Monday, May 10, 2010

Green Tea Cupcakes

Belleville is a very international neighborhood of Paris known especially for being home to one of the two Chinatown districts in the city. It's not far from my own neighborhood, conveniently enough, and it makes for some pretty fun grocery shopping. Even better, if you get tired while exploring the endless aisles of curious delicacies the shops have to offer, you can take a pork bun break at one of the Chinese bakery counters, and go back to your shopping nourished and invigorated. 

A trip there last week resulted in an array of sauces, noodles, and vinegars I'm excited about exploring. Tamarind paste is one thing I'm looking forward to getting into. But the big revelation I had was to get on to the baking with matcha train.

It all started when I impulsively picked up a pack of green tea noodles (which I later ate simply dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil, and thoroughly enjoyed), and got to thinking that there's a lot of potential in green tea. I could make green tea flavored anything. And it was with this thought in my mind that I purchased my first powdered green tea.  

My matcha baking debuted the very next day, with the need for a last-minute dessert to contribute to the dinner a good friend was making. I searched the internet for interesting green tea dessert recipes, and ended up choosing cupcakes, partially I think due to a recent cupcake catastrophe that occurred when I tried to make these puppies, Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. It sounded great, and it would have been great, if I had made about 1/4 of the icing the recipe called for. But instead, I made the full recipe (which was supposed to correspond to the quantity of cupcakes also involved in said recipe...), and piled 'em high with pillowy frosting. To my horror, they were so sweet and so rich, they actually caused me to entirely lose my desire to eat cupcakes. They were basically nauseating, and on top of that it sparked yet another conversation about how us Americans eat such rich food, etc. etc. So this time I was hoping to avenge my last cupcake failure with something less sweet and more subtle. This was my big chance!

So I found a recipe for basic matcha cupcakes, and made my own icing by mixing matcha, mascarpone, and a little bit of powdered sugar. They were exactly what I was hoping for! Soft, moist, delicate, and just sweet enough. My cupcake skills were reconfirmed to my cupcake-eating audience, and I am officially a believer in green tea baked goods. As if I'd ever doubted, as much as I learned I love matcha-flavored sweets when I first ate the Matcha Gelato at Gelati d'Alberto...

Matcha Cupcakes (recipe found at Cupcake Bakeshop), makes one dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar (I cut mine down to somewhere between 1-1/2 and 1-3/4 cups)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used French all-purpose flour, which has a gluten content of 45, closer to American cake flour--this will give you a more tender texture, as I learned from my bread/cake research)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoons matcha

Grease and flour your muffin tin, or put paper linings in it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit / 175 Celsius.
Beat butter on high for about 30 seconds or until soft. Add sugar, beat for another 3 minutes or so, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating between additions.
Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl, and the milk and matcha in yet another bowl, mixing well until there are no clumps. 
Add the wet and dry mixtures to the butter mixture alternately, mixing just to combine between additions.
Ladle into prepared muffin tin, bake for 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Matcha Frosting, frosts one dozen cupcakes

2 tablespoons matcha
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup mascarpone
1-1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Mix matcha into milk until totally dissolved. Blend with mascarpone. Stir in the powdered sugar. Spread onto cupcakes.

I also topped my cupcakes with a little dab of red bean paste (azuki). Another variation would be to omit the frosting, and when pouring the batter into the muffin tins, pour in half, put a spoonful of azuki in the center, and then fill the rest of the way up to have red-bean filling. You could dust them with powdered sugar and matcha powder, and I think that would work out pretty well, too.

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