magic matcha custard cake [raspberri cupcakes]

(Originally posted: October 27, 2014)

Fourth week.

What can I say about fourth week?

I could tell you about midterms.

I could tell you about cheerleading, or Homecoming.

I could tell you about the color-changing leaves, the emergence of peacoats and boots, or the fact that I still pick the wrong days to walk outside without an umbrella.

…or, we could pretend it’s still September, and I could tell you about the most incredible edible feat of science to come out of my kitchen.

I found the recipe for these while scouring the Internetz one summer day for the perfect green tea dessert. I had a hankering for a sweet green tea something-or-the-other, and dangit, I was determined to listen to my gut. Literally.

Lo and behold, the ever-reliable raspberri cupcakes has a recipe for magic matcha custard cake.

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Now, hold the phone.

Magic? Really?

Yes. Really.

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Well, okay, no, not actually. But it might as well be magic for all the awesome science it takes advantage of.

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These custard cake bars call for an egg yolk-based milky batter with whipped egg whites folded in at the very end. The whole (brilliantly green) bowl gets poured into an 8×8 pan, laid carefully in the oven so as not to spill any of the mixture that is only too eager to end up in a puddle on your floor, and promptly forgotten about until the timer goes off.

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pre-milk matcha batter

This is when the magic happens.

That single-batter pan you put in the oven has since split into two distinct layers: a fluffy green tea egg white cake, thin but substantive, covering a thick, chewy mass of matcha custard that is perfectly reminiscent of green tea mochi.

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What. One bowl, two layers? But how?!

Let’s take this moment to talk about eggs–specifically, egg whites.

You’ll find plenty of recipes that call for “egg whites whipped to stiff peaks”–recipes that take advantage of this very cool property of egg whites. Egg whites, though 90% water, are chock full of complex proteins. When you whip egg whites, you’re trapping air bubbles in this mess of proteins and water. These air bubbles are maintained by the unfolding egg white proteins, which create a viscous network around the air. The more you whip, the more tiny bubbles are created, eventually leading to the airy foam you want to achieve. Unfortunately, even with the protein network stabilizing the air bubbles, this gorgeous foam won’t last forever. The water will begin to drain out, leaving a dry, useless egg foam on top. Stabilizers, like sugar and vinegar, act, well, to stabilize the foam, letting it last longer before water begins to drain out.

Feed has a fairly detailed article about the science of beating egg whites, which you should check out if you’re interested in baking science. (Yay, science!) There are a lot more factors involved in achieving the perfect whipped egg whites, like glass bowls vs. stainless steel vs. copper, but this covers the basics.

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As it turns out, when I first tried making this cake, I did not know these very important and useful facts about stabilizers. Nor did I have an electric mixer to speed up the process. No, instead, I spent at least 20 minutes at my kitchen counter, whisking away at vinegared whites that just refused to form peaks, stiff or otherwise. When I finally seemed to have gotten somewhere, I paused my whisking, only to notice that my egg whites had lost almost half a cup of fluid to the bottom of the bowl.

Well. Rats.

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I tossed the pathetic whites and tried again, this time taking extra care and even trying to speed up the process by blending the new egg whites first–but to no avail. I added whatever I could salvage to the batter, crossed my fingers, and put the pan in the oven.

The outcome? Definitely not magic.

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sad, single-layer matcha bars 🙁

When I went home, I tried the recipe again, but with 1. a KitchenAid, and 2. 1-2 T of sugar added to the egg whites while whipping. Success! I soon had glossy peaks to fold into my batter.

This time around, I saw what I wanted:

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oooh, aaah

The moral of the story?

Learn to whip your egg whites right, and don’t be afraid to add some sugar.

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If you don’t like green tea, you can leave right now make this into a chocolate or vanilla custard cake, too! The world is your delicious, magical, custardy oyster.

***

Happy Sunday! And to those of you who, like me, are putting off your homework: here’s a little motivation for you. Happy fifth week!

raspberry peach summer cake [smitten kitchen]

(Originally posted: September 12, 2014)

Peaches finally, finally, finally went on sale.

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So did raspberries.

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In-season and vibrant enough that I wish I could bottle the colors, these perfect summer fruits were absolutely irresistible. I bought more than I knew I could reasonably eat before they went bad, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t try my hardest anyway.

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Seriously, does anybody else pop raspberries like candy? They’re so sugar-sweet, yet tart, and melt-in-your-mouth delicate. I’ve been known to polish off whole boxes while still standing at the kitchen counter.

(Can you tell I’m a little obsessed? I’ll stop.)

In any case, fruits like this just beg to be baked, and that’s exactly what I did. I was staying at Sheena‘s house for the long weekend, and I knew I couldn’t show up empty-handed, so I made this quintessentially summer cake from Smitten Kitchen.

Raspberries that burst in your mouth, peaches that gush juices down your chin with every bite, and a fluffy cake with a perfect crumb combine in this ideal summer evening treat.

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The colors.

I want to eat the colors.

Can we figure out a way to make that possible?

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I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe with barley, but, inspired by The Baker Upstairs, I swapped the 1/2 cup milk with buttermilk, and topped the whole thing with 1/2 a cup of raspberries and one large peach, thinly sliced.

(Don’t worry; the rest of fruit–whatever didn’t end up in my stomach–found a home in the freezer, for when cooler days beg for a taste of summer sunshine.)

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As you can see, the cake that went into the oven didn’t look quite like the one that came out. That’s because about 30 minutes in, I realized that the batter had swallowed up the majority of the fruit I had so carefully laid on top of the cake. So I pulled the cake out, added another layer of thinly sliced peaches and another sprinkling of sugar, and then popped it back in for the remaining 20 or so minutes.

Also, out of a lack of desire to buy an entire bag of barley flour, I had borrowed some of Sheena’s barley and ground it up in the blender. The result was a mostly powdery flour, with a handful of larger bits that the blades couldn’t quite break down. Those bits sank in the oven, giving the cake a crunchier crust-like layer along the bottom of the pan. I liked the texture, but next time, I’ll definitely opt for a finer flour to have a more even distribution of barley.

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The verdict? 10/10, would bake again in a heartbeat. It’s light and moist, but with an amazingly complex flavor from the barley. With seven of us in Sheena’s house for the weekend, the cake vanished almost instantly after the first slice was cut.

But next time, I’ll be experimenting with different fruits and flour combinations. The Baker Upstairs’ cake is absolutely gorgeous with those peach slices sinking only slightly into the pale, fluffy cake–somehow reminiscent of butterfly wings–and I definitely want to try to recreate that.

Let me know if you try the cake–especially now as the weather is hinting at turning, and the farmer’s market trades its berries and peaches in for crisp apples and pears.

As always, happy baking! 🙂

nutella & cream cheese swirled blondies [cookin’ canuck]

(Originally posted: August 28, 2014)

Somehow, despite the fact that it is already the end of August, it feels as though summer has only shown its face in the past week or so.

Chicago suddenly went from a series of balmy, springy days to BAM–85 degrees, muggy, humid, thunderstorms, and basically everything that one would actually expect from a Chicago summer.

As a result, I’ve been flip-flopping all summer between wanting peach iced tea-strawberry ice cream-blueberry lemon pie bar days, and hot noodle soup-steaming tea and biscuits-hearty tomato sauce and pasta days.

My stomach is terribly confused.

So today, you all get a throwback to these blondies from Cookin’ Canuck, which are absolutely irresistible in any weather.

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I’ve made them in the midst of February for World Nutella Day, I’ve shipped a box of them to my best friend over spring break, and most recently, I whipped them up as finals wound down in the beginning of June–a time when nearly everyone on campus could do with a little Nutella-white chocolate-cheesecake swirl in their lives.

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If you’re feeling crazy, you can sub out 1/2 a cup of Nutella for 1/2 a cup of peanut butter–like the really great honey roasted kind–and you’ll get an even more rich cheesecake swirl in there. Mmmmm.

Not gonna lie: I’m drooling a little bit looking at these photos.

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I really want one now. Dammit. They’re great when they’re hot and gooey, but they really shine when you let them cool and absorb the flavors. Thick, buttery, soft blondies, broken up by mouthfuls of Nutella cheesecake and the gentle crunch of white chocolate chips. Grab a glass of milk with these, because you’ll need one after you realize you’ve accidentally eaten three in a row.

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Sorry not sorry.

Enjoy the blondies, and keep your eyes open for more summery posts as I make the most of what’s left of the best fruit season of the year!