tea

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!

earl grey & poppy seed muffins

Let’s talk about tea.

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I’m a tea girl, through and through. Coffee is delicious, but its real time and place are at 11 pm in the library when I still have 7 pages of a paper left to write before class the next morning.

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Tea, on the other hand, comes in so many enticing varieties that it can be consumed at any time and for any occasion: English breakfast with a morning omelette, an iced berry tea to toast a warm afternoon, mango green tea for post-workout hydration, lavender or chamomile at night, and even something crazy like red velvet cake tea for dessert. Give me a time of day, and I can find you a cup of tea for it. (Unfortunately, this also makes me a bit of a tea snob. Forgive me, please. We all have our thing.)

Of course, if we’re sitting down with a steaming mug for a moment of peace, we might as well make an event out of it, snacks and all. And what better to pair with a cuppa than a piping hot Earl Grey & poppy seed muffin?

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This is one of those recipes I just keep coming back to, again and again, whenever the craving strikes me. They’re quick, easy to make in small batches, and perfect for breakfast or a snack, even on the go. Earl Grey is a pretty subtle flavor to begin with, so when I first made these muffins, I was worried that the tea flavor wouldn’t come out. As it turns out, I had absolutely no reason for concern. With no vanilla or other strong flavors to fight it, the milk-steeped Earl Grey peppered with poppy seeds is apparent in every bite. Steph over at raspberri cupcakes, if you’re reading this, you’re a genius with this flavoring.

And while we’re at it, I’d like to direct all of my readers to her blog, which is home to not only some fantastic recipes, but also some of the most aesthetically pleasing food photography ever. Everything is dainty and perfect and if you find yourself spending even a little bit of your life perusing food photos on Pinterest, you will enjoy her blog.

Now back to the muffins.

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You start very simply with all of your dry ingredients in a bowl. (Don’t you love that contrast?)

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Then steep some Earl Grey tea in milk. I halved the recipe this time, so I only used 2 tea bags and a 1/2 cup of milk. One day, when I actually have plain Earl Grey in the house, I’ll try making these with looseleaf. Or maybe with a different flavor of tea. Let me know if you’re experimenting and come up with any cool combinations! 🙂

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Add the tea, melted butter, and eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix away! I didn’t have to pull out my blender or even a second bowl. Everyone’s happy if we can avoid cluttering the sink.

This time, I also went with Steph’s cute idea of using parchment squares instead of paper liners. I definitely struggled a bit before getting the hang of fitting the paper in–what’s that they say about fitting a square into a circle?–but I think they still came out alright. Parchment is cheaper than using paper liners, looks fancier, and actually peels off the muffin more cleanly after baking. I might do this for all my muffins from now on, and save the shiny and colorful liners for cupcakes. 😉

While the tray was in the oven, I brewed my tea.

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Since the original recipe suggests apricot jam for the muffins, I like to pair them with the Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party Blend, a ginger-peach-apricot black tea that I picked up in Disneyworld last summer. (If you’re interested, you can find most of the Unbirthday Tea flavors on Amazon.) Any black/red tea would probably taste fantastic–especially more Earl Grey!

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Serve them hot and fresh, and you’ll never be disappointed. They’re soft and buttery and will just melt in your mouth, releasing all that great, milky tea flavor. 😀

For a long time, my problem with these muffins was the way that they would crumble after sitting out for a day. Even zapping them in the microwave wouldn’t help. As it turns out, the issue was not with the recipe but with how I was measuring my flour.

Heed this warning, friends: Measure your flour using the spoon and level method! This means that instead of scooping flour out of a container using the measuring cup, grab a spoon and use that to scoop flour from the bag to the measuring cup. Don’t shake the measuring cup! When it’s full, use a knife (or the other end of the spoon, or any level surface like that) to brush off the excess flour. This will give you a much more accurate measurement than scooping. My muffins were moist on days 2 and 3, and after a quick burst in the microwave, they were almost as good as the first day.

Honestly, this is why we should all use gram measurements for our dry ingredients. So many poor cookies and cupcakes and muffins would be saved a sad, dried-out fate. Alas, I have no kitchen scale either, so the spoon and level route is the best alternative.

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Regardless of flour issues, these muffins are undoubtedly the best when hot out of the oven. So treat them like scones: make small batches, make them often, and serve them fresh! 🙂
If you want some added stickiness and flavor, slather one with a fruity jam, like apricot, peach, or strawberry-rhubarb.

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These have been my snack for like three days now. I can’t help it.

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Even my dad enjoyed one with his staple third cup of tea for the day. 😀

Let me know if you’re a tea person, what kind of teas you like, if you enjoyed these muffins, if you want more healthy recipes like I’d been doing this month–any and all things!

Happy almost-Friday!