Although autumn is my favorite season by a long shot, I’ll readily concede that summer has a lot going for it. The warmer months usher in a unique joy and vibrancy as the city comes alive with park picnics, bountiful farmers markets, the aromas of street food fairs, and uncharacteristically cheerful New Yorkers.
Many of my childhood memories are also rooted in the summer season: Picking black raspberries off the bushes around our neighborhood, scurrying across the road to the local river in search of crawfish, catching fireflies in the fading daylight, having my grandma dye my nails a beautifully natural red hue using homegrown flower petals. Popsicles and watermelon were welcome treats, but nothing could beat homemade bingsoo — Korean shaved ice bowls topped with sticky sweetened condensed milk, chewy morsels of packaged rice cakes, red bean paste (which I omitted as a child... silly me), and misugaru, finished with a pour of milk on top. Icy, no-frills perfection.
If the start of summer, with all the energy and possibility it brings, has always felt like an occasion to celebrate, it feels even more festive this year as the city starts to emerge from the pandemic. And because any celebration is an excuse for dessert, I dreamed up a fun, seasonal cake to inaugurate the season: a simple but elegant matcha blackberry layer cake. Jammy, lightly mashed blackberries and silky whipped mascarpone cream are sandwiched between 8-inch rounds of just-sweet-enough matcha cake to create a colorful, striking dessert that’s sure to turn heads (and win you new friends) at your next outdoor gathering.
Even though I’m a pastry chef, the truth is that any kind of meticulous frosting job is enough to make me run from a recipe. For that reason, this cake is one you could feasibly put together on a large plate using the highly technical “stack and serve” method. Given that the cake’s layers are left exposed, it’s important to use fresh matcha powder, rather than anything that’s been sitting around in your pantry for who knows how long. The fresher the powder, the more vibrant the green-and-purple cross section of cake you’ll get.
Though I’d originally envisioned this as a 6-inch cake, the layers turned out too tall and were unwieldy to slice when serving. Pivoting to an 8-inch cake during the testing process, with the recipe proportions adjusted accordingly, solved this issue and also created a better ratio of cake to cream and fruit. Besides, a slightly larger cake just means you can share it with more people — though speaking from personal experience, you may be surprised at how easy it is to eat, and keep eating.
While I’d happily dig into this cake year-round, I can’t think of a better way to welcome the warmer weather, longer nights, and what feels like the closest we’ve come to normalcy in over a year. It’s a celebratory start to the season — and new beginnings — that we’ve all been waiting for.
Matcha Blackberry Layer Cake with Mascarpone Cream Recipe
Makes one 8-inch layer cake
For the cake:
1½ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (15 grams) matcha powder
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Scant ¾ cup (165 grams) whole milk, at room temperature
For the blackberries:
12 ounces (2 standard packages) fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the mascarpone cream:
8 ounces mascarpone, cold
1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
3 to 4 tablespoons powdered sugar, depending on your sweetness preference
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment rounds, 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, whisk together the flour, matcha powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Step 3: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugar; cream the mixture until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Scrape the bowl once more, then beat in the vanilla.
Step 5: Sift half of the dry ingredients over the creamed butter mixture and beat just until combined. Carefully beat in the milk, then sift in the rest of the dry ingredients and beat just until the batter is smooth.
Step 6: Divide the batter evenly among the three pans. Smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula, then place the pans in the oven. (You can also put the pans on baking sheets, which will make them easier to rotate.) Bake the cakes for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Step 7: Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then gently run a small offset spatula around the edges of the cakes to loosen. Carefully invert them onto cooling racks.
Step 8: Prepare the blackberries: In a large bowl, toss the blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Reserve a handful of whole berries (for garnishing the top of the cake), then mash the rest of the blackberries with the back of a large spoon, leaving some chunks 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 fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the ingredients — starting on a low speed to prevent splattering — until the cream comes together and medium-to-stiff peaks form. Take care not to overwhip.
Step 10: When the layers are completely cool, assemble the cake. Place one layer on a large plate or cake stand, spread a third of the mascarpone cream on it, and top with a third of the blackberry mixture. (Use more of the fruit than the juice.) Repeat with the remaining layers, adding the reserved whole berries to the top to finish. You can either lightly frost the outside of the cake or leave it unfrosted for a rustic but still elegant look.
Notes: For a striking purple hue, carefully spoon some of the blackberry juice on top of the cake and swirl it into the cream layer before garnishing with the mashed and whole berries.
Joy Cho is a pastry chef and freelance writer based in Brooklyn. After losing her pastry cook job at the start of the pandemic, Joy launched Joy Cho Pastry, an Instagram business through which she sells her gem cakes to the New York City area.
Celeste Noche is a Filipino American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep