Adventures In Dessert #2: Matcha Muffins (or are they canneles?)

At long last, it’s time for the latest installment of Adventures In Dessert, where I try to replicate an intriguing sweet I’ve eaten by reverse-engineering various recipes. The saga of today’s treat begins at Academic Coffee in San Jose. As I ordered my latte, I spotted several individual banana cream pies in the refrigerator, and attempted to order one. The very friendly baristas informed me that, since they were day-olds, Third Culture Bakery had instructed them not to sell any. (I appreciate the dedication to quality, but believe me, that was a risk I remain willing to take.) Undaunted, a barista gave me a guided tour of Third Culture Bakery’s other items in the pastry case. I recognized the mochi muffin from trips to San Francisco’s Chapter 2 Coffee, but I opted for the matcha muffin instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice indeed, but something nagged at me as I devoured it. The crispy, caramelized exterior gave me a hint, but the custardy interior convinced me. That’s no muffin, buddy–that’s a cannelé!

Still obsessed a week later, I turned to Dominique Ansel’s The Secret Recipes cookbook for help. (Even if you have no desire to cook, it’s worth reading for the dreamy essays Ansel includes about pastries, baking, and creativity. They make up the first third of the book, and justify the cover price in themselves.) I used his Cannelé de Bordeaux recipe, whisking in a generous teaspoon of powdered matcha tea powder. After chilling the batter overnight, I proceeded to the most intimidating step.

I rarely make cannelés, because the process tends to annoy me. I don’t have the fancy fluted copper molds (which you must coat with melted beeswax), and the silicone molds get greasy and produce substandard results. So, I was happy to substitute plain metal muffin tins. The book directed me to preheat the molds in a 450-degree oven, and, nervously, I did. After five minutes, the kitchen started to smell like something was burning. Adhering to the “when the smoke alarm buzzes, dinner is ready” adage, I took the pan out, quickly brushed the molds with melted butter, filled them with batter (leaving a 1/4-inch space at the top), and baked for 20 minutes. While Ansel said they’d need about 35 minutes at 350 degrees after that, the muffins were looking pretty dark to me already. After turning the oven down to 350 and giving the muffins ten more minutes, I took them out to cool while I worked on the glaze.

The Third Culture matcha muffins have a lovely white chocolate-matcha drizzle, so I chopped up an ounce of white chocolate and placed it in a microwavable bowl. White chocolate tends to seize on me, so after much consideration I poured in a teaspoon of oil. A few pulses in the microwave melted it, and I whisked in about a half teaspoon of matcha powder. It ended up flowing too freely, giving me Jackson Pollock-esque squiggles instead of neat little lines. (Next time, I’ll keep the chocolate and matcha mixture unadulterated and pipe it with a paper cone.) Here’s what it looked like:

matcha1

I couldn’t resist eating one warm, but I should have taken Ansel at his word: these are much better at room temperature. Warm, the muffin was a bit sweet, and the tea flavor was not very pronounced. (When I stayed wakeful long after Game Four of the Sharks/Golden Knights playoff series had ended that night, I knew that a lack of tea in the batter was not the problem.) A room-temperature matcha muffin had much better flavor balance, and the texture had become even more luscious:

matcha2

I was very happy with the results, though I still won’t be making cannelés too often. When I do, though, I plan to use the muffin tins. While they lack the pretty fluting of an official cannelé mold, they come much closer to replicating the sought-after crust. I plan to buy a mochi muffin the next time I see one, unless someone relents and lets me have a banana cream pie instead. (Please?)