Boba Chiffon Cake
I never thought I’d say this, but this recipe is inspired by subtle asian traits. With the amount of boba bravado on the group (mostly in the form of memes), can you really blame me for being dragged onto the boba hype-train? So instead of sponsoring a boba date on subtle asian dating—which, if you haven’t been on, is Asian Tinder with trolls—I thought a recipe for a romantic cake would serve the boba mob better this Valentine’s day. So here it is, a hojicha chiffon cake (served with boba and cream), for all you boba bros out there looking to impress your ABG baes, wholesome or otherwise.
First off though, I feel obliged to say this—I don’t actually like boba.
First of all, what’s with the name—boba? Here in Malaysia, we call it bubble tea, pearl milk tea, or 珍珠奶茶 (zhēnzhū nǎichá), which a whole lot more representative of what the drink actually is. Boba, on the other hand, is an Anglicized pronunciation of the slang word for the tapioca pearls in bubble tea—波霸 (bōbà), which believe it or not, actually means… big boobs. Err… I guess tapioca pearls could have the texture of supple breasts..? But how did this risque name even become the most pervasive one used in the US?! (Please god, don’t let the next variation of Netflix and chill be boba and boba.)
Besides the name, the texture of boba—despite its parallels with breast—isn’t particular pleasant either. Why would you want slippery little balls in your mouth that never quite split in half when bit into? The pesky little pearls would either get lodged in between your molars, or shoot towards the back of your throat if you suck on the straw even a bit too enthusiastically, making your oesophagus feel like a vacuum cleaner that someone just put a palm over.
For those who share my disillusionment with boba, might I suggest grass jelly as an alternative? It has a gelatinous feeling similar to boba, but cleaves apart satisfyingly when bitten into, and actually tastes of something other than starch. Plus, even if you laugh too hard on your date and accidentally swallow a chunk of it, it’ll just slip down your throat and you can pretend like nothing happened.
Okay maybe this rant against boba is slightly unfair, because there is ONE bubble tea shop with pearls I would actually eat. And that shop is… The Alley! I know the Malaysians reading this are judging me already, but hear me out. I like The Alley’s pearls for their sticky, syrupy quality, thanks to a long, hot soak in a bath of liquefied dark brown sugar. Chewing on these is actually enjoyable, because there’s a floral fragrance that releases the more you chew, and it tastes like an intense, molasses-y Haribo Goldbear.
While the pearls themselves are tiers above the squeaky, starchy pearls most bubble tea shops serve, their tea is admittedly weak. Actually, calling The Alley a bubble tea shop is almost sacrilegious, because their bestseller doesn’t even have any tea in it; they top their brown sugar pearls with plain milk. (Oh the audacity!) Also, if you didn’t think you could get pretentious with boba, at The Alley they kindly requests of you to stir your drink exactly 9 times, because 10 would be just a little too well-mixed. So, Alley-haters, I feel you. But their brown sugar pearls though, I would still get behind.
So really, this recipe came about after I got The Alley’s ‘bubble tea’ and strained out the milk to get to the good stuff—the pearls. (I still drank the milk, don’t worry.) But then I didn’t have any milk tea lying around to have the pearls with (also I’m just really extra and can’t do anything like a normal person would), so I made a tea-flavoured chiffon cake (though I used hojicha instead of the regular Hong Kong black tea), and served it with some whipped cream for a little moistness and textural variation.
So, for anyone looking to be a boba oppa this Valentine’s Day (or those looking for one 😉), I got your back. All you gotta do is bake this cake and shoot your shot.
Boba Hojicha Chiffon Cake
Makes one cake (22cm in diameter)
20g hojicha, or other loose leaf teas
120ml hot water
180g cake (low-protein) flour
150g caster sugar
8g baking powder
7 eggs, yolks and whites separated
80ml sunflower oil, or other neutral vegetable oil
Garnishes (serves 6-8):
100-150g tapioca pearls (you can buy them cooked from bubble tea shops, or you have uncooked ones, keep them on a rolling boil for 20-30 minutes until they turn translucent, then soak them in a brown sugar syrup overnight.)|
150ml whipped cream
Take half of the tea leaves (10g) and let them steep in hot water for 5 minutes, then strain out the tea leaves. Blend the rest of the tea leaves in a spice grinder or blender until it turns into a fine powder.
In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks and sunflower oil together. Then, sieve the cake flour, 120g of sugar, and baking powder, and pour these dry ingredients in with the egg yolks and oil. Stir until smooth.
Heat your oven to 170°C. Add the egg whites into a stand mixer bowl with the whisk attachment, and whisk for 1-2 minutes on high speed until it reaches soft peaks. Add in the rest of the sugar and salt, and keep whisking until stiff peaks form. Fold this meringue into the egg yolk mixture in 2-3 batches. Stop the folding and mixing when the batter turns smooth and no white pockets of meringue remain.
Pour the batter into the chiffon mould. (There’s no need to oil or line the mould.) Bake it in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer poked into it comes out clean.
Remove the chiffon cake from the oven when done, and flip it upside down to let it cool to room temperature. This will help the cake maintain its height. (Most chiffon moulds will have little legs to stand on exactly for this purpose. But if you’re a cheapo like me and bought the budget version that doesn’t have this, you can flip it upside down into a metal colander, or a bowl with holes!)
When the cake is cool, run a knife along the sides of the mould to release it. Then slice it and serve with whipped cream and boba!