Iron Cupcake: San Francisco – PEPPER! Spicy Orange Szechuan Pepper Cupcakes

Yesterday I participated in my first Iron Cupcake: San Francisco Challenge! It was super fun, and the cupcakes were awesome! I totally got my ass kicked on the presentation front. 🙂 I’m already looking forward to the next month.

The secret ingredient this month was Pepper. I immediately thought of the Szechuan Peppercorns I’ve had sitting in my cupboard for… well, a really long time. Somehow, my mind immediately went: “orange!” I got this notion in my mind that since Orange goes well with cloves, cardamom, and other similar spices it would probably go well with Szechuan Pepper as well. I didn’t want the cupcake to be too peppery, so I made plain orange cupcakes, and then made an orange frosting spiked with the pepper. It turned out really really well. I ended up adding a little white pepper and a pinch of red chili pepper to add a little extra kick!

The orange flavor in these is really luscious. If you want, you can leave out the pepper and get some kick-ass orange cupcakes!


Orange Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes or about 24 mini cupcakes

1 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup Sugar
1 cup Butter, at room temperature (1 stick)
2 Large Eggs
3/4 tsp Orange Oil
Zest of 1/4 Orange
1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp Whole Milk
1 Tbsp Orange Juice

Preheat oven to 375F
Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners

1) In a medium bowl, sift & whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
2) In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, cream butter and sugar.
2) Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low until fully combined and smooth, then beat in orange zest and orange oil.
4) Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, beating until just combined after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
5) Add orange juice and beat until just combined and no stray flour remains.
6) Divide batter among prepared cupcake liners. Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 18-19 minutes for regular sized cupcakes or about 15 minutes for minis. When done, cool on a wire rack for about an hour. Cool completely before frosting!


You can frost these with my Spicy Orange-Szechuan Pepper Buttercream, below (or omit the pepper to get plain Orange Cupcakes). Or use the frosting of your choice! I imagine a chocolate frosting such as my Chocolate Creme Fraiche Frosting would go really nicely with these. You could even add some orange oil to your favorite chocolate frosting to up the orange-flavor ante!


Spicy Orange-Szechuan Pepper Buttercream
Makes enough to frost 1 batch of cupcakes (I usually have a little left over)

2 cups Butter (4 sticks), at room temperature
1 cup Powdered Sugar
Zest of 1/4 Orange
3/4 tsp Orange Oil
2 Tbsp freshly ground Szechuan Peppercorns
1 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp red chili (cayenne) pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar. With an electric mixer, cream together until smooth and fully combined. Add orange zest & orange oil and mix until fully incorporated. Add all 3 peppers, then mix until just combined. Voila! You’re ready to frost.




Red Chai Chocolate Cupcakes – with Recipe!

Red Chai Chocolate 1

I love chai, and I really wanted to make a delicious, new spin on chai cupcakes. I’ve also recently gotten into Rooibos (Red) tea. The idea of somehow combining the two was in the back of my mind when I was passing the tea aisle in the store and noticed that Yogi Tea makes a Rooibos Chai – perfect! I decided to use that in my cupcakes. Now to figure out how to incorporate it into the batter! I toyed with a few ideas, including grinding the tea leaves and adding them straight in, but settled on making a tea concentrate – basically a really concentrated cup of tea. If you decide to make these cupcakes yourself, you can do the tea concentrate with any chai you like, or even perhaps use one of those boxed chai mixes (although if you do that, you should probably decrease the sugar and/or honey in the recipe, as those mixes are usually sweetened).

As for the frosting, I was stuck for a while, wanting to do something a little unusual that wouldn’t be too sweet and would balance nicely with the chai. At first I was thinking of doing a cream cheese frosting, but I thought that wasn’t quite exciting enough… I also wanted to incorporate chocolate somehow, and wanted the frosting to have a slight tang to contrast with the sweetness of the honey in the cupcakes. Then it hit me – creme fraiche! I added a tub of creme fraiche to my usual buttercream recipe, and decreased the amount of egg whites, butter and sugar. For the chocolate flavor, I added a small amount of melted milk chocolate chips mixed with unsweetened cocoa. I usually use dark chocolate in my baking, but I went with milk this time because I wanted the chocolate flavor to be really light and subtle.

After I added the creme fraiche, I was mixing it in, waiting for it to become smooth & take on a nice sheen, when – oh horror – it started to clump! Then, rather than getting better, it started to separate and a huge puddle of liquid started to form, splattering me all over. I turned the mixer up to high, and kept mixing, just hoping it would eventually come together again. But no! It just kept getting worse. I was about to give up (and cry a little). Then finally, just a little, I saw the clumps start to smooth out, and the puddle start to dissipate – Yes!! I kept going, and it took a while, but finally it all came together and eventually even looked beautiful. And the frosting and the cupcakes lived happily ever after. The End.

Seriously though… The chocolate creme fraich frosting turned out even better than I was hoping. It’s lightly sweet, lightly chocolatey, with a richness and subtle tang from the creme fraiche. Totally delicious by itself (ahem) and with the chai cupcakes!

Red Chai Chocolate 2
Deliciously moist inside!

Deliciously moist inside!

Inspired by the Chai & Honey Cupcakes in Shelly Kaldunski’s Cupcakes

Tea Concentrate (Remove tea leaves from 5 bags Yogi Tea Rooibos Chai [or your tea of choice] into a small bowl, cover with 1/2 cup boiling water, steep 5 minutes, strain + cool)
1 1/4 cups All-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt (I just use a dash & don’t measure)
1/4 cup honey
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup whole milk (room temp)
1 large egg (room temp)

1) Preheat oven to 375F, and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2) Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl
3) With an electric mixer on low speed, mix together honey, melted butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl until smooth & fully blended.
4) Add flour mixture to wet ingredients, mixing with an electric mixer on medium speed just until fully combined & smooth. (Do not overmix.)
5) Add cooled tea concentrate and mix until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
6) Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 17 minutes, or until reddish-golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.


2 large egg whites (room temp)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into 4 pieces
7.5 oz creme fraiche
3 oz milk chocolate chips, melted + 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (combined & slightly cooled)

1) In a heatproof bowl (or the top part of a double boiler) combine egg whites and both sugars. Set over a pan (or bottom of double boiler) of simmering water. Whisk until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. (The mixture should have a slightly thick, syrupy consitency.)
2) Remove sugar mixture from heat and scrape into a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until mixture is white and glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.
3) Add butter, piece by piece, beating constantly on medium speed until combined.
4) Add creme fraiche, and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture looks thick, smooth and slightly glossy, about 2 minutes. If the mixture separates & looks lumpy or wet (this happens to me every time), increase speed to high and continue to beat until the mixture has come together and is smooth, thick & slightly glossy (this can take a while, but don’t get discouraged – it will happen).
5) Finally, scrape in the slightly cooled chocolate and mix, on medium speed, until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary (about 1 minute).

Spread the frosting thickly onto the cooled cupcakes with a butter knife or a small spatula. If you like, top with a small piece of bittersweet chocolate.
Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 9:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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First Batch of Cupcakes – Ginger Lemongrass!!!

Three little cupcakes...

Three little cupcakes...

Delicious cupcake just waiting to be eaten...

Delicious cupcake just waiting to be eaten...

Please welcome the inaugural batch of Ginger Lemongrass cupcakes! These are lightly flavored lemongrass cupcakes with a ginger white chocolate buttercream. Beta Testers (12 of them) agreed that the frosting was spot on, while the cupcake could use a touch more lemongrass and needs to be lighter. Next batch will be baked and reviewed tomorrow!

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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