The ‘Super Foods’ Cake: Green Tea and Black Sesame

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

The positive health benefits of green tea are well known throughout the world, but are you also aware that black sesame seeds are a good source of antioxidants, protein, iron and magnesium? Black sesame seeds are not hulled unlike the more widely used white sesame seeds, hence the difference in colour. The retention of the outer shell means that there is 60% more calcium in the black sesame seed and the flavour is also stronger. Plus my mum also tells me that black sesame helps to keep your hair black and shiny, so what’s not to love?!

Chinese people love to use sesame in desserts, both varieties. There is a “Sweet Black Sesame Soup” sweet black sesame soup that is widely found all over China, and black sesame paste is often used as a sweet filling in pastries and cakes. I’ve found that ‘Chinese’ and ‘English’ cakes are vastly different. Chinese cakes use a lot less sugar and oil/butter and flavours are usually more subtle. Texture and lightness in the sponge is very important, so chiffon cakes or Genoise sponges are much preferred. With English cakes, anything goes! I love dense tea cakes with lots of different flavours and plain Victoria sponges that show off the buttery cake with simple decoration and fillings. Both have their positives, but marrying the two styles is even better!

Black sesame is often paired with green tea (matcha powder) or sweetened red beans (adzuki beans). A quick internet search and hundreds of recipes can be found. On a trip to the Chinese supermarket earlier this week, I saw a tempting array of Chinese cakes.These often come in the form of Swiss rolls or plain chiffon cakes. A green tea Swiss roll with a butter cream filling caught my attention, but I managed to avert my eyes and walk away. However the cake still remains in my mind, so I’ve decided to make one instead.

The recipe I used for this cake needed a little adapting as it was the closest that I could find to the cake I wanted to bake. It’s the first time I’ve made the effort to weigh out the egg yolks and egg whites too! Though I have to admit that I went off the recipe, as I didn’t want to waste half an egg yolk or crack open another egg just to have another 4 grams of egg white…

To get the green tea flavour, I’ve added 2 table spoons of matcha powder. In hindsight I should have taken a couple of table spoons of flour out as the mixture became quite thick so the sponge wasn’t as light and airy as it should have been. Noted for next time!

Green Tea and Black Sesame Swiss Roll

The filling is a kind of buttery custard, and the black sesame powder I used came through brilliantly. I could have just eat the lot with a spoon and a cup of tea, but made do with eating the left overs straight from the bowl instead!

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The simple pineapple bun

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

During my childhood, my parents bought baked Chinese goods from ‘Ho’s bakery’ in Manchester’s China Town. Ho’s is a long standing institution that has brought Hong Kong bakery to the Chinese migrants who wanted a little taste of what they were missing from home.

‘Chinese’ and ‘English’ oven baked breads are very different. Chinese bread is usually very light and soft in texture, usually on the sweet side and often enveloping finely chopped cooked meat or delicate sweet fillings. Kind of like a ready made sandwich. English breads need to be sturdier so they can be sliced to hold a decent amount of filling or torn to be dipped into a hearty soup without it disintegrating.

Chinese buns are usually eaten warm for breakfast. In Hong Kong, small bakeries can be found everywhere offering quick and tasty breakfasts for people rushing to work in the non-stop crowded city. In England this Chinese bread was a tasty Sunday treat that my dad would pick up on his way home from replenishing stock for the restaurant after a busy Saturday of trading.

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

I tried baking bread for the first time at the age of 24, in a small village called Ololosokwan in Northern Tanzania. I was on my ‘gap year’ trying, and failing, to save the world with no access to fresh produce for weeks at a time. Luckily I wasn’t alone! In the next house was an Irish man who was working at the local school and had asked his son to email him a basic bread recipe. Before this it had never occurred to me to do anything apart from grab a loaf of bread off the supermarket shelf. We didn’t have that luxury in Ololosokwan! The bread wasn’t amazing as we didn’t actually have the right flour, but it was was bread none the less. And more importantly, it was a reminder of home!

I didn’t try and make bread again for a few years and when I did I always got tired of the whole kneading process so my ‘bread’ was usually disappointing. I have had some successes, but mostly very dense and unappetising results. One day I looked up how to make Chinese style bread and found a recipe online. It was truly inspired and the results have been amazing!

Pineapple buns

Pineapple buns

For my first blog, I am recreating a delicious typical Chinese delight called a ‘pineapple bun’ or ‘菠蘿包’ in Cantonese. They contain no pineapple, but end up looking a little like the outside of one and have a similar texture to brioche. They are divine!  I’ve made these buns by hand before but it is very time consuming and messy as the dough is very wet and difficult to work with, hence the reason I don’t make them very often! This time I have used a bread maker to do the hard work for me.

This recipe shows you how to make the basic Chinese white bread that it used for most recipes, and as you can see it doesn’t only use the traditional ‘fast action’ yeast that is usually found in western bread recipes. The Tangzhong Method, or ‘湯種’, is the secret to the pillowy soft buns sold in bakeries such as Ho’s to this day! Thank you Christine, you are amazing! http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/03/japanese-style-bacon-and-cheese-bread.html

For the crunchy topping: http://www.pigpigscorner.com/2011/01/pineapple-bun-bo-luo-bao-by-christines.html

If you’ve never had one, please try it! It’s perfect with a cup of strong English tea!

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns