Photo credit: David Mason.
The end of last year was one of the worst times of my life. My then boyfriend David had moved to Canada and I was mourning not just the loss of a relationship but of a close friend; I had completed formal education and in one swift move had gone from being the girl with the five-year-plan to the one drifting from day-to-day, unsure as to what direction my life should take; I was working two jobs at once, one as a private caterer and the other in retail, and though I adored my boss and my retail “family”, I wasn’t doing what I wanted and it was making me miserable.
My personality is such that when one aspect of my life is in jeopardy the rest of it goes completely to pot – it’s terrible but I simply cannot function when something is out of whack. Food was my escape – it didn’t judge, it was there, comforting me and the sense of satisfaction when I created something beautiful was almost better than eating it.
For David’s birthday that year I created this dessert which I named the Mason Matcha-Misu; it was my present for him even though he couldn’t taste it as he was in Canada. Based on David’s family mocha tiramisu recipe, I made the Matcha-Misu with matcha green tea powder, white chocolate laced with pistachios and even more pistachios, chopped roughly. It was a good first effort but it wasn’t quite there yet and so I didn’t share the recipe.
Fast forward a year and I’ve found myself making a living (or trying to) with food and words. David has also returned to London for the time being but we exist together solely as very good friends, a decision that is perfect for the both of us – I get to keep my best friend, mentor and muse with none of the drama that comes with relationships. It’s a tough world but I’m doing well, not the least because of my diagnosis and subsequent medication that is totally re-aligning all of my chakras, or whatever you want to call it. Yes, I’m single, yes, I’m still fighting to make a name for myself, yes, I’m living in a country I’d rather not be in and sometimes I wring my hands with despair at my situation, but for now? This is where, who and what I am and I’ve found a contentment in that. In other words: I’m happy.
And as for this Matcha-Misu? This year I not only perfected it, David finally got to taste it and give it his seal of approval.
Photo credit: David Mason.
My problems with the Matcha-Misu last time were that a) the matcha didn’t come through enough, b) it wasn’t alcoholic enough and c) the white chocolate was too sweet and overpowering. All easy enough solutions: more matcha, more alcohol, less chocolate.
The liqueur I’d found to pair with the matcha was a white chocolate liqueur by Corky’s and it was good but it was just a little bit too sickly sweet. I considered what alcohol to replace it with or add to it, until a chat with an ex-colleague at work introduced me to the Polish Zubrowka (/zu’brufka/), a vodka made containing a blade of bison grass. With a faint green tinge and a slight herbal spice it was the perfect addition.
But of course I couldn’t just present the Matcha-Misu to David for his birthday, no, I decided to throw him a full-on British birthday tea party – a bit of a double for me as I could review a baking book at the same time. Over two days I made it all from scratch for David and four other friends and was rewarded with an entire feast that both looked and tasted fantastic. Particular favourites included the Pimm’s Jelly shots (something I’d enjoyed at The Saatchi Mess Gallery over tea with a friend), the ricotta and mushroom filo tart (from the book) and an old favourite of mine from culinary school – filo-wrapped asparagus, prosciutto and parmesan rolls – which one of my guests had very kindly put together for me so that I could run upstairs and have a quick shower before the others arrived.
Photo credits: David Mason.
But the piece de resistance, the moment of truth and other cliche sayings, came with the Matcha-Misu. Bearing three rounds topped with candles, I dimmed the lights, paused the music and entered the room singing ‘Happy Birthday’. I watched anxiously as David inspected it – my heart was pounding in my ears. What if he didn’t like it? What if after all this time it was one big disappointment? When you know a person well you know their nuances and their ticks, their likes and dislikes, their tells. I would know within moments of him trying it whether or not he liked it and if I couldn’t he would definitely tell me – straight-forward and blunt would be good words to describe my friend.
David took a large bite and said nothing, his face a stone wall. He chewed in quiet contemplation and I laughed nervously. “Is it okay?” I finally squeaked after a minute or so of painful pregnant silence, watching anxiously. He swallowed and looked at me and I saw it: the David seal of approval, the flicker of deep satisfaction. “It’s delicious,” he smiled, “really, really delicious. You got it spot on,” and with that the others grabbed their forks and got stuck in.
Original recipe based on Mrs. Mason’s mocha tiramisu. Ladyfinger recipe based on the Joy of Baking’s ladyfingers.
For the matcha-misu:
24 matcha ladyfinger biscuits (recipe follows)
3 tbsps matcha powder (for the liquid) + 4 tbsps matcha powder (for the cream)
2 cups freshly boiled water
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsps caster sugar + extra 1/2 cup caster sugar
500 g cream cheese, at room temperature
300 ml whipping cream, whipped
1/3 cup Chalky’s white chocolate liquer + 1/4 cup Zubrowka, whisked together in a measuring jug
150 g Amedei I Frutti white chocolate with pistachios, chopped finely
Handful shelled pistachios, chopped finely
White chocolate and pistachio curls, to decorate (I find it easiest to make chocolate curls using a vegetable peeler, by dragging the blade along the edge of a chocolate bar slowly)
Matcha powder, to decorate
Icing sugar, to decorate
For the matcha ladyfinger biscuits:
6 tbsps plain flour + 1 tbsp cornflour + 2 tbsps, sifted together
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tbsps caster sugar + 3 tbsps caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Icing sugar, for dusting
Medium-large pyrex serving dish
Piping bag + small (1/2″-ish) round nozzle
x2 baking trays
Round ring mould
1. Make the ladyfinger biscuits: you can do this the day before you assemble the Matcha-Misu, just store in an airtight box overnight to prevent the biscuits from drying out too much. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and have the piping bag ready to go.
2. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the 2 tbsps caster sugar on medium-high speed for a few minutes (3 – 5) until pale in colour, thickened and slow ribbons form when you raise the beaters.
3. Add the vanilla extract, beat and then sift the flour/cornflour/matcha mixture over the top. Do not beat in. Set aside.
4. Clean the egg beaters and in a separate medium clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the 3 tbsps caster sugar and beat until stiff glossy peaks form. Divide into three and carefully fold the whites into the yolk/flour mix with a spatula in three additions. Do not overmix.
5. Using a spoon, transfer the batter to the piping bag and pipe onto the baking trays (holding the bag at a 45 degree angle to the tray) into about 3″ long pieces. You should be able to fit about 12 on each tray. Leave about half an inch between ladyfingers – they won’t spread very much.
6. Sift a little icing sugar over the tops and bake in the pre-heated oven for 8 – 10 mins or until firm but still springy.
7. Remove the baking sheets to a wire rack, let cool slightly then use a palette knife to carefully transfer the ladyfingers to the wire rack. Do this when still warm as it will make it easier to remove the biscuits without breaking them. Cool completely.
8. Make the Matcha-Misu: in a medium-sized heatproof bowl, combine the 3 tbsps matcha powder, 1 1/2 tbsps caster sugar and freshly boiled water and whisk gently until completely dissolved. I find it easier to make an initial paste with the matcha and a little water to begin with, then gradually whisk the rest of the water in and add the sugar at the end. This helps to break up any lumps.
9. Beat the 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth, then sift in the 4 tbsps matcha, beating with the egg beaters until well incorporated, without lumps and a beautiful green. You may want to taste it at this point and add more matcha powder if you feel that it’s too subtle. Fold in the liqueur and the whipped cream until just incorporated.
10. Assemble the Matcha-Misu: dip half the biscuits one at a time into the matcha liquid until well absorbed, then arrange in a single layer over the base of the serving dish. Spread half of the cream/matcha mixture on top and sprinkle with the 150 g finely chopped white chocolate with pistachios and half of the chopped pistachios.
11. Dip the remaining biscuits into the remaining matcha liquid. Arrange in a single layer on top of the chocolate/pistachio layer, top with the remaining cream/matcha mix, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
12. Just before serving cut out rounds of the Matcha-Misu using the ring mould and transfer to a plate. Top with the chocolate and pistachio curls, sprinkle with the remaining chopped pistachios and dust with about 1/2 tsp of icing sugar and 1/2 tsp of matcha powder.
13. Grab a fork and get stuck in!
I later gave a portion of the Matcha-Misu to David’s older sister Michelle (her birthday is a few days after David’s), one to my friend John’s fiance Becky (who unfortunately missed out on the tea party) and one to the boys down at the Street Kitchen food cart in Broadgate Circle, including co-founder Chef Mark Jankel whom I had been chatting to about it the previous day during a review interview, and they all went down a treat.
I must admit, handing it over to Mark was slightly nerve-wracking – the man is a professional and well-known chef, after all, but he was really excited to try it and later sent me a Tweet to tell me that the verdict from the boys was that it was delicious. I told him he wasn’t allowed to steal the recipe and he joked that he wouldn’t be able to since it was neither local nor organic produce, but had it been it would’ve been all over the food cart! A big win all round.
More importantly, though, David loved it and considering how I’d made this especially for him and then perfected it over a year in time for him to taste, that was all that mattered to me. Happy birthday, David – forever my KM, my muse and my much loved friend.
If you have a go at this do let me know what you think – I’m very open to suggestions and constructive criticism! Mark suggested the addition of coffee which I may have an experiment with – I’ll let you know.
Until next time, peace and love.