A Buttercream Fail (but a Pistachio Cake Win!)

A friend sent me a package of matcha powder in the mail. I’d never even heard of matcha powder before — Japanese green tea that’s been milled into a fine powder — but now that I had some in my possession, I was determined to figure out the best use for it.

So I surfed the net and found that matcha has pretty much what one might call a cult-following as a baking ingredient. There’s matcha muffins, matcha cakes, matcha brownies, matcha mousse, matcha cookies, matcha cream puffs, matcha sorbet, matcha chocolate truffles . . . oh, you get the picture.

But while I liked the idea of the pistachio-matcha combo in the muffin recipe I linked above, I didn’t like the other flavor-intensive ingredients the recipe called for: maple syrup and apple sauce, plus whole wheat flour? I wanted my matcha to shine! You know, in a special way, not just as part of a star-studded ensemble. And that’s when it hit me — I could make a smooth, creamy, gorgeously green matcha frosting for a . . . wait for it . . . PISTACHIO CAKE!

Because, of course, cake is all that matters.

Pistachio Vanilla Butter Cake with Matcha Buttercream
Pistachio vanilla butter cake with matcha buttercream frosting

The cake would be a pistachio cake, I’d decided (without a democratic election because I’m a monarch of one in my kitchen — MY. KITCHEN.), because I love pistachios, pistachios are also green and I haven’t had a pistachio cake in, like, a gazillion years.

My older sister (just three years older than me, but she’s older, okay?) would request, year after year, a pistachio cake with pistachio frosting and pistachio ice-cream for her birthday treat. And year after year, after the birthday dinner was consumed and cleared, my father would turn out the lights in the dining room and my mother would emerge from the kitchen bearing on a big glass platter a near neon green cake studded with flaming candles and set it down in front of my sister, whose big grinning face would shine in the green glow like she was some kind of royal (and definitely bratty) princess from Mars.

NOTE 1: At least Mars is where I was convinced she was from because I did NOT understand a single thing she said and did. Girls. *hmph*

Anyway, It was truly a sight to see for the six, seven, eight, nine year old me, and I’ve retained an overt fondness for pistachios ever since.

*NOTE 2: Of course, my sis will probably email me to tell me that she wasn’t the one who ordered the pistachio cake every year and I’ll have to completely rework my memory banks from scratch. This wouldn’t be the first time, and such are the perils of spilling the childhood beans in a public forum.

But . . . I had my cake all picked out (no chocolate, no syrup, no applesauce, no nuthin’ but pastry flour, butter, sugar, eggs, the usual supporting cast) so exactly what type of matcha frosting was I going to make? I paged through my collection of cookbooks — which were scarce on the frosting recipes, I might add — and found a listing in the James Peterson ‘Baking‘ book for “Professional-Style Buttercream”.

Ooooh, “professional” frosting? Count me in!

Pistachio Vanilla Butter Cake with Matcha Buttercream
Showing off its lovely shade of green

Little did I know the horror that awaited.

Because, while the professional buttercream version was more time and ingredient intensive — 8 egg yolks! Plus a sugar & water syrup that needs to be cooked to a “soft ball stage” and then carefully poured into the yolks that have been whipping in the mixing bowl for about eight to ten minutes, then more whipping and beating, adding butter, more beating, adding flavor, more beating — it took just one simple line in the ingredient list to throw the whole thing off:


The day that James Peterson failed me

Wait! Does the book really say that? Why, yes, yes it does: 1 1/2 cups (1 1/4 pounds) cold butter, cut into cubes — and so I was lost.

Because even the least experienced baking chef among us (i.e. moi) knows that one and a half cups of butter is so very NOT equal to one and a quarter pounds of butter. So which was it? One and a half cups, or one and a quarter pounds?

I wailed. I spluttered. I flailed. But I eventually had to make a choice, and I chose to go for the measurement that wasn’t in parenthesis, thinking that its placement meant it was the prime measurement to follow.

Bad call.

After cooking my sugar and beating my (eight!) egg yolks and cubing my butter and measuring out teaspoons of my precious matcha powder, all I ended up with was a gloppy, gooey green-paste mess. I tried beating it for a longer period of time at a very high speed. Gloppy. I added sugar. Gooey. I added corn starch. Green paste. I beat it for longer and longer periods of time. Gloppy gooey green-paste ugh.

I finally had to admit defeat after over an hour of exhaustive buttercream failure, and I dumped the whole revolting mess down the drain. Goodbye eggs! Goodbye sugar! Goodbye matcha green sanity!

I dispiritedly turned the page of the cookbook to find maybe another frosting or icing recipe and discovered, staring innocently up at me, the recipe for “Quick and Easy Orange Buttercream” . . . no eggs, no cooking of the sugar, and an ingredient list that plainly states: 1 1/2 pounds of butter

Oh for god’s sake!

I could have just kicked myself up and down the hallways of the building where we live at that point. All I’d had to do was turn ONE. FREAKING. PAGE. in my cookbook and my butter-measurement crisis would have been resolved.

But whatever. No crying over spilt matcha.

I announced to the BF that we were ordering pizza for dinner because I was too mentally frazzled to cook the salmon I’d planned, and then I set about to whip up a batch of Quick and Easy Matcha Buttercream.

Pistachio Vanilla Butter Cake with Matcha Buttercream
It pays to read to the end

Butter. Icing sugar. Matcha powder. It really *was* quick and easy — ten minutes later and I had an insanely delightful buttercream on my hands, my face, my apron, my spoons, the counter, etc. etc. The addition of the matcha powder as a flavoring gave me a gorgeously green, smooth, creamy frosting that tasted like sweet, milky green tea. Slathered on top of a pistachio vanilla butter cake, it was like a match made in heaven. Or Match.com. Or something.

I sprinkled finely ground pistachio nuts across the top of each cake layer as a finishing touch, which lent every bite of cake an extra crunchy texture. We’ve been happily devouring the thing today, waistlines be damned. So all’s well that ends well, right?

Though James Peterson has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Cake ingredients: organic pastry flour, white sugar, vanilla sugar, a pinch of smoked sea salt, organic baking powder, free range eggs, light whipping cream, reduced fat milk, vanilla paste, butter, a generous dose of ground roasted/salted pistachio nuts and a pinch of allspice.

Buttercream frosting ingredients: butter, organic icing sugar and matcha.

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