zen and the art of brewing tea and baking
With its logical sequence of steps, brewing a good cup of tea has the same calming - almost meditative - feel as baking. Both activities provide an escape from the everyday, affording an opportunity to tune out the world, focus on the need for precision, and enjoy the moment of pleasure when both the tea and the cake are ready to be savored. Thinking about nothing other than how much tea goes into how much water at what temperature and for how long allows me to rest my mind. Likewise, there is a satisfying rhythm to the steps involved in baking a light-as-air sponge cake, in this case, flavored with matcha, the finely powdered green tea of Japan. (Note that the cake is not truly green in color; if you desire that, you will have to resort to adding a few drops of green food coloring, a practice that I eschew). There is also an irrefutable logic - an essential rightness - to the formula (how many ounces of eggs [2 parts] related to sugar and flour [1 part each], according to classical proportions) that for me evokes the fairly rigid but reliable guidelines for brewing tea from whole leaf (2.25 grams per 6 ounces of liquid).
Getting into a kind of “Zen zone” is easy when measuring ingredients for a simple four-ingredient sponge cake (for accuracy and consistency, professional bakers measure only by weight, not by volume, so having an accurate scale is useful here). For me, the logical sequence of the process and the need to be present and attentive to the moment when measuring out the tea and counting the minutes the whole tea leaves are in contact with the water before decanting are analogous to the few, but crucial, steps in making a cake - paying attention to how long the eggs and sugar are warmed for best volume before beating the mixture to a beautiful foam followed by gently coaxing the dry ingredients into the foam without deflating it. And next to last, before cooling and devouring it, thinking neither of past nor future, one must pay attention to how long the cake is in the oven (setting a timer or noting the time the cake goes into the oven is helpful) so that it is removed at just the right moment. Finally, allowing the cake to cool fully - so that its structure firms up - completes the process.
Matchasource.com, which carries both beverage- and kitchen-grade matcha, is a good place to start when sourcing matcha.
Herewith the path to baking enlightenment:
Matcha Tea Cake
Yield: One 9-inch round cake, to serve 6
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift the cake flour with the tea three times. Using aerosolized pan spray, coat the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan lightly. Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and spray the parchment lightly. Set the pan aside.
Place the eggs and sugar into a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should be above the level of the water). Whisking constantly, heat until the eggs and sugar feel warm to the touch (approximately 100-110 degrees F.). Then pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer, outfitted with a whisk attachment, and beat until light in color and texture, approximately tripled in volume. Then, gently but thoroughly, fold the dry ingredients into the egg foam without deflating, making sure that there is no undissolved flour lurking at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Immediately scoop the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cake tests done when a skewer is inserted into the center. Cool on a rack. Dust with sifted powdered sugar just before serving, if desired.