Monday, March 12, 2012

Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lavender Cream Cheese Frosting

What do you get when you put Pauline Pau and Michelle Tran together? Awesomeness! Seriously... Taste and believe. Ladies and gentleman! May I present you with a CHIBI CHOMP first collaboration! Featuring my very good friend: Michelle! (who I've known since kindergarten!!!)

Funny thing is, I did not intend for this to be a collaboration of any sort. The original plan was to just make lavender cupcakes for a friend's birthday. Why lavender? Our first encounter with lavender came after having tasted a cupcake sample from Red Velvet Gourmet Co. at our local farmer's market. It was basically a vanilla cupcake with lavender frosting and was pretty good. Our first impression of it was that it tasted like a spa.  A few days later Michelle told me that she found a recipe for an earl grey cake with lavender frosting and I was immediately interested because: 1. I love earl grey and 2. lavender frosting so we decided to make it for our birthday girl. I was expecting the recipe to be pretty much like an earl grey version of the cupcake we tasted at the farmer's market but instead it was this: Fudgy Earl Grey Chocolate Cake. Where did the fudge come from? I was definitely taken by surprise and thought that chocolate would overpower the earl grey flavor so instead we came up with an alternate recipe. Besides, I wanted Earl Grey to be my star. 

The texture of the cake is reminiscent of chiffon cake with subtle but well balanced flavors. Light cream cheese whipped cream with a hint of lavender is perfect with the denser cake. Unlike the cupcake at the farmers market, we chose to add only a hint of lavender extract so it did not taste like soap. So here it is: A first collaboration and an original recipe. Mind you, this was accomplished in the middle of the night after a strenuous week for the both of us! Enjoy!

Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lavender Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon lavender extract
6 tablespoon powdered sugar
2 drops blue food coloring
2 drops red food coloring

2 eggs (separated)
175 grams cake flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Tea leaves from 6 bags of earl grey tea ground into a fine powder (I used a mortar and pestle)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Melt butter on low heat and add ground tea leaves to the mixture. Steep for 10 minutes on low heat to extract flavor. Do not let it boil. When mixture is cool enough to handle, separate the solids from the oil. (I used coffee filter paper.) Set earl grey butter aside to cool. 
3. Sift cake flour and then add salt and baking powder; whisk to mix dry ingredients. 
4. In a separate bowl, whip egg yolks, vanilla extract, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk and mix. Add the earl grey infused butter and mix. 
5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients until just combined. Do not overwork the batter.
3. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the 1/4 cup of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. 
4. With a rubber spatula, gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Gently incorporate the remaining egg whites in two additions. Take care to not over mix or the batter will deflate. 
5. Line cupcake tin with cupcake liners and divide batter into cupcake pan (makes 12 cupcakes). 
6. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake cupcakes for 12 to18 minutes or until skewer comes out clean. 
7. Set cupcakes aside to cool completely. 
8. Chill your bowl and whisk beforehand. In a clean bowl, beat cream cheese until it is smooth and creamy. Add the whipping cream, food coloring, lavender extract, and powdered sugar and beat on low so you don't splash yourself. When the cream cheese begins to incorporate into the cream, increase the speed and beat until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until use. 

The amount of food coloring you add is pretty much up to you. I did not want the frosting to look like teletubby food so we did not add much food coloring (I think 1 extra drop of blue and red would've been perfect though.) Overall I think the frosting was excellent but the cake part may use a smidgen more work to get the texture right. Either that or we over baked it a bit (it was late at night!!) Nevertheless, these were gobbled up in no time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Matcha Castella or カステラ (Green Tea Japanese Sponge Cake)

Although Caucasian sweets are tasty, I've always been more partial to Asian  sweets because of it's simplicity both in flavors and appearance. For example, Asian cake is much lighter and less sweet than it's Western counterpart. Castella cake is a prime example of that. The ingredients are simple and there's even no butter in it, however I think quality ingredients are essential. I don't know if you've ever had home harvested honey, but the difference between store bought honey and home harvested is huge. No comparison. No contest. Home harvested honey is amazing. I must say that I'm extremely lucky that my family are home beekeepers. (Thanks mom and grandpa!) Not only do I have access to this epic stuff, but I have the opportunity to enjoy the different varieties of honey as the seasons change. Right now, orange blossoms are in full bloom in Southern California so I have orange blossom honey. Light golden, floral in scent, it's delicious. However, beekeeping is not for the faint of heart.

Additionally, a high quality matcha powder is also important but can get pretty expensive. Obviously you get what you pay for and I've used both low end and high end matcha before. The lower end ones do not have as strong of a green tea flavor and the color of the end product is usually not as vibrant so I say go for the higher end one! Maeda-en brand is pretty darn good. I'm a green tea snob so you have to trust me on this one. Here's some proof:

The recipe I used in this post was adapted from My Kitchen Snippets. I reduced the sugar down a bit more and it was perfect for my taste. One problem I came across was that it wasn't as light and fluffy as I anticipated? The cake was still good but I think I just need to try this again.

Matcha Castella
5 large eggs
150 grams granulated sugar
200 grams all purpose flour
100 milliliters milk
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons matcha powder
6 tablespoons oil (I used grape seed oil in this recipe)

1. Prepare a 8 x 8" square baking pan. Line sides and bottom with parchment paper and grease it well. Preheat oven to 350° and place a rack in the middle of the oven. 
2. In a mixer whip eggs and sugar on high speed for about 5 minutes or until mixture forms a ribbon when the wire whip is lifted, the color should be pale yellow.
3. Meanwhile, add the matcha powder to the flour and sift twice to get rid of lumps. 
4. Turn down the mixer to medium speed and slowly add in the flour. Next add the milk until combined, then the honey until combined, and last the oil; the resulting mix should be smooth.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 10 minutes in  350°. Afterwards, lower the temperature to 325° and bake for another 45 minutes or until skewer comes out clean. 
6. When it is cool enough to handle but still warm, lift the cake out of the pan, paper and all, and place it in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for several hours. (I included this step from just hungry to give it that extra moistness.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Warm weather, hot sun, what better to eat than... Panuchos? I have never even heard of these until recently when I happened to chance upon them while passing by the magazine aisle at CVS pharmacy (I was getting my stomach flu meds) and instantly I was like "What the heck are those? They look awesome!" Apparently they're a Yucatán favorite and I can definitely see why. Panuchos are pretty much like Mexican pita pockets and in this case filled with beans and can be topped with a wide variety of goodies. I used chicken in this recipe but these taste great without meat as well so this would also make a pretty tasty vegetarian option.   Preparing these takes a lot of effort (took me half a day) but I think they are worth it. Pressing and puffing the tortillas take a bit of practice to get the hang of, but rest assured it is not difficult at all and quite fun. In short, I enjoyed the crispy outer shell, gooey hot bean filling, and the freshness of the toppings you can put on. The original recipe from Sunset magazine calls for achiote paste but I was unable to find any so I made my own to marinate the chicken. What I have down now is still tasty but I think I can make it awesome. It's still a work in progress, but I shall post the final recipe when I've perfected it--I think I'm on to something!

Note: Cotija cheese is not pictured here because I was hungry and I just wanted to plate and take the picture before I chowed down. 

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons ground annatto seeds
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch nutmeg
1 bone-in skinned chicken breast

1 can (15 oz) black beans 
1/4 cup minced brown onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 lbs prepared masa for tortillas (a bag costs less then 2 bucks, just buy it pre-made)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Toppings: (pretty much whatever you want but this is what I used)
spanish rice
red onion
lettuce (I think a spring mix works well)
cotija cheese
red radishes

1. Chicken: Preheat oven to 375°. Combine spices and vinegar into a paste and slather onto the chicken. Roast for about 20 to 40 minutes until cooked through. When cooked, let the meat rest for 5 to10 minutes, shred, and set aside. 
2. Beans: Purée entire can of beans until smooth and creamy. In a frying pan, cook onion in oil under medium heat until golden. Stir in beans and cook until bubbling. Cover and set aside. 
3. Shell: Combine masa and salt in a bowl. Mix by hand until well combined. (Add a bit of water or flour if needed so masa is pliable but not sticky.) Divide dough into 20 equal balls, set aside on baking sheet and cover with plastic so it does not dry out. Heat griddle over medium heat until hot. Working with 1 masa ball at a time, (I don't have a tortilla press but if you do, by all means use it!) line work surface with plastic (gallon sized ziplock bag works especially well). Place masa ball in center and cover with another sheet of plastic and press with a frying pan until dough is 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Peel masa from plastic and place the tortilla on a hot griddle. When the underside is slightly speckled, flip the tortilla. Flip again when the opposite side is speckled and using a clean kitchen towel, firmly press the tortilla all over (this helps it puff). Cook until puffed then transfer over to a work surface. Slit tortilla at the edge and make a 2 inch long opening. Without tearing the tortilla, slide a spoon or butter knife inside to create the pocket. Set aside to cool and repeat with the rest of the dough. 
4. Open up the pocket of the cooled tortilla and spoon some beans inside. Pat top of tortilla to spread beans. Fill each panucho the same way. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add some oil. Place a single layer of panuchos on the pan. Cook until golden crispy. Pop panuchos into a 250° oven on a baking sheet to keep warm while you fry the rest. Add more oil as needed. 
5. Top with goodies and serve. 

You can actually make steps 1 to 3 ahead of time. I recommend making the shells and beans first and storing the tortillas in a ziplock in the fridge. Alternatively, barbecue the chicken in indirect heat for smoky goodness.