My family has a cake recipe that has been passed down so many generations that I call it the “cave era cake”. It has honey, walnuts, raisins, and is dark brown with a crispy crust. My grandma would bake it around New Year’s day to celebrate having a sweet new year of life. My father now makes it, but with one change : he uses sultana raisins instead of regular ones, to match the cake’s neutral colors.
When my grandma passed away, I decided to remake the cake based on a Japanese recipe for green tea chiffon cake. Even though this is a big departure from the honey nut cake of which my family is so fond, I knew I could make them appreciate it. After all, Asian cuisine is my favorite.
Green tea powder (can be found at most Asian supermarkets) has antioxidants and a distinctive taste, unlike honey, which is just intensely sweet. Instead of castor sugar I used raw brown sugar, which is less processed than honey and white sugar. I also used baking soda and arrowroot powder instead of baking powder, which contains the harmful element aluminum. The new recipe called for vegetable oil, so I used grape seed oil, which has a higher omega-3 content than olive oil. The cave era cake always had butter, and although it felt strange departing from that tradition, I liked the idea of making something new.
The batter was so thick that it was stuck in the metal whisk I was using like gooey green algae. By the time I had cleaned the whisk to the best of my ability, I had some major doubts about this culinary endeavor. Had I made a mistake by using arrowroot powder, making dough that had too much gluten ? I put the goo in a pan and hoped it would turn out alright.
45 minutes later, the cake was perfectly browned on top and popped right out of the pan when I used a spatula to invert it. I let it cool for only two minutes and had a cup of green tea ready to go. In order to get the most out of this green tea cake, I would dip it in some authentic Japanese green tea and then consume it. Little did I know that this trick would cause me to eat much more cake than I had originally planned. Upon tasting my concotion, my family exclaimed “It’s like feathers !” And it was. The cake recipe calls for so little oil and sugar that it is light, spongy, and blissful going down the throat.
Family recipes get their beauty from their simplicity and connection to history; every ingredient means something to each member of the family unit. For me, green tea evokes memories of the Asian country in which we were born, and a minimalist lifestyle that values quality over quantity. As people change, so do their tastebuds. Recipes, then, must evolve to please people’s palates, and this is exactly why my family’s decadent honey cake has evolved in to an angelic green tea chiffon cake. It may not sound sensical, but it works for us.