Saturday, July 17, 2010

London Calling

Since I'm considering giving up the local Iron Chef Cupcake Challenge meet-ups I was pleased to find a similar online contest that I could participate in instead. This way I won't have to drag my husband out of the house, sometimes driving quite a way to get to each competition. The online contest can all be done from the comfort of my own home without frittering away any of my precious baking budget on petrol.

The idea of a Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge intrigued me right off the bat because a different ingredient will be featured every month and it will hopefully lead to the sharing of everyone's wonderful recipes. This month's ingredient is tea, something I adore in its unadulterated state and something I've experimented with in baking before. But it wouldn't be a challenge if I didn't try to one-up myself (and the competition, of course) so I've been brainstorming trying to come up with something more creative and intricate than plain old chai cupcakes with white chocolate frosting. Good, but I've been there, done that.

After dismissing a few ideas for not being innovative and exciting enough, I got the brilliant idea to draw inspiration from the fancy afternoon tea my brother and I had while on vacation in London last year. He was there for the scones and decadent pastries (and to keep me company) but I was excited by the wide variety of teas they had on offer. One in particular stood out: a green tea with coconut, caramel, and ginger flavorings. Man, oh man was it good and unlike anything I'd had before. Even my non-tea drinking brother had a few sips and declared it to be "bearable" after I'd added a few extra sugar cubes for him. High praise, indeed.

Trying our darndest to act prim and proper

The best part is that I happened to already have the perfect teas in my stash to help me recreate those flavors in cupcake form. This made the frugal girl in me quite happy! I did a test batch of tea combining Celestial Seasonings' Vanilla Ginger Green Tea and Sweet Coconut Thai Tea to be sure they'd blend well. Let's just say I finished my first cup and was on my second before I'd even started making breakfast. You'll find that the Vanilla Ginger Tea is discontinued, which clearly puts me into the category of "tea hoarder." I can't deny this, alas, but at least my hoarding practices aren't so bad that I won't willingly share when friends come over. The good news is that if you want to try this recipe at home you should have no trouble finding a comparable substitute out there. Or just stop by my house and I'll gladly help you out. I've got plenty, after all.

In keeping with the London theme, check out the Paddington Bear fabric I used as a backdrop. I knew all that fabric I keep buying on impulse would come in handy one day!

I hunted down a coconut cake recipe that uses shredded coconut and coconut milk. Although some revamping of the recipe was required, I liked that it called to heat the coconut milk, perfect for steeping the tea. So I dropped in three tea bags at the start and ended up with an extremely flavorful milk by the end.

Check out the action shot of butter melting! Go, butter, go! The before pic:

And after heating for five minutes it turned this lovely caramel color:

Because the ginger in the Vanilla Ginger Tea was so strong I used only one tea bag of that flavor but two of the Sweet Coconut Thai Tea for an extra kick of coconut flavor.

Once cooked and cooled, I made a batch of caramel and, using the cone method, filled each cupcake with a dollop of sugary goodness.

Now here's where it gets weird. I'd planned to make plain old ginger cream cheese frosting, delicious with diced candied ginger and ginger powder to boot. But this is a tea-themed competition, isn't it? How could I stop at just making the cake tea flavored? Only trouble was the frosting recipe didn't call for any liquids and I didn't want to risk having to overcompensate with more sickly sweet powdered sugar if I tried adding some. Instead I improvised. Taking a Vanilla Ginger tea bag I carefully dampened it, not enough to drench it but enough to get the tea and spices activated. Then I rolled it around in the softened cream cheese, applying pressure with the back of a spoon and stirring. I rewetted the tea bag about five times and repeated the process until I could definitely smell the tea in the cream cheese. Just don't get carried away and taste it yet because I can tell you from first hand experience that it doesn't get good until the rest of the ingredients are added. Be patient! The end result is worth it. It's even worth the painful blister I now have on my index finger that's making it difficult to type this. Since I'm dispensing advice left and right I'll also take the time to warn you that it's a very bad idea to stick your finger into the caramel dripping off of your spoon as you're heating the molten hot sugar. Then again you probably knew that because you have something called common sense. But I digress...

I'm so pleased I got this recipe right on the first try! As I've mentioned before, I'm a bit leery of experimenting and straying from the recipe that's printed on the page but this challenge has certainly made me push myself. Not only creatively but also technically in making sure I don't alter the consistency of the cake with any of my changes. This one couldn't have turned out better if Martha Stewart had written the recipe, if I may say so myself. The end result is a light cake with plenty of spicy tea flavor, crunchy coconut, oozing caramel, and a tangy ginger frosting with a hint of tea. I'm glad I'm forced to blog about this if only so I can be sure to get the recipe down while it's still fresh in my mind. I'll definitely be making these babies again!

Please go vote for me! Voting's open until July 26 so hurry on over!

Sweet Coconut Tea Cupcakes With Caramel Filling and Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from My Kitchen in the Rockies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus two heaping tablespoons canned unsweetened coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
2 tea bags Celestial Seasonings Sweet Coconut Thai Tea
1 tea bag Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Ginger Green Tea
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Heaping 1/4 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened or sweetened)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 11 cupcake wells with paper liners.

2) Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

3) Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the tea bags and butter, and heat until the milk is hot and the butter is melted. Reduce heat to low and simmer 3-5 minutes until mixture has turned a nice caramel color. Remove pan from heat and remove tea bags, squeezing as much liquid back into the pan as possible.

4) Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.

5) Keeping the mixer on low, add the coconut, mixing only until it is blended, then steadily add the hot milk mixture. When the batter is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that any dry ingredients that might have fallen to the bottom of the bowl are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan and bake for 18-21 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for five minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Caramel Filling:
Recipe adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, at room temperature

1) Melt the sugar over medium heat in a large pot. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar as it melts and cook until it becomes a deep amber color.

2) Add the butter and salt and stir it in until melted.

3) Pour in the heavy cream (mixture will foam) and whisk until you get a smooth sauce. You may have some lumps but keep stirring until they have melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

4) Cut a small round piece out of the tops of each cooled cupcake and pour in approximately one teaspoon of caramel. Replace the cake piece and set cupcakes aside.

Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting:
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 tea bag Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Ginger Green Tea
Water to dampen tea bag
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar sifted
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt

1) Dampen tea bag in a small amount of water. Add to bowl with softened cream cheese and press gently with the back of a spoon. Flip tea bag over and press again with a spoon. Remove tea bag and stir cream cheese. Dampen tea bag again and repeat five times or until there's a distinct tea scent coming from the cream cheese. Remove tea bag and discard.

2) In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy. With mixer on low speed, beat in confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium-high, beating until light and fluffy. Add crystallized ginger, ground ginger and salt, beating until well mixed.

3) Pipe or spread onto cupcakes and top with additional diced crystallized ginger if desired.

Just so you know what's at stake here, the winner of July’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:
Thank you to all the prize sponsors! Wish me luck!

Link parties:


JESSICA said...

how do you think a ginger cream cheese frosting would be on a carrot cake? sounds like an experiment I need to try!

Lina Thomlinson said...

I think that would be fantastic! It'd be a nice change from traditional cream cheese frosting. Go for it!

Bargain Hoot said...

I hope you win!! What a fantastic idea to roll the tea bag in the cream cheese!!

Jamieanne said...

These sound sooo good! Fantastic entry! :)

Lina Thomlinson said...

Thanks, guys. Just gave one to my co-worker who raved that she loves the flavor combination. I'd like think she wasn't just saying that to be polite!

Anonymous said...

No, I was not just being polite! These were ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS!! Truly a taste sensation. With each bite you could taste a different melody of flavors. My favorite of all the cupcakes I've tried so far. Did I mention that I LOVE being the taste-tester?? GOOD LUCK LINA!!

Unknown said...

These sound totally fab and inspired. Though I love each of those flavors individually, I don't think I would have ever have thought to combine them! definitely intrigued :)

C&C Cakery said...

I love this flavour profile! What a great cupcake - I'll be sure to try this one! Thanks for sharing such a lovely recipe :)

Lisa said...

This looks AMAZING! Too bad you can't pass cupcakes through the internet because I'd definitely take a few!

Lina Thomlinson said...

Thanks, everyone. It really is a great combination. I lucked out by having it turn out so perfectly on my first try! I wish I could send cupcakes via email because I know a lot of my friends would love some samples instead of just getting to drool over the pictures. Plus it'd be nice to give something back to all of the lovely folks who voted for my cupcake. I'm really grateful to them and hope I stay in the top five until voting closes!

Creative Cupcake Recipes said...

I tried baking this recipes, - what great cupcakes. They were so good. I am definitely voting., The ginger flavor in the icing is all its own. mmmm.

Citra said...

You cupcake is awesome
I wish I have more time to learn baking so I can try your recipe :)
Vote for it !

Lina Thomlinson said...

Wow, that was quick work making the cupcakes already. Glad you liked them so much! Thanks for the votes too!

Unknown said...

Congratulations on winning the First Mystery Box Cupcake challenge. I love your cupcake entry and will definitely make it in the near future.

Made With Pink said...

Congratulations on your win! Very exciting. I was wanting to participate in this challenge, but never got around to it. I can't wait to see what the next challenge is. I'll be there! Can't wait to see what you make as well!


Anonymous said...

This sounds SO yummy... and perfect for summer. Congratulations on your win. I'm pretty good at following a recipe, but not so hot in making them up. Great job and I'm anxious to try this... Have a great weekend!

janimal said...

OMG they look amazing.

Unknown said...

Lina - I'm drawing cupcake illustrations this month that I'll eventually turn into a poster ( I've been sponsoring The Sweetest Kitchen's Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge and see that you won the tea one...a cupcake I'd love to include on my poster. If you're interested in me drawing your cupcake, please read my guidelines at this link:

Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.