 抹茶マーブルシフォン (Matcha Marbled Chiffon Cake)

As part of my post-hurricane potluck baking experiments, I decided that I wanted to try baking a nice cake made with green tea.  I had bought some good quality matcha (a type of Japanese green tea) powder from Amazon and so far I'd only made desserts using green tea cream.  Why not bake a nice cake with matcha instead?

American baked desserts are notably sweeter than baked desserts in Japan.  I like the flavor of matcha in a dessert but it really does taste weird when the dessert is at American levels of sweetness.  My parents have mentioned that one of the things they had a hard time adjusting to when we lived in Japan was that the cakes were not sweet in the way that they were expecting.  I ended up with the opposite reaction: Japanese-style cakes that are made to American sweetness levels don't taste right.

All of the recipes I found that looked promising for matcha cakes were in Japanese.  I couldn't find English translations (or I couldn't figure out the right phrases to google).  Eventually I ended up using google translate and my horrible Japanese to translate several recipes that looked promising.

The Japanese was not the most difficult part of translating the recipes - the different measurement systems were.  Most Americans don't know that we're the odd man out when it comes to cooking measurements, and it's not Imperial versus metric.  Almost every other country (except Australia) uses weight or mass when measuring dry ingredients, but we use volume.

Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than that.  Liquid ingredients are generally measured by volume in most countries but with a different measuring system than in the US.  Most dry or bulky ingredients are measured by weight or mass instead of volume.

The worst problem is converting from US to Imperial (UK) or vice versa, where we use the same words but mean different amounts.  This is why we can have ounces of milk and ounces of butter in the US and mean two completely separate measurements.  Fluid ounces are not the same thing as solid ounces.  This is also why you can't buy a cookbook in England and use it back in the US.  I've got a UK version of one of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks and I ended up buying another US copy of it because it was easier than converting every single recipe.

There are different conversions for each ingredient.  One cup of milk and one cup of flour do not have the same weight.  If you do end up having to translate a recipe, make sure that you look up the conversions for each ingredient.  Don't use the conversion for flour when you are calculating the amount of sugar!

If you scroll down this page to the baking conversions, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Japan uses the metric system so I was converting from mass to volume.  I thoughtfully chose the recipe that had the fewest number of ingredients and still sounded like it would be good.  Although the conversion itself was easy, when I was making the batter I just assumed that I had messed up one of the conversions and that it wouldn't turn out to be edible.

The cake batter was fine.  I started thinking that maybe I had managed to pull it off, but then I got to the part where I actually baked it.  I completely forgot that standard American baking pans are something like twice the size of standard Japanese baking pans, which meant that the baking times were wrong.  Fortunately I smelled something burning and pulled the cake out before it was completely ruined.  The baking times I have for this recipe right now are the ones I've estimated based on what happened.  You can either use the reduced baking times or double the recipe and use the original baking times.

Chiffon cakes are very light cakes made with an egg-white meringue which is added to a batter of vegetable oil, flour, baking powder, and flavorings.  They can be tricky because the outside of the cake (the part touching the pan) will bake faster than the inside of the cake since the batter has so much air in it.  To keep the outside from burning, you bake a chiffon cake for some amount of time at a higher temperature to cook the outside, and then you lower the temperature so that the inside will continue to bake without the outside burning.

The problem with the Japanese recipe is that the author expected the baker to be using a much smaller Japanese pan, which has a lot less surface area than an American pan for the same amount of batter.  Japanese ovens are not the built-in wall ovens that we have in America.  Instead, most people have counter-top convection microwave/oven combinations, which are about the same size as a smaller American microwave.  What we consider to be standard size baking pans in America would never fit into one of those.  My pan was way too large and a lot more of the batter was touching the pan surface than the recipe expected, so it baked too quickly.

Yes, the cake pan is upside down in this picture, but you can still see how much smaller the Japanese pan is compared to the American one in my pictures at the end of this post.  Picture from the original recipe.

Overall, the cake had a lovely texture once I cut away the burnt edges.  I think that it could use a little more matcha powder for flavor.  The people at the potluck all had the same comments about this recipe: nice texture but isn't sweet enough.  Americans.  :)

This cake would be wonderful for tea with fruit as a snack.  The recipe uses a great base for a chiffon cake and you can switch out the matcha powder for some other flavoring (or no flavoring at all).  It would be very nice covered with whipped cream frosting and berries as a light cake at the end of a dinner, or as a birthday cake for somebody who doesn't like overly sweet desserts.

Tips: cake flour is not all-purpose flour (see my post on flour types).  You cannot substitute the same amount of all-purpose flour in this recipe.  If you don't have cake flour, measure out the same amount of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons for each cup of flour, add in 2 tablespoon of cornstarch for each cup, and pulse in a food processor.

I've only made this recipe with soy milk as instructed.  I'm not sure what would happen if you used cow's milk instead.  Since it's only 1/3 cup, I suspect that it would probably be an acceptable substitution.

I really like the taste of matcha and I would double or triple the amount in the recipe.

This recipe is for a marbled chiffon cake.  That means that you swirl one differently colored part of the batter with another before baking it.  It is really easy to over-mix the two colors together and loose the marbling effect.  Once you pour the green batter into the white batter, stir the batter around your mixing bowl only one or twice.  I stirred it three times and that was too much.

Before you pour the boiling water into the matcha-sugar mix, make sure you mix the sugar and matcha together well so that there are no clumps of matcha.  Otherwise the matcha will not unclump in the boiling water and you will be stuck trying to make it smooth.

The trick to making an egg-white meringue is to add the sugar very, very slowly.  Start by beating the egg whites until the have the consistency of the bubbles in a bubble bath.  This should take about 30 seconds or so.  Then you very slowly add small bits of sugar while beating the egg whites, making sure to incorporate the sugar into the egg whites.  You don't want large clumps of sugar landing in the egg whites.  It took me 4 minutes to add 1/3 cup of sugar in this recipe.  (Yes, I timed it just so I'd be able to tell you all how long it took.)  When you're done, the meringue will have a texture like the leftover milk foam after you've finished drinking a foamy coffee.

抹茶マーブルシフォン: Matcha Marbled Chiffon Cake

Original Japanese recipe

4 eggs, separated
50 ml salad (vegetable) oil (0.2 cups = 3.2 tablespoons)
80 ml soy milk (1/3 cup)
70 g cake flour (3/4 cup)
60 g granulated sugar (0.3 cup)

3 g matcha powder (1 teaspoon)
3 g granulated sugar (1 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons boiling water

Preheat the oven the 220 C (428 F).

Heat the soy milk until it's lukewarm.  Sift the flour twice.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the vegetable oil to loosen them up.  Whisk the soy milk into the egg yolks.  Add the flour and whisk until combined.

Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer.  Add the granulated sugar slowly to make a firm meringue.

Add 1/3 of the meringue to the soy milk batter.  Whisk until the lumps are gone, but try to keep the air intact.  Using a rubber spatula to mix gently will help.

Mix the sugar and matcha powder together in a small bowl.  Pour in the boiling water and mix well.

Put 80 g of the soy milk batter (about 1/4 of it) in a separate bowl and mix the green tea paste in.  Mix until smooth.  Don't beat or mix too hard.

Mix the green tea batter back into the soy milk batter.  Don't mix too much - you want to see large green streaks.  Pour the batter into an angel food cake pan or a bundt pan.  Do not grease the pan!

Bake for 10 minutes (original: 25 minutes) and then reduce the oven temperature to 180 C (356 F).  Continue to bake until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the cake by placing it upside down, with the neck of a wine bottle through the hole in the middle of the pan.  Balance the upside-down pan on the sitting wine bottle and leave it to cool for about 20 minutes.  Run a butter knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake and remove it from the pan.

Most of the ingredients: twice sifted flour, soy milk, egg yolk, oil.

What the egg yolks and oil look like after being mixed together.

The egg white meringue.  It's firm enough that you can still see ribbons left from lifting the beaters.

Green tea (matcha) and sugar paste.

Plain soy milk batter.

1/4 of the soy milk batter mixed with the green tea paste.

Green tea batter put back into the soy milk batter.

I mixed it too much.

Ready for baking.  Compare how full this pan is to the pan picture from the original recipe.  It should have been full almost to the top of the pan.

Cooling on my roommate's wine bottle.

Over baked.

With the burnt sides sliced off.

With all the burnt parts sliced off.  The cake is not marbled.

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