A couple months ago, I embarked on a mission to clear out my freezer and cupboards before moving. I stopped buying pantry items, and only allowed myself purchases of produce, dairy products and occasionally starches, like rice or pasta. Within weeks, I had finished all the random cuts of meat in the freezer, and had baked through all my bread and all purpose flours. This Iron Chef-esque exercise also forced me to come up with new ways to use esoteric ingredients like harissa (a North African chili and red pepper paste), chickpea flour (for Indian pakoras) and pomegranate molasses (a byproduct of my one-time obsession with tagines). Some of my experiments were successful (horseradish-sharp cheddar bread was a win), and others were not as good (horseradish cream and pomegranate molasses sauce was pretty fail). But hey, I was the only one around to witness my mistakes, and I never botched a dish so badly that I was unwilling to eat it myself.
At any rate, my kitchen is currently looking quite bare. If I didn’t know any better, I would look at my cupboards and call myself food-insecure. I am out of staples like flour, milk, butter and salt. Yes, salt. Actually, you’d be surprised at what you can do without salt in the house. Though my first impulse was to panic and run out to buy salt, after a few moments, I realized I had plenty of other salting mechanisms, like soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, nuoc mam and salty cheeses. And so, I’ve been getting by on a low-salt (but not low-sodium) diet for the last week or so.
All this is simply background to explain the engineering process that went into the cupcakes pictured above. I wanted to make something for my economists as a parting gift, and this recipe for strawberry mochi cupcakes caught my eye. Some further digging turned up this recipe for matcha green tea mochi cake, which was supposed to be a bit chewier and less cake-like than the previous formulation.
Baking is one of the most precise of culinary arts (second only to candy-making), which is why I don’t do it often. Here, my improvisatory ways tend to backfire and all that is left is a crest-fallen soufflé. However, I was adamant in my obsession with not having leftover ingredients, so I studied the two recipes carefully and combined them. And hoped that my gamble would work.
As a side note, I almost always bake more than one thing at a time to save energy. So, while I was baking these cupcakes, I threw a head of garlic in the oven to roast.
Twenty-five minutes of baking later, the kitchen smelled faintly of green tea-cupcake goodness…and overpoweringly of roasted garlic. I began to worry that the smell would permanently permeate the cupcakes, and I’d have to explain that these cupcakes were designed to ward off Asian vampires or something. Luckily, the odor dissipated by morning and the cupcakes seemed unaffected. The cupcakes took on a nice golden top with a greenish tint from the matcha powder, but the texture was the most incredible part: slightly crunchy around the edges and chewy in the center, like a mochi. I had produced an amazing hybrid mochi-cupcake.
Now, the original recipes did not call for icing, but that in my opinion is what distinguishes a cupcake from a muffin. So I scrounged around for icing ingredients and remembered that I was out of confectioner’s sugar and cream cheese, which are typically the bases for icing. On the other hand, I had a little bit of whipping cream and some chocolate chips, so I made white chocolate chip ganache to frost the cupcake tops. Finally, it was time to add the dinosaur sprinkles.
Suffice it to say, like a meteorite destroying the dinosaurs, the cupcakes were a smash hit at work.
Recipe: Matcha Green Tea Mochi Cupcakes
16 oz (1 box) Mochiko rice flour (or any brand of glutinous rice flour)
1 1/2 c sugar
2 t baking powder
2 T matcha green tea powder
1 t vanilla extract
12 oz (1 can) evaporated milk
3/4 c oil
Sift together the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and fold them into the dry ingredients. Grease cupcake tray or use paper liners, and fill each tin nearly to the top, at least 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 25 minutes at 375 F.
Makes approximately 20 cupcakes.
White Chocolate Ganache (adapted from All Recipes)
3 oz white chocolate chips
1/3 c heavy cream
In a heavy saucepan, heat the cream just until boiling. Add the chocolate pieces and whisk until smooth. Allow ganache to cool, then whip the mixture until it is fluffy and thickened. Use as frosting on cooled cakes.