Ombre Matcha Lemon Cake

I'm adjusting to life in Botswana in my first week. While many people were like "Gosh, you're in the middle of nowhere in Africa, there must be nothing there," it's not as destitute as it sounds. Gaborone is the capital, so it's got what I need, material wise.

People wise though ... one thing about not knowing a single person in an entire continent is it can be lonely. Because of the time difference (7-9 hours), the lack of having a cellular data internationally, and our very spotty internet/electricity, it's hard to videochat or facetime with people from home.

I work at the pediatric HIV clinic with Botswana doctors, and I'm the only medical student there. While official business is conducted in English, at lunch the staff chatter away in the native tongue of Setswana, and the doctors hardly eat lunch. There are a few other US expats, but all are fresh college grads who are in the (nonmedical) volunteer / social support aspect of the clinic, so I don't see or work with them.
The first day, I had no money (I could not find a place to get/exchange Botswana pulas until in Botswana), no food, no idea where to walk for work, and no sleep (plus jetlag) since I had arrived at midnight after 36 hrs of travel.

Luckily, kind people drove me, helped me get food and money, and introduced me to locals and suggested where to go/what to do. As the first week has passed by, I've adjusted and gotten to know people, local and expat, and everyone has been friendly. I'm not sure in America if people would go out of their way to help strangers.
I made this cake right before leaving for Botswana. Cake is such a social dessert since I always have to share it (I'd rather not eat a whole cake myself!) For my 25th birthday, my parents drove to visit, bringing me an amazing matcha lemon cake from Whole Foods that's been on my inspiration bucket list. I was delighted to work with Aiya matcha to make this awesome ombre matcha lemon cake.

This cake was a hassle (even more so than the pain it takes to make layer cakes in general) since I had to make the frosting three times. The first - a lemoncurd whipped cream - was my favorite tastewise, but much too soft for layering and made a mess. The second was to be a buttercream whipped cream that, alas, curdled and had to be tossed. The last was this lemon curd cream cheese filling that finally held up.

Ombre cakes are adorable, but it also definitely takes effort making sure the colors come out. Hopefully you can see the color gradient. You can certainly taste the stronger matcha flavor at the bottom!
I gave this cake to many friends - my roommate, who is kindly putting up with a subletter in my room this month; two who had birthdays that week (one who took his boards on his birthday!); my biking buddy who had to rescue me with a completely torn flat tire in the middle of the night shortly before I left for Africa (what a stressor! But now I know how to change a tire on an SUV); and a family friend who just started at my medical school (I am so excited to see the new baby first years start their journey!). As for my poor long-distance fiance, I could only text a picture, whose jealous belly is too far away, hehe.

So this cake has quite a few ties to my family and friends, and it makes me happy to even type this post up. I'm enjoying my adventure, but there's nothing like calling home when you're lost in the middle of a new world. Adapted from Allrecipes and Joy of Baking.

The wonderful matcha is from Aiya matcha - no food coloring needed. All post content is my own opinion. Enjoy!

Ombre Matcha Lemon Cake


Ingredients
MATCHA CAKE
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or 50/50 all purpose and cake flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tablespoons Aiya matcha (cooking grade)
whipped cream (storebought or homemade), to decorate 

LEMON FILLING
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated white sugar 
1/4 cup lemon juice 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature

Directions
MATCHA CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, beat together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until fluffy. Whisk in the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt, mixing just until incorporated (do not overmix). Stir in the matcha ** and pour evenly among the 3 pans. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes before turning out of the pans.

LEMON FILLING: In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, lemon juice, butter until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture thickens to a yogurt consistency, ~10 minutes. Let cool at room temperature then refrigerate; the lemon curd will continue to thicken. Beat cream cheese with confectioner's sugar in another bowl, and combined mixture with the lemon curd - this will help it firm for assembly.

ASSEMBLY: When the cakes are completely cooled, stack the 3 cakes and spread a thin layer of lemon curd in between. Top the cake with whipped cream and dust with matcha for garnish. Tip: Freezing for a few hours can help keep slices neat.

For the ombre version, stir in a small amount (about 1/2 teaspoon) of matcha and pour 1/3 of the batter into a prepared pan. Add in more matcha into the remaining batter and stir until it's a darker green. Add 1/3 into another pan. Then add the remaining matcha into the batter, and pour the last 1/3 into the final pan - this should be the darkest green color. Adjust color with more matcha as desired - I love a good matcha flavor, but it can get bitter quickly!

29 comments

  1. What an experience you are having in Botswana! I can't even imagine how eye-opening it would be working in the HIV clinic and also how enriching it would be to your medical experience! How long will you stay there for?
    Aaaand this cake is stunning! I should not be looking at food blogs before breakfast... :D

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    1. I'm there for just a month - it's tough to take international electives since this is "extra" beyond my normal training. I'm primarily in the HIV outpatient clinic, but I'm hoping to see some of the hospital system too.

      Haha, cake for breakfast!

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  2. what a beautiful cake! good luck on your africa adventure - i always get very lonely and homesick when traveling, but once i'm home i'm glad i went. hopefully you will find your groove soon!

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    1. Thanks! It'll take some adjustment, and alas it would be time to go home soon by then. Gotta enjoy every bit so far

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  3. Such an amazing experience! I'm sure the first few weeks will be a little lonely, but I bet you'll make friends and get used to it fairly quickly!! Maybe you can also bribe people with some cake?!

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    1. Haha, sugar is hard to come by here it seems. I cannot find any chocolate either. But they have something called "fatcake" which is like giant fried dough ball.

      We have a small kitchen but all cake baking must wait for when I return to the US alas - we don't have the kitchen supplies

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  4. while i must admit to disliking the flavor of matcha, i'll always support an ombre cake! :)

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  5. Nice cake, but I really wanted to comment on your new adventures Botswana because I moved to Denmark by myself 5 years ago and can relate so much to wrote about your first days abroad! The first days were some of the most challenging, but also the most exciting. I remember very well the Danish lunchtime chatter, no fellow Americans in my department, no internet connection for 6 weeks, and throwing caution to the wind and trusting and relying on the kindness of strangers to help me through those first clueless days.

    Enjoy your adventure : -)

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    1. Yes, I read all your Denmark adventures (and your husband lol) on your blog and they were SO inspiring. You're even gutsier than me - I have a designated end point of 1 month. The things people do for love :)

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  6. Looks delicious! I love matcha flavor, but have never had it in a cake! I'm glad you're settling into expat life. Those first few days are so hard, but thankfully people there have been kind and helpful! When we first moved to Brazil, I couldn't believe how out of the way the locals went to help us. I agree with your comment, I'm not sure Americans have quite the same level of hospitality. Great post and good luck on your adventure, I think it's so wonderful the work you are doing.

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    1. Thanks so much! Brazil sounds so awesome - my original rotation was supposed to be in South America (alas budget cuts halted the program after 20 years literally months before I left). I love your posts on travel life - although I believe you'll be heading back to DC quite soon :)

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  7. I just have to say what beautiful drawings you have on your pictures! So inspiring- may I ask how you do it? :) All in all a beautiful and inspiring blog which I will continue following from now on.

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    1. I doodle in a scrap piece of paper with a black pen, get the pic on my computer via my camera phone/email. I then adjust the white/black balance and add color in Photoshop CS on top of the original photo using a Wacom tablet

      Thanks, I'm so happy you like the blog and its whimsy :)

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  8. Wow! That is so cool that you're living in Botswana this month. What an experience! Well this is definitely a cake to commemorate a send-off with. It looks beautiful! I love the ombre effect, and I love that you did a lemon filling - how summery! I've also never baked with matcha before, but this has definitely inspired me to. Thanks for sharing the recipe! :)

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    1. Yup I needed a last bit of summer before heading off to Africa's wintertime (a cold August? madness!) Thanks Beeta

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  9. A pediatric HIV clinic certainly puts life in perspective. How rewarding yet depressing. I admire anyone who can be in the medical profession! My sister is a NP and works at a Medicaid funded women's clinic. Quite eye-opening how poor some people are here in the US.

    This ombre trend is really everywhere. I must have been living under a rock for some time because my teenager talks about ombre hair (she opted to dye some of her hair teal). Interesting it is in food as well.

    Kudos to you for re-creating the Whole Foods cake!

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    1. Yes, I work primarily at the country hospital and 90% of our patients are undocumented or uninsured with some Medicaid, so it's sad...although the health care in Botswana is definitely a different level!

      Oh wow, teal ombre hair is gutsy! Yeah I love the bright ombre trend on cakes and dessert (as well as clothes!)

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  10. Oh my goodness what an amazing thing you're doing! Good on you, it sounds like you're doing work that really matters. As for this cake - looks amazing! I've always felt home cooking (and like this! No less) is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to those you love x

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    1. As a 4th year, I'm actually somewhat useful now! I try, but my impact is a drop in the bucket still. Thanks!

      Home baking is a gift from the heart indeed :D

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  11. Wow, what you are doing is truly incredible, it sounds like a truly rewarding experience and I hope it is for you!
    I'm impressed by this cake, as well, love that you used matcha, and the ombre effect is too cool :)

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    1. It's definitely been rewarding Sam. More eye opening than anything - I'm learning more each day

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  12. This is absolutely beautiful...not sure I have the patience, but my daughter (who bakes for stress relief) will surely love the recipe!

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    1. To simplify it, you can make the cake on its own (or in muffin tins) and just serve topped with whipped cream . The cake is delicious even without the lemon filling, although that makes it just so epic

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  13. This is a beautiful cake Natalie! and wish you all the best on your new journey, I am sure you will learn a lot :)

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    1. Thanks Manali - it's very a huge learning experience personally and medically :o)

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  14. I love matcha! Never tried it in cake though. I need it too!

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  15. That's a great color on a cake. :-) I too make green cakes. With pandan leaves. And it's always wonderful to be able to share the cake with my friends in the US. Pandan leaves are not so easy to get here, so it's something special.

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    1. Ooh, yes, pandan is hugely popular in the Philippines. I found frozen pandan leaves in the asian market, but getting the juices out was hard. Matcha is a bit easier to come by :)

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