The Japanese has always impressed me with their choice of flavors combo used in sweets and desserts – sesame seeds, adzuki beans, purple sweet potatoes, roasted chestnuts, pumpkins, strawberries, kinako… how are these local flavors not attractive? Perhaps that one last Japanese ingredient that I’ll ever use, albeit it being green, is Wasabi (わさび). 🙂
Anyways, an old time high school mate invited me to set up a mini dessert booth at an Oldskool Alumni Night event last week and I agreed readily with the excitement of catching up with some old friends whom I never met since… graduation. While that’s the positive side of the event, I was also getting pretty stressed up and nerve wrecky a week before the event with the types of cakes flavors that I was gonna sell. My baking adventures have never gotten any more serious than a “Hey yoz, wanna try ma cake?” kind of thing among friends and colleagues, and now – a sale!? I probably freaked myself a little bit.
Anyhow, I wanted the cake flavors to be strong; to be identifiable at first bite. Strong flavors plus a contrasting texture – and that would be an ideal combination for me. How about Black Sesame and Matcha? Toasted black sesame seeds provides texture and have a rich nutty smoky flavor while matcha is fragrant and has a subtle bittersweet aftertaste. Since the Japanese has longed incorporated this flavor combination in their desserts, I have faith that this would work (haha).
After baking Cake Specimen #1, it became evident that technique determines the success or failure of your cake. Make it or break it. The ingredients in #1 and #2 were identical, except for the sugar level. Because both black sesame and matcha taste more on the bitter side, more sugar were added in Cake Specimen #2. The main difference that resulted in the large difference aesthetically was the way of mixing the flavor components into the cake batter. In #1, I dissolved separately the grounded black sesame with 20g milk, and the matcha powder with another 20g milk to form a paste that I thought would be easier to mix into the cake batter since a paste form is of a closer consistency to that of a batter. Boy, was I wrong! The sesame paste was exceptionally tough to blend in and I ended up with unsightly black globules in the mixture. The matcha paste was a less tough, though I probably deflated the batter a little more with all that folding to get it completely mixed in. Both batters ended up with different densities and they couldn’t layer up at all. Not a good sight…
Cake Specimen #2 was then done with simply mixing the individual powders into the cake batter and voila! Evenly mixed batters. I decided to increase the sugar by quite a fair bit – from 100g to 150g, to see if there was a marked difference taste-wise. The cake turned out a little sticky at the sides after unmoulding and were also a little sticky on the inside when cut. As the 150g sugar composed of 100g brown and 50g white sugar, it probably created a moister cake batter (sugar absorbs water molecules) – and I feel that the sugar quantity was probably too much in relative to the dry ingredients as well. The sweetness was still acceptable though – no one who tried claimed that it was too sweet, nonetheless, I’d decrease by 20g on the next try to see if the stickiness reduces. When completely cooled, the cake shrank into a trapezoidal shape – the closest object I could relate it to was a Top Hat, which I haven’t figured out why. Too heavy, maybe.
Cake Specimen #1 was bland. For someone like myself who prefers less sweet desserts, I felt that this was bland too. The black sesame that was unevenly distributed was a love-hate situation. Love the sesame globules (though unsightly) that gave a nutty earthy flavor but the rest of it, tasted as dull as it looked – a grey speckled cake.
Cake Specimen #2 was a marked improvement, I’d say. I toasted the sesame seeds longer this time, and the resultant aroma was notably stronger, and better. The matcha, however, was still questionable – whether the addition of this flavor was a necessity, or was it just for the colour? The black sesame flavor was vividly prominent and adding more matcha would probably not outshine its counterpart.
Black sesame and Matcha is definitely a great combination. Cake Specimen #3 was put up to the test at the event; it looked the best out of these, and I hoped those who bought and tried felt that it wasn’t bad too. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve tried this recipe!