This week, my neighbor Jamie invited me to a Real Housewives-style lunch (sans crazy drama and plastic surgery) at her house with a couple other ladies from the block. Our other neighbor Cathy offered to whip up some of her delicious egg rolls and noodles, Jamie supplied her precious Lupicia tea, and since Jamie has her hands full chasing around her adorable 10-month-old daughter, I figured I would chip in with dessert. But what do bring that would be tasty next to Cathy's delicious Chinese delectables and Jamie's wonderful tea?
One of my favorite Japanese treats is daifuku manju: sweetened mochi (rice cake) filled with an (sweet bean paste) that is intended to be eaten with tea. I used to love to stop at Benkyo-do in Japantown for a manju sampler: white mochi with red koshi-an (smooth bean paste), pink mochi with white koshi-an, green tea mochi with red tsubushi-an (chunky bean paste). Lately, I have been intrigued with how to infuse my favorite Asian flavors into traditional western pastries, and since cupcakes afford so much flexibility with ingredients and textures, they seemed like a good starting point.
I wanted the cupcake to mimic the sensation of biting into chewy, soft daifuku manju, so I knew that the cupcake batter needed to contain mochiko flour, and the an would need to make an appearance, too. But I also love the flavor of green tea with manju, so I figured: why not use some matcha powder to whip up some green tea frosting? After tracking down a few recipes online, I had a good base to start with. I made my own an, but you can find it premade in Japanese grocery stores (though it tends to be on the sweet side...if you make your own, you can control the sugar). For the recipes, read on.
I have found that frosting is a great way to infuse certain ingredients into a pastry that do not fare well with heating or baking or to add additional layers of flavor to a dessert. Matcha (finely milled green tea) works great as a flavoring agent in baked goods, but it comes through great in frosting, as I found with this recipe. It is on the sweet side, so I might try this again as a cream cheese frosting.
Adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 c. heavy cream or half-and-half
- 1 tbsp. matcha powder
- 3 c. confectioners sugar, sifted
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip butter until fluffy.
- In a small bowl, mix cream and matcha until well combined.
- To the electric mixer, add 1 c. sugar and beat until combined. Scrape down bowl, then add 1/3 of the cream-matcha mixture. Beat to combine, scrape down bowl, then add another cup of sugar. Continue alternating until you have used up all of the remaining ingredients. Turn the mixer to high, and whip until frosting is light and fluffy.
Mmmmmm-mochi. There's something about the chewy, sticky rice cake that makes me want to hum a little ditty. Of course, the OG mochi that we stockpile at New Year's is unsweetened, and I like to toast it and dip it in a shoyu-sugar mixture. Most folks know as its more marketable tea go-with incarnation: daifuku manju. As I learn more about wagashi (Japanese sweets served with tea), I have found that there are so many ways to work with mochi and mochiko rice flour. So where to start? Cupcakes became the introductory lesson. For the recipe, read on.
Nicole and her husband Chris treated a bunch of us to a wonderful Puerto Rican meal at their awesome new house on Saturday, and since I'm terrible at selecting housewarming gifts ("Here's a Jonathan Adler vase for your...er...clearly French Rococo-style home!"), I decided to put my free time to good use and bake up a selection of mini cupcakes inspired by various Puerto Rican desserts. I tried to create a balance of tastes, picking out a few tropical fruits as well as caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee flavors. So after shutting myself in the kitchen for several hours, the final list came down to (clockwise, from left):
Guava with Cream Cheese Frosting
Spiced Dark Chocolate with Coffee-Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
Dulce de Leche (brown sugar cupcakes with dulce de leche buttercream frosting)
Piña Colada (pineapple cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut)
Though they hail from Puerto Rico, piña coladas actually make me think of Mexico. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to tag along on a big group vacation with friends to a villa in Sayulita, Mexico. It still goes down in the books as our best vacation ever: just steps from the beach, we spent our days lounging by the pool, playing in the waves, snacking our way through the town of Sayulita, and enjoying amazing meals prepared by the villa's private chef, Sergio. Sergio had a sidekick named Oscar who made a mean margarita, and by request one evening, he concocted these piña coladas that were so fresh and juicy that were it not for its liquid consistency, you'd swear you were biting into fruit. For these cupcakes, I made sure to find a recipe that included chunks of pineapple for a similar sensation. For the recipe, read on.
Next to chocolate, dulce de leche is perhaps the world's most decadent -- and versatile -- dessert. Not only is it magnificent warmly slipping down the sides of a leche flan, it's luscious drizzled over vanilla ice cream, smeared in between layers of cookie in alfajores, or even paired with cheese. So the leap to cupcakes is not a big one. Some recipes called for incorporating dulce de leche in both cake and frosting, but I was afraid that the richness of the caramel would be too heavy handed. So I found a dulce de leche frosting recipe which seemed to pair well with a brown sugar cupcake recipe from my new favorite site, and guess what? Perfection! For the recipe, read on.
I looooooove Mexican chocolate. And Mexican chocolate in a cupcake? Divine! Mission Minis does a great Aztec Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream (and their Cinnamon Horchata is to die for!), but when I think of a staple flavor of the tropics that melds well with chocolate and cinnamon, I think of coffee, so a coffee-infused frosting was a must. They key to both is making that cinnamon flavor really stand out, so I put it in both the cupcake and the frosting so it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. These cupcakes came out a little dry and the frosting a little too soft for my liking, so I have adjusted a few ingredients accordingly. For the recipe, read on.
Several months ago, I was watching an episode of Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time in which he made ice cream from ate (a fruit paste) and cream cheese. I think I drooled. I had heard my Hawaiian friends talk about the wonders of guava and cheese, so were it not for my lactose intolerance, this ice cream sounded fantabulous! So it got me thinking about cupcakes (a little easier on the stomach...and yes, I can eat small amounts of cream cheese), and it turns out that it's not a brand new idea. There were several recipes I came across in my search that used guava juice, paste, and syrup for the cake and basic cream cheese frosting to adorn them. Not having easy access to guava paste and syrup -- which I figured would create a more robust fruit flavor than juice -- I pulled a jar of 100% guava fruit jam out of the cupboard and repurposed a Martha Stewart orange marmalade recipe. The only change I would make next time is to fill the cupcakes with some guava jam...I think it would give a little more of a guava punch to the cupcake and nicely balance the cream cheese frosting. For the recipe, read on.
Though I agree with most critics that cupcakes are on their way out, I'm still intrigued by the flavors that Mission Minis carries on their menu. Since today's lunch plans included adults and kids, I stopped by their shop this morning to pick up an assortment. It was Aztec Chocolate, Classic Vanilla, and Red Velvet for the lunch date, but I made up a box of four for me and Dave (ok, just me) to sample with Swiss Almond Coconut, Aztec Chocolate, and two Cinnamon Horchata. That last one is GENIUS...and delicious: I could eat them by the armful. Plus, at $1 a pop, I can afford to sample the whole lot!
But it got me thinking about what flavors I would concoct for the ideal cupcake. Hmmmm. Definitely flan with cajeta, Mexican chocolate with cinnamon and chiles, and guava with cream cheese frosting. But what about a hoddeok cupcake? Or green tea with azuki bean? I may have found my next project...
I can never turn down a good cupcake. However, ask me to choose, and I will always pick red velvet above any other flavor (even chocolate). My first experience with red velvet cupcakes came a few years ago when my cousin Janelle made them for a dinner we hosted at our house. She used the Paula Deen recipe which to this day is my favorite. I think it has to do with the fact that Mrs. Deen uses vegetable oil (remarkably, instead of her signature stick or two of butter) which keeps the cakes super moist, even when making mini cupcakes as I did here. The first time I made red velvet, I didn't add enough red food coloring, so my cupcakes ended up being a weird skin color (I called them "flesh muffins"). No one seemed to mind once they tasted them.
One note I would like to pass along: when making mini cupcakes, I reduce the baking time to 15-18 minutes which guarantees that they will be as moist as promised.