While autumn is by far my favorite time of year, I happily admit that summer has a lot to offer. The warmer months bring a unique joy and vibrancy when the city comes alive with park picnics, lavish farmers’ markets, the smells of street food fairs and unusually cheerful New Yorkers.
Many of my childhood memories are also rooted in the summer season: picking black raspberries from the bushes in our neighborhood, scurrying across the street to the local river in search of lobsters, catching fireflies in the fading daylight, having my grandma’s nails tinted in a beautiful natural shade of red with itself drawn petals. Popsicles and watermelon were welcome treats, but nothing beat homemade bingsoo – Korean shaved ice bowls with sticky sweetened condensed milk, chewy bites of packaged rice cake, red bean paste (which I left out as a kid … stupid me) misugaru, done with one shot Milk over it. Icy, no-frills perfection.
If the start of summer, with all its energy and possibilities, always felt like an occasion to celebrate, it feels even more festive this year as the city begins to recover from the pandemic. And because every celebration is an excuse for dessert, I came up with a fun, seasonal cake to kick off the season: a simple but elegant matcha blackberry layer cake. Jam, lightly mashed blackberries, and silky whipped mascarpone cream are sandwiched between 8-inch rounds of just sweet-enough matcha cakes to create a colorful, eye-catching dessert that is sure to turn heads at your next outdoor gathering (and she makes new friends).
Even though I’m a pastry chef, the truth is that any kind of meticulous frosting work is enough to make me run away from a recipe. For this reason, this cake is one that can be put together on a large plate using the highly technical “stack and serve” method. With the layers of the cake exposed, it’s important to use fresh matcha powder instead of everything who knows how long lying around in your pantry. The fresher the powder, the livelier the green-purple cross-section of the cake you get.
Although I originally envisioned this as a 6 inch cake, the layers were too high and awkward to cut when serving. Panning on an 8-inch cake during the test process with appropriately adjusted recipe proportions solved this problem and also led to a better ratio of cake to cream and fruit. Plus, a slightly bigger cake just means you can share it with more people – while speaking from personal experience, you might be surprised how easy it is to eat and keep eating.
While I enjoy digging into this cake year round, I can’t think of a better way to welcome the warmer weather, longer nights, and the feeling that we’ve been the closest thing to normal in over a year. It’s a festive start to the season – and a new beginning – that we’ve all been waiting for.
Matcha blackberry layer cake with mascarpone cream recipe
Makes an 8-inch layer cake
For the cake:
1½ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (15 grams) of matcha powder
2¼ teaspoons of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of kosher salt
1½ sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, soft
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
¾ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Just under ¾ cup (165 grams) of whole milk, at room temperature
For the blackberries:
12 ounces (2 standard packages) of fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
For the mascarpone cream:
8 ounces mascarpone, cold
1 cup of whipped cream, cold
3 to 4 tablespoons of powdered sugar, depending on your sweetness preference
½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease three 8-inch round cake tins with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom with rounds of parchment, and grease the parchment. (If you don’t have three pans, you can bake in batches and reuse the pans.)
Step 2: In a medium bowl, mix the flour, matcha powder, baking powder and salt together. Put aside.
Step 3: In a large bowl, stir the butter with an electric hand mixer or a food processor with a mixer attachment until smooth. Add the sugar. Cream the mixture until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrub the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until they combine. Scrape out the bowl again, then stir in the vanilla.
Step 5: Sift half of the dry ingredients over the buttercream mixture and beat until everything has combined. Carefully stir in the milk, then sieve in the remaining dry ingredients and beat until the dough is smooth.
Step 6: Spread the batter evenly over the three pans. Smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula, then place the pans in the oven. (You can also set the pans on baking sheets to make them easier to turn.) Bake the cakes for 17 to 20 minutes, turning halfway until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Step 7: Let the cakes cool in the tins for 10 to 15 minutes, then use a small offset spatula to gently run around the edges of the cakes to loosen them. Gently flip them onto refrigerated shelves.
Step 8: Preparation of the blackberries: Mix the blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl. Save a handful of whole berries (to garnish the top of the cake), then mash the remaining blackberries with the back of a large spoon, leaving some pieces of fruit intact.
Step 9: Make the mascarpone cream: In a large bowl, add the mascarpone, heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the ingredients – starting at low speed to avoid splatter – until the cream comes together and the peaks are medium to stiff. Be careful not to roll over.
Step 10: When the layers have completely cooled, assemble the cake. Place one layer on a large plate or cake stand, spread a third of the mascarpone cream on top and pour a third of the blackberry mixture over it. (Use more fruit than juice.) Repeat for the remaining layers, adding the reserved whole berries to finish. You can either lightly freeze the outside of the cake or let it thaw for a rustic yet elegant look.
Notes: For a noticeable shade of purple, carefully spoon some blackberry juice onto the cake and toss it in the layer of cream before garnishing it with the pureed and whole berries.
Joy Cho is a Brooklyn pastry chef and freelance writer. After Joy lost her job as a pastry chef at the start of the pandemic, she started Joy Cho pastries, an Instagram store that sells her gem cakes to the New York City area.
Celeste night is a Filipino-American food, travel, and portrait photographer based in Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Prescription tested by Deena Prichep