Mother’s Day Garden Matcha Cake

As an art educator and a free spirit, my mom has undoubtedly opened creative doors for me. I grew up on a hobby farm in rural Illinois, which means that my childhood was marked by seasonal waves of baby chicks and ducklings, prairie burns that we tell ourselves we had control of, and the occasional biblical-style dust storm (truly). Living in the middle of nowhere meant that we really didn’t have neighbors to look over the fence and wonder what the heck we were doing with the place, or why.

One particularly memorable creative project from my childhood was my little garden in front of the house, inspired by the sweet children’s book “Mandy” by Julie Edwards. My mom gave me free reign over a little plot of soil.  Granted, it was a small sliver in the larger scheme of our two acres, but a prominent sliver. In the late winter, I would diligently look through Burpee seed catalogs, cut out my favorite colors and plant varieties, and collage a garden plan. Then, we would order the seeds and plant seedlings indoors, to be transplanted in the warmer months. I transformed the scrap of land into a chaotic celebration of floral color, pollinators, and the occasional cherry tomato plant, and the garden transformed me into someone that cares about adding beauty to the world, even if only a few people will ever see it.   

I’m in the big city now, barely keeping some fussy house plants alive, and longing for the wilder, large scale creative projects that come the most naturally to me. While my creative life as a child propelled me to seek bigger and more formidable challenges as an adult and to confront these challenges with an urban backdrop, I’ve found that my searching for these things often feels like a step towards boxing myself in; creating walls where there once were tilled fields and a horizon line. During this quarantine, I’ve found myself especially missing my mom, rural Illinois, and the creativity they afforded. 

I know that when I visit home again, every surface will still be covered in my mom’s handmade ceramic pots, cats, or both. There will be chaos everywhere, but it is my privilege to find order in the chaos and draw upon it for my own artistic pursuits, whether that’s the cakes that I create or the delirious scribbles in my many journals that hover around my apartment like friendly ghosts. 

The Spring Matcha Cake is dedicated to my mom and all moms. It is a perfect project to embrace the new season, especially if you’re cooped up inside. Three layers of luscious matcha cake are covered in silky matcha cream cheese frosting. In between each layer, there’s a satisfying store of semisweet chocolate ganache.  The top of the cake is decorated in Pocky white chocolate flowers, sprinkled with dried rose petals and edible glitter.  Even if you can’t enjoy eating this cake with your mom right now, I encourage you to make it anyway. Give her a call while you’re waiting to pull it from the oven.  

Scroll down for the recipe!

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 2 tbsp matcha powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 5-inch or 6-inch baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and line them with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Whisk together.
  3. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the wet ingredients. On low speed, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
  4. When combined and smooth, pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes).
  5. Let cool. Remove from pan.
  6. When the cakes are completely cool, cut them to achieve 4 even layers. Set aside three of these layers for your cake. Snack on the fourth!

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 227-gram bar cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon matcha powder

Instructions:

  1. Cream together the room temperature cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar.
  3. Add 1 tbsp matcha, or to taste.

For the Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Once simmering, at chocolate chips. Do not touch for 1 minute.
  3. Stir until smooth. Leave at room temperature for about 1 hour to achieve spreadable ganache.

For the Pocky Flowers

Ingredients:

  • 1 package matcha Pocky sticks
  • 1 bag white chocolate chips
  • Dried flowers, such as rose petals or lavender
  • Sprinkles or edible glitter
  • Food coloring of choice

Instructions:

  1. Prepare a baking sheet with wax paper. Arrange a few Pocky sticks on the paper, spaced apart. Make sure your baking sheet fits inside of your fridge, or use a flat plate instead!
  2. In a small bowl, heat the white chocolate chips in a microwave in 30-second intervals. Stir until the entire bowl of chocolate is melted.
  3. Stir in your desired food coloring.
  4. Fill a small piping bag with a small piping tip with the chocolate.
  5. Pipe chocolate on top of each Pocky stick in a flower pattern.
  6. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on your desired dried flower petals, edible glitter, or other decoration.
  7. Let chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To Assemble

Put a dollop of frosting on a cake board and securely place your first cake layer. Pipe frosting along the perimeter of the layer to create a dam. Fill with ganache. If your frosting or ganache are very wet, you will need to chill your cake before repeating this step and building on top of each layer. Cover the outside of your cake with matcha frosting as well as sprinkled dried flower petals, if desired. Once chilled, decorate your cake with Pocky flowers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Satsumaimo Layer Cake

I don’t recall hearing the sing-song jangle of ice cream trucks during my time living in Japan, but I do remember a yakiimo cart that made its rounds near Yoshikawa station.  Yakiimo are warm,  whole roasted satsumaimo, Japan’s sweet potato with red skin and a white interior.  The cart owner would always be bellowing a steady song dedicated to the celebrated yakiimo.

To me, roasted satsumaimo are mouthwateringly good without any alteration; butter and sugar aren’t necessary.  When you do add those two ingredients into the equation, you’ll float away on a rich flavor cloud!

One popular treat in Japan are satsumaimo cakes, reformed into a small potato shape after mixing mashed satsumaimo with sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and a few other key ingredients.  There are even some regional Kitkats that are flavored after Japan’s ubiquitous sweet potato varieties.

This luxuriant layer cake is dedicated to the lovely, sweet tuber that has grown close to my heart.  Three layers of satsumaimo cake are topped with daigaku imo, a caramelized, candied version of the wonderful root.  The cake is slathered with kuromitsu (black sugar) cream cheese icing, and drizzled with kuromitsu syrup.

Taking a bite out of this cake reminds me of helping one of my host grandmothers tend to her satsumaimo crop in the garden.  There are so many moments in Japan that I hope to always carry with me, and rooting around in the dirt with someone I couldn’t communicate with well over the common goal of nurturing latent sweetness is definitely one that takes the cake.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Satsumaimo Layer Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups mashed cooked satsumaimo sweet potatoes, cooled (about 4-5 sweet potatoes)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 6-inch round cake pans with canola oil. Line bottoms with baking parchment and spray the top of those too.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium-high for 5 minutes until creamy.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl, so all is well incorporated.  Add in eggs one at a time.  Beat on medium-high for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl as needed. Add vanilla and sweet potatoes and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed (scraping down the bowl is important stuff, y’all).
  4. Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Beat on low speed until just incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake at 350-degrees F for 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cake and placing on a cooling rack.  Torte each cake in half when the cakes are completely cool.

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons kuromitsu syrup 
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Instructions:

  1. Beat butter with the cream cheese on high, until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar
  3. Add the kuromitsu, salt, an cinnamon.  Beat until well incorporated

For the Daigaku Imo

Ingredients:

  • 2 satsumaimo, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or another neutral-flavored oil)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Wash the skin of the potato carefully.  You will not peel it.
  2. Cut the potato diagonally in the rangiri style – by rotating the potato a quarter between cuts.  Soak the pieces in water for 15 minutes to remove starch.  Change the water half way through.
  3. Wrap the lid of your frying pan with a kitchen towel and tie on the top near the handle.  By doing this, you prevent condensation from the lid dripping down onto the potatoes.
  4. Before turning your burner on, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and oil in your frying pan.  Stir well.
  5. Dry the potatoes with a towel before placing in your pan.
  6. Cover with your prepared lid and turn the stove on to medium heat.  Every two minutes, open the lid and flip the potatoes so that all sides are cooked.
  7. Cook in this style for approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Take off the heat and sprinkle with black sesame seeds, to taste.