What is a weed? If one cared to ask the right people with the right intonation (and maybe a single, raised brow), it could elicit a plethora of answers – do we consider intention, indigeneity, utility?
My favourite is a succinct and pragmatic definition from an expert with the local horticultural society: a weed is anything that you don’t want growing there. It’s a definition that allows for flexibility, including both intention and allowing some spur of the moment impulse. Hence the reseeded spinach crowding out other seedlings, yes, can be a weed. And, alternatively, something you didn’t intend to grow, but that you’ve become rather fond of, can stay.
For instance, bright pink, miniature peony-like poppies first began appearing in the community garden a few years ago, and each year they grow more numerous. This year they’ve gone rogue – you can find them spindling up through the canopy of potatoes, growing alongside peas, and in some plots, even an entire patch.
They’ve given our typically homogenously green and slightly drab plot a startling amount of colour. And so I can’t say that I haven’t done my part to enable the takeover – and given their ubiquitous presence in the garden, I can tell most others have been doing about the same. In adolescent form, they sprout as tufts of sage-toned ruffled leaves, ones that I’ve grown familiar enough with to avoid pulling out. The buds hang their heads like streetlamps until they bloom and curve upwards; later the petals drop, and by now most of them have become woody pods which release their seeds with the slightest shake. Last year we may have also helped out by sprinkling poppy seeds all over our plot.
By some measures, and perhaps in some numbers, they are a weed, but they do seem to have “weedled” their way into our hearts (I never ever make puns so I am ever so slightly proud.)
I’ve been wanting to try a floral layer cake (inspired by Constellation Inspiration – see this, this or this – whose sense for florals is so impressive, she wrote an entire book on it!). I realised that the storm of garden poppies was my chance to work with an abundance of flowers, and especially flowers that are not either pansies or herb flowers. While the colour of the poppies is a bit garishly sweet-sixteen/barbie-theme, as I was working with what we had in the garden I couldn’t be that picky!
I randomly piled a few flowers on the cake – and in the end I did add in some cilantro flowers after all, which vaguely resemble baby’s breath.
The cake itself is a fun combination: coconut cake, strawberry compote, and a minimal-sugar genmaicha (roasted rice green tea) ermine frosting. It has the pleasant combination of bitter/fruit as in matcha/strawberry, with toasty/nutty elements as in the genmaicha/coconut.
The strawberry filling is cornstarch-thickened compote – I was worried it was a bit too cooked and overly thick, but it actually comes across quite sharp, sweet and bright. I boosted the colour of the genmaicha ermine frosting colour slightly with 1/4 tsp matcha, but it’s very optional – uncoloured, the frosting is an off-white.
coconut, genmaicha and strawberry cake
coconut layer cake
Based on the coconut cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I love her recipes!
- 137g cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 60g greek yoghurt, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 127g coconut milk, at room temperature
- 85g softened butter
- 90g granulated sugar
- 75g (2 ½) egg whites, at room temperature
- 40g unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 350F. If using 16-cm diametre cake tins, line the bottom with parchment, butter the tin and the parchment, and lightly flour. If using 16-cm diametre cake rings, butter and flour the rings and then place them on a piece of buttered parchment paper.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate cup or small bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, vanilla extract and coconut milk.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add the egg whites a bit at a time, whisking in each addition until smooth. Add the flour mixture and the coconut milk mixture to the bowl at the same time and stir until just combined. Lastly, mix in the shredded coconut.
Divide amongst the three tins/rings and spread evenly with a small offset spatula.
Bake until an inserted skewer is removed with a few crumbs clinging or clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Once cool, place the cakes in the fridge so the layers are less delicate when assembling the cake.
Adapted from this Food.com recipe.
- 185g (generous cup) chopped strawberries
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 6g (1 tbsp) cornstarch
Place the strawberries, sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan along with a tbsp of water. Heat up the mixture over medium to medium-high while stirring and crushing the strawberries with the back of a spoon. As the mixture becomes more liquidy, bring the mixture to a boil and let boil for 1 minute while stirring to cook the starch.
The filling will go from cloudy to more clear and deeper red as the starch cooks. Transfer to a dish, cover and chill completely.
genmaicha ermine frosting
- 200mL boiling water
- 12g genmaicha
- 19g flour
- 30g granulated sugar (or use up to 60g for a more standard sweetness)
- 106g butter, softened
- for colour (optional): 1/4 tsp matcha whisked into 1 tsp boiling water
Pour the boiling water over the genmaicha and allow to steep for 1.5 to 2 minutes. Then immediately strain. Measure out 115g of the tea to use for the icing.
Place the 115g of tea in a small saucepan. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain (it’s okay to do this even if the tea is still hot). Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened into a pudding-like consistency, around 5 minutes.
Transfer to another bowl and whisk in the sugar until dissolved. It will look like a pale jade-coloured translucent glue – it will be a lot more appealing once beaten into the butter. Cover and let cool to room temperature.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a standmixer with the paddle until light, around 5 minutes. Beat in the pudding, a spoonful at a time. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is fully combined.
Switch to the whisk attachment and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, a few minutes. If you’d like a green icing, at this point add the matcha mixture and whip in; this produces a rather pale icing, but you can add more for a deeper colour.
Trim the tops of the cakes to level them if needed. Transfer about 1/4 cup of the icing to a piping bag fitted with a ~1cm round tip (I used Wilton 2A).
Place one cake layer on a turntable or plate. Pipe a ring of icing around the edge. Dollop half of the strawberry filling in the centre and spread into an even, thin layer. Top with a second cake layer and repeat the icing ring and strawberry filling. Place the final cake layer on top.
If there is any remaining icing in the piping bag, add it back to the rest of the icing. Dollop icing on top of the cake and along the sides. Use a large offset spatula to smooth the icing over the cake. Garnish with flowers, strawberries and coconut flakes as desired.
Store in the fridge, but allow the cake to warm up to closer to room temperature before serving.