strawberry milk with matcha panna cotta

strawberry milk latte with matcha panna cotta thumbnail

Last fall my roommate and I spent an hour in line at the new Machi Machi, a Taiwanese tea shop chain, that had opened up in Toronto – the wait an obvious necessity, my roommate pointed out, as after all, Jay Chou is a fan. We also discovered that Machi Machi drinks make for perfect colour-coded fashion accessories and there is a super cute wall to take photos with (note: none of these infants, dogs or fashionistas are me).

Long wait aside, we both agreed that the fresh strawberry latte with panna cotta (also a fashion necessity) was our favourite – strawberries pureed with milk, poured over a soft and jiggly panna cotta, and the whole thing drank with a straw. (It must be said: eating panna cotta with a straw is pure brilliance.)

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coconut, matcha & strawberry layer cake

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

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.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

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. But yes it’s probably best that I don’t try again…)

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

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! (Edit: in a more recent re-test and re-photograph of the recipe, we actually weeded the garden a bit much and only had a couple slightly withered – but still blinding barbie-pink – poppies. So most of the white flowers are balcony-grown begonias (which are edible!). Another advantage of balcony plants: they tend to have less bugs in them…)

Flower arrangements are pretty fun if you have access to them – I randomly piled flowers on the cake and it seemed to turn out okay! The cake itself is a fun combination: coconut cake, strawberry compote, and a matcha cooked flour frosting. The strawberry filling is cornstarch-thickened compote – the cornstarch gives it a bit of extra thickness so it isn’t too runny for a cake filling. Meanwhile the pale green matcha colour is lovely against the white and pink flowers, and I do always love matcha flavoured desserts. It’s a slightly reduced sugar frosting, but with enough sugar to balance the bitterness of the matcha for a mildly sweet and buttery frosting.

Update notes: updated July 2022.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

coconut, matcha and strawberry cake

  • Servings: one 16cm or 6 1/2-inch cake
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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.

strawberry filling

Adapted from this Food.com recipe.

  • 250g chopped strawberries
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar if your strawberries aren’t very sweet – if they are quite sweet, I find no sugar is needed
  • 8g (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) 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.

matcha ermine frosting

Adapted from Stella Parks ermine frosting recipe.

  • 170g milk
  • 28g all-purpose flour
  • 70g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 160g butter, softened but still slightly cool (if you can’t be bothered – I’ve found straight room temperature is fine too. The icing may be slightly less voluminous but still fluffy!)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp matcha whisked into a smooth paste with 2 tbsp boiling water

Place the milk and flour in a small saucepan and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. 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 and salt until dissolved. 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, and then the matcha paste. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Switch to the whisk attachment and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, a few more minutes.

assembly

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 and strawberries as desired.

Store in the fridge, but allow the cake to warm up to closer to room temperature before serving.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

matcha pandan brownies

matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies

This is day 4 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Rustle & Still is 90% café, but about 10% greenhouse, with a front wall of windows that allows natural light to filter past hanging pothos and strings of spider plants. There’s an airiness to the space that manages to make my chronically strained eyes feel a bit less strained. The first time I went I had the houjicha latte, thick and robust with ground houjicha and frothy milk. Then there is the matcha pandan latte – matcha imbued with the ambiguous vanilla-like fragrance of pandan. While I tend to be caught up in flavoured lattes, the cafe specializes in Vietnamese coffee and their bahn mi are affordable, filling and delight with bright pickled vegetables.

I took the matcha pandan flavour combination as inspiration for these brownies – chocolate brownie perfumed with pandan and dotted with matcha cream cheese. (Camoflauge pattern inspired by the Bon Appetit brownies of course).

matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies

As vanilla prices soar, pandan is something I’ve become more interested in using. It is gorgeously aromatic and endlessly affable in the way vanilla can be – easy to pair and get along with other flavours. Here I’ve used it in a similar way as I would vanilla – as a background complementary flavour.

There was this box of scented markers I inherited from my older sister – at that point, none of them worked so I never used to them to draw, but they were still heavily scented. Every once and a while I would pull the box out of my “treasures drawer” and sit down to uncap each one by one to smell them. The worst two, by far, were liquorice (the manufacturers sure had high hopes for six years olds) and cotton candy. The best two by far were buttered popcorn (smelled just like artificial butter flavouring) and cupcake. To me, the cupcake became my imagining of the conceptual aroma of baking down, concentrated down into a scented water-soluble peach-coloured marker. Of course, I would now define the “conceptual aroma” of baking quite differently – more to do with yeastiness, browning butter and caramelizing sugar, a far cry form that marker. But the first time I smelled pandan extract right from the vial, it was the cupcake marker. In other words, a roundabout way to describe pandan extract in a way… that may still not make sense to anyone… other than me…

These brownies are a lower sugar version of their usual selves. Usually the sought-after shiny, crackly “ethereally delicate top crust, a series of whorls and ridges that shatter with every bite, showering lighter-than-air chocolate flakes onto plate and counter” means I’m less willing to cut back on the sugar content. But when you have a camouflage-patterned cream cheese on top, who cares what the crust is like? (I think that’s not a feature of the base brownie recipe – based on Alice Medrich’s cocoa brownies – anyhow). These brownies have a bit less sugar in the topping for a bitter matcha counterpoint, and an additional reduction in the base, making them dense, heavy chocolate brownies with a more muted sweetness. The pandan comes out surprisingly well – wait a moment after you swallow a bit of the brownie: the chocolate will subside and the pandan will be there.

matcha pandan brownies

matcha pandan brownies

  • Servings: 16 from an 8-inch square pan
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Adapted from Bon Appetit’s camouflage brownies. Makes 1 loaf-pan worth of brownies (I used a pan with a base measuring 4×10″).

toppings

  • 250g (1 block) block cream cheese, cubed
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp matcha whisked with 2 1/2 tsp boiling water into a smooth paste

pandan brownie

  • 140g butter
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 13g (about 2 tsp) pandan extract or flavouring, but may depend on your extract
  • 2 egg
  • 63g flour

Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease and line an 8×8″ baking pan with parchment paper.

For the topping, place the cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 20 second intervals, stirring between each, until the cheese is soft, warm and smooth. Beat in the sugar. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk briefly to break up the weight, and then add half at a time to the cream cheese, mixing in each addition. Divide the cream cheese mixture in half and add the matcha paste to one half. Set aside.

For the brownies, place the butter, in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted and warm. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add the pandan extract – it may depend on the strength of yours, so use 2 tsp as a benchmark. Add enough such that the batter has a strong, but not overwhelming, pandan aroma, one that will last even once baked.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth and emulsified. Add the flour, stir until incorporated, then beat the batter with a wooden spoon around 40 times. Scrape most of the batter into the prepared pan, leaving a bit (around 1/2 cup) in the bowl. Spread evenly with an offset spatula.

Alternate dollops of the plain cream cheese and matcha cream cheese overtop. Finish by dolloping the last bit of brownie batter overtop.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the brownies appear set and an inserted skewer is removed not with a liquidy slick of batter, but a with a thick and pasty wad of crumbs attached. It’s always better to err on underbaking brownies. Let cool on a wire rack completely. Cut into 16 squares once cooled.

Update notes: Recipe updated March 2022. The previous version was a small batch take on the recipe – if you’d like to do that, halve the recipe and bake in a loaf tin. Watch the baking time as it likely will need less.