Monday, May 25, 2009

Mochi Cupcakes

Inspired by a recipe my dear friend kristy linked me to, I could NOT not try making some Mochi cupcakes of my own. Being a pretty die-hard fan of the real Japanese confection, I thought it would be a perfect specimen to indulge my desire to turn everything into a flavor of cupcake.

Now, Americans have already had their way with mochi by filling it with ice cream instead of the traditional sweetened bean pastes and such - a convention I whole heartedly approve of, by the way. *two-thumbs up* So me taking it a step further doesn't seem too outlandish. The difference between an American cupcake and a mochi cupcake lies simply in the choice of flour. Made with a gluten free "sweet rice flour" instead of wheat, the pastry's texture comes out much chewier. It has a distinct rice flavor that even the copious amounts of sugar and eggs can't hide. Traditional mochi is made with just rice flour and water, heated until it becomes a pliable paste which is then wrapped around the choice filling. So as a cupcake, it travels outside it's main purpose as a wrapper and becomes the foundation of the dessert.

For my mochi cupcakes, I made a "plain" cupcake and topped it with red bean paste and red bean buttercream. Inspired by a two-layer frosting technique my boyfriend documented on his month-long vacation *jealous* to Japan *also jealous*, I thought this cupcake flavor was all to appropriate to try it out on. The paste was very easy to make, thankfully, and I even got away with cheating a little bit. Following the instructions pretty much verbatim, I boiled the red beans (acquired at 99 Ranch Market - or is it Ranch 99???) for about an hour and half, drained, mixed with sugar, pureed, then reheated to evaporate the excess moisture and wow - it worked! For those of you not familiar with Red beans... I'm not really either. They're smaller than generic pinto beans, but I couldn't tell you what is distinct about their flavor. And I also can't tell you why the Japanese thought they would be good as a dessert food (beans? for dessert??), it just works. They also use lima beans in the same way, and let me tell you, they simply prove that sugar makes ANYthing taste good.

Anyway, so after the cupcakes were cooled, I made little balls of red bean paste and plopped them on top of the cupcakes and then made a buttercream frosting with the remaining paste (1/ c butter, 2 c powdered sugar + paste and a little water to thin it as necessary). I admit, I wasn't sure if buttercream would be the best with this kind of cupcake. The cake is not "light" but it's not rich either, so I was afraid that the frosting might be too sweet or creamy for the texture of the cake, but all who tasted seemed to be in favor of the combo.

With the remaining cupcakes, I made a green tea buttercream (with macha (Green Tea) powder, acquired for me on previously mentioned month-long vacation - thanks!) which was tasty, but was not nearly as cool and delicious as the double layered red bean mochi flavor. Note: no food coloring was added - all color is from the green tea powder!

But I will be continuing this line of desserts for sure. It is a unique and delicious treat that I want to share with all who either love mochi in it's true form, or have no clue what it is and need to be made aware!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cinco de Mayo Churros

I know that this holiday is a highly fabricated, American excuse to drink Margaritas and eat chips, but I do embrace most holidays that are food-focused, so I went all out this time. I made desserts for a fund raising event that was being held today in honor of the dubious holiday. And what better excuse to make churros! I love these little treats. I made mine especially bite size - better known in the diminutive as "churritos." It's amazing how many of these little tasty treats you can pack away!

• 3/4 C sugar
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 C milk
• 6 tbs butter
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tsp sugar
• 1 C flour
• 3 eggs, lightly beaten
• frying oil (i used Canola)

Make cinnamon sugar for the final coating. Set aside in bowl or plate.

Begin heating frying oil over medium heat (looking for a temperature of 325˚).

Bring milk, sugar, butter, salt and 2 tsp sugar to boil over medium heat.
Add flour all at once, cooking and stirring (wooden spoon worked best) until it forms a ball; about 30 seconds. Removed from heat and let cool; 3 minutes is fine. Beat in eggs one at a time making sure to fully incorporate.

Fill pastry bag (or in my case, awesome pastry gun) with the filling. Using the star tip, slowly squeeze out desired length of churro. I did mine no more than 2 inches each, and just scraped the tip to release the batter for each churro. I'm sure there are many ways of doing it like cutting the dough with scissors or bribing someone else to help you, but this worked well for me. I only was able to squeeze 6-8 churros per batch since I was having to rotate them in the oil for even cooking. The recipe says to cook them for 5 minutes, but just use your judgment. I like them golden brown, and a little squishy, not crunchy. But they are incredibly resilient and taste great no matter what you do (aside from burning of course).
Pull each batch out and degrease on paper towels. When they're cooler, toss around in the cinnamon sugar mix until well coated.

Since I had to make mine a day ahead, I waited to put the sugar on and simply reheated the pre-fried tasty morsels on a cookie sheet in the oven for no more than 2 minutes at 425˚; then I gave them a good toss in the sugar.
They really are best warm, but who's picky?

Just a side note, taking photos with one hand while deep frying things in the other is probably a bad idea. I survived this round, but am going to exercise more caution if I ever get the brainy idea again.

Another note. Churros are really good, so they're worth any trouble they might cause in order to make them. My major complaint this time is how much I hate the smell of oil frying filling every crevice of my apartment. It gets stuck in on my clothes and in my hair for days after.

On a related note, I have a shameful admission: If the labor of making Churros sound daunting or time consuming, I can't help but recommend the quick, cheap and amazingly delicious alternative of a Costco Churro. I don't know how they manage it, but I actually have a hard time even driving by Costco without having to fight the urge to go in and get one.

Anyhow, feliz Cinco de Mayo!