Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cayenne Truffle Cupcakes

Lately I've been obsessed with cupcakes.  What's not to like.  They are the only cakes you can eat on the go; they are the only cakes you can eat all by yourself without feeling guilty (I usually will eat three at a time); they are some of the most artistic desserts in the most fun flavors and with the cutest decorations; they work for all occasions from birthdays, weddings, showers, or just because I feel like having one today day (which getting an entire cake would seem like a huge indulgence), and the biggest reason I make them is because they are the only kind of sweets my husband will eat willingly.  

As I went searching for cupcakes on the world wide web, I discovered there are many like me!  There are so many sites and blogs about cupcakes.  I would spend hours each day devouring the contents on these sites.  Everyone out there is so creative and inspirational.  

Cupcakes on their way to be tested.

That's how I discovered Iron Cupcake: Earth.  Yes, like Iron Chef but with cupcakes, and everyone on Earth can participate.  Each month there will be a secret ingredient and each participant will have to come up with a recipe, post it on their page with photos and descriptions, and have everyone else can vote on their creations.  How fun is that?  

This month's challenge is the CHILI PEPPER CHALLENGE.  The prizes this month are a cupcake courier from Cupcake Courier, a luxury hostess apron from Jessie Steele,  a cookbook from Taste of Home, an original artwork from Esty artist, Cakespy, a set of cute kitchen utensils from Fiesta Head Chefs, and the best-selling book Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.  How awesome is that!


As a newbie baker, I found this to be a bit intimidating.  I've had a peek at other challengers' sites and WOW, there's some unique and gorgeous cupcakes out there.  But D thought this would be a great opportunity for me to expand on my usual cupcake recipes.  

So this month I'm starting small and simple.  My inspiration is a box of chocolates D had given my for Valentine's Day last year.  They were a box of spicy dark chocolate truffles from Daniel's Chocolates.  At first bite, you just taste the smooth, bitter dark chocolate, but then afterwards the back of your throat will feel a slight heat from the peppers.  It's quite an aphrodisiac.  I wanted to recreate that feeling.  

The saved one

I think I came pretty close with this recipe.  I made a batch for my personal taste testers, my family (all 16 of them).  Everyone raved how yummy they were, and everyone loved that kick from the peppers.  I ended up having to fight my nephew for the last one since I didn't take any good pictures beforehand.  He took a tiny bite off the top of the frosting.  Oh well, at least I got it back and took these pics.  

So try my recipe, it's very simple (it's a variation from Martha Stewart's One bowl chocolate cake), and don't forget to vote for me at 
No One Puts Cupcake In A Corner from Sunday, August 31, at 9 a.m. pst until Thursday, September 4, at 9 a.m. pst.

Dark Chocolate Cayenne Truffle Cupcakes

To make cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two standard 12 cup muffin pans with paper liners.  
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.  Whisk ingredients together gently.
3. Add the eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla, and warm water to the dry ingredients.
4. Whisk mixture until the wet and dry ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.
6. Bake for about 20-25 minutes.
7. Insert toothpick through the center of one cake, if it comes out clean, the cupcakes are cooked.  If it comes out with crumbs attach, put back into the oven for another 2 minutes.  Repeat as needed until toothpick comes out clean.
8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make dark chocolate frosting:
1 pound best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powder sugar
Pinch of salt

1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.  Turn off the heat, and stir occasionally until chocolate has melted completely (about 15 minutes).
2. Once melted, place chocolate on counter to cool.
3. In a small bowl combine cocoa powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and boiling water.  Stir until well blended.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes) scraping down sides as needed.  
5. Add melted chocolate, beat on low speed until combined (about 1-2 minutes) scraping down sides as needed.
6. Beat in cocoa mixture until combined (about 1-2 minutes).

Spread or pipe onto cupcakes and enjoy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Peaches and Grapes from Japan

While shopping at the Elements Shopping Mall in Hong Kong ( same place where I bought the PETiTS cupcakes), my family and I decided to check out the upscale grocery store Three-Sixty.  They sell many foreign products at foreign prices, but we weren't turned off by the prices since there were food items we haven't seen since past travels.  We were actually quite excited and spent over an hour scouring up and down all the aisles.  Plus there were samples available, my family never turns down free food or drinks. (lol)

We came out of there with several bags of goodies, but our prize purchases were two Japanese water peaches and a box of Japanese perfume grapes.  (I'm not sure what the true names are, but water peach and perfume grapes are direct translation from Cantonese).  

I've never had the grapes before, so I was excited to try one.  Both Jess and mom said they don't like them much due to their weird perfume-y taste.  Looking inside the box, I can see the grapes were HUGE.  I don't really like grapes with seeds, and I know big grapes equal seeds.  Bummer.  

But these were very expensive grapes, so I wasn't going to let them go to waste.  As you can see one small box was $336 HKD which is about $48 USD.  At that price if it meant eating them all by myself, I was up for the challenge.  

I bit my first grape in half, so I can pick out the seeds.  The skin was thick and crunched when I bit into it.  The flesh of the grape actually popped out of the skin when I chewed.  And you know what, NO SEEDS!  Yeah, I love these grapes.  But wait, they taste weird.  It did taste kind of perfume-y.  Hhhhmmm, not so good.  

Dad had a few, stopped eating and said he rather have the peach.  Oh man, I was going to have to eat all of it myself.  Great...  But as I was sucking the flesh out of the skin (the skin can be a bit tart), the taste grew on me, and I was starting to enjoy them.  

Watching me eat, Jess decided to give the grapes another try, (our family gives food many chances to change our mind - pork fat candy, I have a feeling we will meet again).  She actually liked the skin more than the flesh.  She felt the skin was the best part being crispy, crunchy, and fruity, kind of like candy.  

Watching Jess eat, mom eventually came around and said she would lend us a hand in finishing.  We knew she couldn't help herself, and we eventually polished off the entire box.   Yum!

Now for the peach.  Ohhhh man, these are so good.  They are much better in Japan (I think Japan exports their rejects), but these were better than any other peach I've had outside of Japan.  If you've had one before, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you have not, you must try one at least once in your lifetime.  

When we first had them in Japan some 15 or so years ago, we visited a fruit stand where the shop owner was furious with dad when he tried to pick a peach up.  The owner came over and yell at dad and showed him a sign that said "NO TOUCHING".  Dad was confused since he'd never shopped for produce without touching or smelling.  The owner said by touching even with gentle pressure, we would bruise the fruit and the juices would break through.  Then he guaranteed us that each peach was equally sweet, juicy, and ripe, and it would be the best we would have ever eaten, if not we can come back for a refund.  

We bought one for $6 USD.  Yep, it was outrageously expensive.  We never did get our money back, instead we had bought a whole box to carry back to Hong Kong to share with dad's family.

When we saw they were selling them at Three-Sixty for $45 HKD (about $6.50 USD), it was a bargain, and we grabbed two!  (And went back for a couple more the next day!)

A little advice, when you bite into one, have a large towel available preferably somewhere near your mouth and arms.  It's that juicy!  The juice just flows like a water fall out of the fruit, hence the name water peach.  The skin is thick and can be eaten with the flesh, but this leads to more overflowing of juices due to the force of the bite.  Instead  after the first bite, we chose to peel the skin off, which comes off like peeling a sticker from its sheet.  The juice is sweet and fragrant, very similar to peach candy or more like the Japanese peach drinks.  

A fellow blogger, whose Japanese, told me the peaches are killer with vanilla ice cream.  OMG, that sounds so divine!!   I must try them with ice cream next time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shark Fin Soup in Macau

While in Macau, my parents and their friends insisted on having dinner at this place.  They were introduced to this restaurant by a famous local friend (he has connections) last time they were in Macau.  We had spent most of the first and part of the second night in town walking around all the old and narrow alleyways looking for it.  It happens to be a few blocks from Pastelaria Koi Kei.

We finally found it. YEAH!  But as you can see from the first picture, it didn't look impressive on the outside.  I was thinking my parents and their friends must have gotten it wrong, but they recognized the owner who immediately called the celebrity friend, who was out of town at that time, and verified that our group was indeed this famous man's friends.  Once that was all settled the owner told us she knew what to serve us but wanted to know how much we wanted.  

The first dish (the only one I had time to take pictures of - boo me) which was the soup - WOW!  It's their signature shark fin soup.  I've had my fair share of shark fin soups, but I've never seen shark fin soup like this.  

The fins are cooked separately from the soup and are ordered by weight.  I think we ordered one kilograms worth.  Jess said last time they were here is was about three times as much and looked like a mountain.  Again WOW!  

The soup is chicken broth, but not like any chicken broth I've ever seen or tasted.  It tasted so chicken-y, free range chicken-y.  The broth was creamy in color, not clear, and the aroma made my stomach growl.  As I had my first sip, my tummy was all warm and happy.  I'm smiling as I'm rethinking about it.  hhhhmmmmm...  :-)


I don't think anyone can ever make chicken broth like that at home.  Look at all that shark fin in just one spoonful of soup and every spoon was that full!!  I was in heaven.  I walked out of there totally satisfied and knowing I could never have another bowl of regular shark fin soup without sighing and remember that one night in some tiny alley in Macau.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Today is my husbee's birthday.  It is also my uncle's birthday.  They are both poker fanatics, and I was going to make them a poker theme cake to share.  I have been planning it for a while and was super excited to give it a try.  But you ask where is the poker theme cake?  Well, it's been delayed since my uncle is out of town for today.  :-(  I wanted to make one anyway for D, but he's not much of a cake man, but doesn't mind cupcakes.

I wanted to make really special ones since he's not getting a cake on his birthday, but he insisted on something simple with little to no decorations.  He wants something more manly.  I can still make manly decorated cupcakes, but he said NO.  hhhhhhmmmmm..... He also doesn't care much for chocolate or anything too sweet.  hhhhhhhmmmmmm.....  It's much easier cooking him dinner.  Well, I know he likes strawberries and mangos, they are pretty much the only fruits he really likes.    

I made a strawberry and mango puree, and I made a batch of cupcakes from the sponge cake recipe from my sisters' cake and a batch of meringue buttercream.  I also made a batch of Martha's one bowl chocolate cupcakes (this is a similar recipe, the one I made is from Martha's Stewart's Baking Handbook, so if anyone needs it, let me know) since I love chocolate (and these cupcakes don't disappoint).

I folded 1/2 cup of the puree into the buttercream to give it that something extra.  I then layered the cupcakes with the puree before piping a swirl of buttercream and topping them with fresh strawberries.  

I tried one of each, they are not bad.  The chocolate cupcake is really moist and yummy, and the sponge one is really spongy, not too sweet, and de-lish.  I didn't really taste the mango which is disappointing, but I think D will love them anyway.  

Happy birthday, baby.  I hope all your wishes come true.  I LOVE YOU!!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pastelaria Koi Kei in Macau

Pastelaria Koi Kei

As I was flipping through a magazine that I had picked up in Asia Destination Macau, I came across an article about the streets of Old Taipa Village, a historical area of Macau.  And one of the places featured was a cookie store I had been to, Pasterlaria Koi Kei.  It is highly recommended by both locals and repeat tourists.  It is the number gift purchased in Macau.

Macau's Old Red Light District

The store is located on the narrow street of Rua da Cunha commonly known as the food street in Cantonese.  The area was previously a happening red light district, but now it's home to a few residents, restaurants, and shops selling cookies, candies, BBQ pork, jellies, and many other famous Macau snacks.  

The streets were fairly quiet since it was close to 11pm.  All the other stores were closed and most residents were already in bed.  But as we approached our destination, I noticed that every person walking away from us was carrying a yellow brown plastic bag.  And then that's when I saw it. 

Busy Pastelaria Koi Kei

With bright lights and people spilling out, Jess groaned, "Oh no, we'll be here all night.  Last time we were here, mom went nuts and bought 4 big bags of cookies."  She decided to stay outside and wait for mom since she didn't want to fight with the mob of shoppers, and I was thinking she had the right idea.  

But the clerks were shouting, "Free samples," and were passing out cookies and candies that would put any Costco to shame.  I wanted some of their 300 plus varieties of treats, so I took a deep breath and ventured in.  Before I knew it I was given original almond cookie, chunky almond cookie, walnut almond cookie, a handful of mini almond cookies, almond cookie with pork floss, and many, many other varieties of almond cookies.  These were not cut up pieces or sample sizes.  These were full size cookies right out of the boxes!  I was getting so parched from tasting, I had to leave the almond cookie area.  

Jess Making It Out Alive

I walked around to the dried fruits and candies section, which had less people, and before I knew it, Jess was right beside me asking me to pass her some samples.  The clerks were wonderful.  When we wanted to try something and they didn't have a sample available, they would just grab a new box and open it for us.  We tasted everything!  Most items were yummy, but some were really an acquired taste, like pork fat candy - well I don't know if that's what it is, but it was a candy with meat in it that tasted like a piece of cold fat.  I'm gagging just thinking about it, but there were several people buying boxes of them including my mom. 

After an hour in the store, my mom bought four bags of cookies and candies which Jess is holding in the photo above, but then thinking she didn't have enough mom went back in and bought two more bags.

Pasrelaria Koi Kei's Famous Yellow Brown Bag

I bought six boxes of mini almond cookies, two boxes of phoenix egg rolls with seaweed and pork floss, one bag of lemon ginger candy, one bag of mango peanut nougat, and a box of variety almond cookies.  All my stash fit into one bag, so you can see how much mom bought.  She did go nuts in there!

Mini Almond Cookies

I know some of you out there might say, "These are available where I'm at."  Pastelaria Koi Kei does sell their products in many Asia super markets around the world.  But as an auntie told us, "This is where they make all these treats.  This is the original store and bakery.  Everything comes out of here.  The selections are greater and fresher.  Plus you won't be able to experience this kind of shopping back home."  But with our giant stash of treats we did get to share a little bit of our experience at Pastelaria Koi Kei with all our family and friends.  

Rua Do Cunha, No. 11-13 
R/C Taipa Macau
Tel: (853) 2882 7458

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

PETiTS by Deschamps in Hong Kong

While shopping at one of Hong Kong's newest malls Elements, I discovered PETiTS by Deschamps.  It was packed with customers inside and congregating all around the store front were people with forks digging into plastic cups and little boxes filled with cupcakes.  

Store Front Display

I really wanted one, and my sister Jess wasn't one to pass on sweets.  We ventured in and browsed through the cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and chocolates on display. 

 Green Tea Cupcake on Stand

The store itself was quite dark and very modern.  The sales associates were very friendly and allowed me to take photos.  I don't think they baked the treats onsite since the store didn't smell of baked goods.  The cupcakes on the cupcake stands which are the ones featured on their signage were just for show.  

PETiTS' Display Case

But we were definitely more interested in the cupcakes for sale.  There were three fridges filled with cupcakes and cakes.  The flavors included tiramisu, coffee, mango, lychee, Bailey's, white peach, s'mores, cinnamon apple, cookies and cream, caramel, eggy, and many more. 

PETiTS' Display Case

They all looked delicious, and it was so hard to decide.  Then we saw a chalkboard that listed mini cupcakes 3 for $48 HKD, regular cupcakes 1 for $25 HKD.  Well, even though the choices for the minis were less, but they looked just as good, plus this way we could share 3 instead of 2.  How could we go wrong with that?

PETiTS' Display Case

Jess immediately decided on the Bailey's, and the Eggy was too cute to pass up.  Our final choice was Shaddock.  We didn't know what it was, but it had on a chocolate hat and that sealed the deal.

Back at the Hotel

The sales associate boxed our treats in a fancy box and placed it in a fancy bag with a fancy sticker, but all we wanted to do was rip the whole thing open and dig into the cupcakes.  We rushed back to the hotel and immediately dug in.

Eggy, Shaddock, and Bailey's Mini Cupcakes

Well, once out of the box, they definitely looked better than they tasted.  The cakes of all three were quite dry and the flavors were bland but sweet.  Now I'm sure they didn't bake onsite.

Eggy Mini Cupcake

The Eggy Mini Cupcake, though extremely cute with the sunny side up egg frosting on top, didn't have much flavor.  I assume it's suppose to taste like eggs, but it just tasted like a sweet white cake (not even vanilla) with a marshmallow topping.  There was a custard filling, but it wasn't very creamy.  

Shaddock Mini Cupcake

The Shaddock Mini Cupcake was the best out of all three.  We weren't sure what the flavor was suppose to be.  We just assumed it would be a chocolate cupcake, so we were surprised to find it filled with lemon custard with lemon peels.  It also had the non-flavored cake base as the eggy.  The frosting was marshmallowy (not as sticky as the eggy), which was lighter than buttercream but heavier than meringue, but it complimented the tart custard fairly well.  

Bailey's Mini Cupcake

The Bailey's Mini Cupcake was our least favorite.  It might have something to do with the fact that we thought it was topped with crunchy sugar crystals instead it was gelatin cubes.  We didn't taste any Bailey's and once again it was the plain white cake, but with no custard to cut down the dryness.

All in all we were disappointed with the cupcakes, but then we also didn't let any of it go to waste.  And if I ever get to visit them again, I think I will try their regular size ones and give them one more chance to change my mind.  All those customers couldn't be wrong!

PETiTS by Deschamps
Shop 2004, Level 2, Elements, Union Square,
1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2882 7477

Cabining in Chilliwack

Hello again!  I've been MIA for some time, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart.  The trip was awesome, but I am also so happy to be back.  I ate so much and saw so much.  Between my sis and I, we took over 2000 pictures!  I know 2000!!  I've been trying to upload some of them onto my flickr account for the past week and am still uploading.  So if you have time, check out our pics.

I really want to write about all the yummy and questionable delicacies I've tasted, but I'm still sorting through all the photos and memories.  As soon as that's all done, I promise I'll share with everyone.

In the meantime, D and I went camping this holiday weekend with a few friends.  I've never been camping so I was very excited.  Well, we didn't really go camping, since Chris has a cabin, so it was more like cabin-ing.  

Chipmunk Peninsula

Chris' cabin is right outside of Chilliwack which is about 1 - 1 1/2 hours east of Vancouver.  We arrived Saturday and came home Monday afternoon.  It was a very relaxing weekend with lots of laughter and food.  I baked an apple pie, biscuits, brownies, and my yummy chocolate chip cookies which I made soft and chewy (by accident) by baking at 350 instead of 375. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take photos of the baked goods, but everyone seemed to enjoy them, and I didn't have to bring any leftovers home.

Chipmunk Peninsula

Each morning Chris made us breakfast.  And wow, he can cook.  He even made eggs to order for all six of us!  Beside the eggs, we had hashbrowns, sausages, bacon, toast, homemade strawberry jam (which tasted like fresh strawberries - Chris, I will be needing that recipe), and my biscuits.  Oh, just thinking about it now is making me hungry!

Chilliwack Lake

After breakfast we headed to the beach at Chilliwack Lake.  Okay, it wasn't a beach-beach, but it was as close to one as a lake could get.  The view was right out of a Kokanee or Coor's Light commercial.  It was gorgeous.  The girls laid-out, Joe went to catch us some dinner, and D and Chris just bummed around by getting lost in the forest, almost killing Joe, and tossing the football.  The water was so refreshing and FREEZING.  We found out the lake water is supplied by the melting glaciers on the mountains.  It was like jumping into a big glass of ice water! Every single person out there tried to swim in the lake, but no one lasted for more than 20 seconds.  Your toes would go numb just standing at the edge, but it did feel good in the hot, hot heat.

Joe fishing

We were out there for about 3 hours, none of us girls seemed to see much color, but all three guys have turned brown and red.  Maybe we should have bummed around with them instead.  

Joe wasn't successful in his conquest to catch us dinner.  So to humor him, we accompanied him to Chipmunk Peninsula, where Joe took off on his adventure and the rest of us got eaten alive by flies.  They were every where!  Right away we knew Joe wasn't going to have any luck since we could see the fishes were eating the flies.  But he wasn't going to give up so easily.  After circling the entire lake and with much coaxing from us, he finally returned to shore empty handed.  

Mossy Tree

He was disappointed, and we all had a good laugh.  Luckily we planned ahead and had brought steaks and potatoes for dinner.  Chris slow cooked them on the BBQ, and it was one of the most  tender and best tasting steaks ever!  I will have to try that next time at home.  After dinner Chris started the fire pit and we roasted marshmallows, watched the stars, listened to the sounds of nature, and enjoyed just being good friends hanging out.