({SF} TCHO and Chocolate Mint Filled Cupcakes

March 16th, 2011 · 14 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes, San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots

Chocolate Mint Filled Cupcakes on dessertfirstgirl.com

Pardon the slightly disjointed nature of this post; it was meant to be report on my TCHO factory experience that evolved into a St. Patrick’s Day recipe that now includes a mention of Japan.


Apologies, but I couldn’t not mention that I fell in love with Japan long before I visited it for the first time, and I love it more with every subsequent visit. Their refined aesthetic that is visible is everything from their bridge design to their bento packaging; their concepts of wabi-sabi and mono no aware that appeals to my introvert’s, observer personality; the spare beauty of the countryside (captured in one of my favorite movies ever, Totoro), gives Japan a special place in my heart. It was hard to think about regular life, much less blogging, when seeing the awful images of devastation everywhere.



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{SF} A Foodie Weekend in Three Acts

October 14th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Events, San Francisco, SF Events

Act I. “Pour Yourself a Stiff Drink, There’s a Lot More to Come.”

The kickoff party for Scharffen Berger’s annual Chocolate Adventure Contest has become an Orson tradition. Exotic drinks, whimsical nibbles, and a whole lot of chocolate cupcakes. The theme this year for the Chocolate Adventure Contest is cupcakes – devise a cupcake made with one or as many of the 14 “adventure ingredients”, including beets, adzuki beans, stout beer, and bee pollen. Elizabeth Falkner, one of the judges, led the way with a bartop full of cupcakes.



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Goji Berries, or, Mothers Really Do Know Best

March 2nd, 2007 · 29 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Fruit, Personal, Recipes

Goji Berry and Chocolate Cupcakes

One of the hot new health foods right now is the goji berry, which looks like a brighter, ovalish cousin of the cranberry and is touted as a “superfruit” for containing a pharmacy’s worth of antioxidants and vitamins in one tart little package. I first saw goji berries mentioned on Vosges’ new Goji Bar, which, by the way, is delightful – a not-too-bitter bar of chocolate embedded with chewy bits of berries and a flecked with Himalayan pink salt, giving it just the right addictive tang. Intrigued by this goji berry, I looked around to see dried goji berries being sold at health food stores for breath-catching prices, along with goji powder, goji juice, and goji health bars – clearly the fad was in full swing.

However, I then read that the goji berry was called qi zi in Chinese, which sparked my memory – I had heard this name before. Had I maybe seen this little fruit before in my childhood, in my mom’s kitchen, as she made soups and tonics from the mysterious contents of packages she brought back from Chinatown? I called my mom in Hong Kong.

“Mom, do you know what goji berries are?”

“Goji berries? What are you talking about?”

“You know, those little dried red berry things that are supposed to be really good for you?”

“You mean qi zi? I put that in the abalone soup, but you always left the berries at the bottom. I also made that tea with it that’s really good for restoring nutrients to your body, but you would always say it tasted bad and refuse to drink it.”

“Oh…” silence as I realize how foolish I was to not recognize my mother’s wisdom and her ability to be far ahead of any health-food-fad curve.

“You know, I still have a bunch of them at home. You can get them at any Chinese grocery if you want.”

So this magical new superberry, which is supposedly found only in the Tibetan Himalayas and just discovered to have all these healthful properties, has long been used all over Asia and could be purchased in Chinatown just a few blocks from my place, for less than a tenth of what the health-food stores were charging!

Most of the commercial crop of goji berries, or wolfberries, as they as also called, come from the Ningxia region of China. There are currently many claims floating around the internet that the goji berries from Tibet are of a different species, are grown differently, processed differently – pretty much all arguments by the suppliers that only their product contains those all-important antioxidants and nutrients and you shouldn’t accept any common substitutes.

I am not pretending to be an expert on goji berries or to have investigated all these sites, nor do I wish to get involved in any debates about the differences between various strains of goji berries, but I do know that goji berries have long been renowned in China for their healthful benefits, and have many uses in Chinese medicine – for example, that tea my mom would make every month for me actually was a tonic brewed from several ingredients, goji berries among them, and was meant to help balance the female system after each monthly cycle. And it wasn’t the goji berries that made it taste bad, it was another herb called dong quai!

Goji berries themselves taste like a cross between a cranberry and a raisin, more on the tart than the sweet side, with an herbal undertone. They are always found dried, and will vary from raisin-soft to quite hard. Unless you are planning on eating them out of hand, their hardness should not concern you; when soaked in water the berries will plump up and become quite soft. I have seen packages of goji berries all over Chinatown and in large Asian groceries; they can be tricky to locate if you don’t read Chinese as they are not always called “goji berries”; sometimes they are labeled as wolfberries, or the curious name “Medlar”, or even by their scientific name, Lycium barbarum.

There are some caveats to purchasing them – sometimes processors will add sulfites to the berries to increase the vibrancy of their red color. If possible, try to buy them where they are stored in an open bin so you can inspect them more closely.

I found another riff on the theme of goji berries and pink salt on Chockylit’s wonderful blog Cupcake Bakeshop – a goji berry-studded cupcake topped with a swirl of chocolate ganache and a sprinkling of salt. There is again the lovely interplay between rich chocolate, tart berries, and the crunch of salt. I am particularly enamored of the Himalayan salt because of its infinite variations of pink among its crystals(so pretty and springlike!) but be warned that because of the crystal size it does have a robust, intense flavor – I found the amount of salt indicated for the ganache was a bit much for me, especially if you sprinkle more salt on top of the cupcakes – you may want to err on the lighter-handed side and add more salt to taste.

I’d like to offer one of these cupcakes to my mom and tell her thank you for looking after my health, even when I didn’t realize or appreciate it. I’m realizing I don’t need to fall for the latest food fad or trendy superfood – my mom always knew best all along.

Goji Berry and Chocolate Cupcakes

Goji Berry Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Himalayan Pink Salt

makes about 30 cupcakes
  • adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces (340 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 g) sugar
  • 8 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (156 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (22 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 3/4 cup goji berries, chopped

Chocolate Frosting

  • 5 ounces (142 g) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces (57 g) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/4 cup (61 g) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
  • Place chocolate in a metal bowl. Add butter to the chocolate and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until chocolate melts and butter is combined.
  • Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into bowl of stand mixer and beat for 3 minutes.
  • Add one egg at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each one.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl. Add to the mixture and beat until blended.
  • Stir in the goji berries. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

For the ganache:

  • Place chocolates into a heatproof metal bowl.
  • Heat cream in a small saucepan on the stove until bubbles form around the edges. Pour cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined.
  • Add butter to the chocolate a few pieces at a time and stir until everything is melted and combined. If the mixture won't melt completely, place over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until it is melted.
  • Whisk together sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla in another bowl until combined. Pour the sugar mixture onto the chocolate mixture and stir until combined and smooth. Let sit at room temperature until thickened, stirring occasionally.
  • Beat in a stand mixer until fluffy.
  • To assemble the cupcakes, pipe the ganache onto the top of the cupcakes, then sprinkle (sparingly) with the pink salt.


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Cupcakes of Love (Sugar High Friday 23)

September 18th, 2006 · 28 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes

edited on 9/19/06: added the SHF links.


I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. As a child, I was the one with her head buried in books, lost in faraway countries and fantastical adventures, or scribbling in her notebook, making up her own stories of imaginary places. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with real life; it was that I always thought it would get more interesting over the horizon, in some hazily imagined future where I was grown up and smart and knew the answers and everything would be happily ever after.

As I grew older, I kept looking to that ever-elusive horizon, waiting for that future to arrive . When would my happily ever after get here? It certainly couldn’t be now, when I was still so naive and confused and making mistakes. I couldn’t be when I wasn’t able to answer questions as seemingly simple as "what do I want to do with my life?" or "where in the world do I want to live?" or even that most awful of questions, "why can’t I find a decent guy?" Surely, when I had everything figured out, life would be as it should be: After bringing about world peace, I would be living in a fabulous house with a fabulous guy, traveling the world eating great food, and always have perfect hair.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, and I’m standing in the kitchen cooking dinner with my boyfriend on a lazy late Sunday afternoon. The San Francisco fog hasn’t quite reached his apartment yet, so it’s still warm and sunny. From his window you can see past Coit Tower all the way to the bay, spread with its usual lacework of slim white sails. We are talking about the American dream of the house in the suburbs, the children in the yard, and why this represents the ultimate goal for so many.

And then I said, it’s not that it’s wrong to want such a goal, it’s just that what would happen once you reached it? What if we were in that house one day, with the kids and the dog and the multiple cars in the garage? Don’t you think that once we were there, we would look back on the days when we were young and poor and could only afford tiny apartments in the city, and we would try to budget out how many restaurants we could go to every month, and then argue about which ones to go to, and how we’d stay up really late watching TV even though we knew we’d pay for it the next morning, or how I really hated the hills around your place, but grew to begrudgingly accept them because they gave me a really good workout, especially when I could only find a parking spot at the very top of the hill, or how you had your totally rockin’ band and I would go to your gigs and then try to think up lame names for your next songs, or how we would stand on your balcony after dinner, drinking wine and looking at the sunset over the bay?

But all this is now, I said, this is us, and I can’t think of anything better than knowing how wonderful your life is at this moment, there’s no need to wait for the future to arrive, and how horrible is it when you can’t take a moment to realize and appreciate that?

And he smiled and said he was glad I felt the same way.


These cupcakes were born of serendipity in my pastry school days, when I would go through my refrigerator and find containers full of leftover pastry cream, tart dough, and other things from class that I was sure I could find a use for. I had some hazelnut mousseline left over from a cake, some coffee buttercream from an opera cake, and decided on the spur of the moment to combine the two into a decadent cupcake. The result has become a favorite of my boyfriend, which is why they are called Cupcakes of Love, and a reminder of the unexpected happiness you can find when you appreciate the good things you’ve already got.

edited to add: This is also, of course, my entry for Sugar High Friday #23, hosted by the fantastic Alanna at A Veggie Venture. The crown of coffee buttercream hides a creamy center of hazelnut mousseline inside the chocolate cupcake. I love the mousseline – it’s smooth, creamy, richly nutty, and makes a nice counterpoint to the rich, dense chocolate cake. It also complements the coffee notes in the buttercream surprisingly well, creating medley of very adult flavors in a decadent little package.


Cupcakes of Love

Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 12 regular cupcakes

1 stick butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers, or you can also butter and flour them.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Beat butter and sugar together in a mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add in the vanilla. Add in the melted chocolate and mix until combined.

Add in the sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternating in 3 additions, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until a tester inserted into the cupcake comes out clean and the tops feel firm. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Hazelnut Mousseline

makes about 1 1/2 cups

4 1/2 ounces butter, room temperature

3 ounces hazelnuts, finely ground

3 ounces confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon Frangelico

1 cup pastry cream

Pastry cream:

makes 1 cup

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons sugar

3 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the pastry cream, heat 3/4 cup of the milk and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear along the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining milk and cornstarch, then add to the egg yolks.

Pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens. Whisk in the vanilla.

Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Let it cool to room temperature for the mousseline recipe, or you can cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To make the mousseline, cream the butter in a mixer until very soft and creamy. It is important the the butter is at room temperature for this recipe.

Add in the hazelnuts and confectioner’s sugar and combine, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Add the Frangelico.

Add the pastry cream and combine at medium speed until light and creamy.

Coffee Buttercream

makes about 3 cups

1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

5 egg y olks

1 tablespoon granulated coffee flavoring

The butter should be very soft but not melting for this recipe.

Heat the milk and coffee flavoring and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar in the mixer bowl with the whisk attachment until pale and thick (ribbon stage). Reduce speed to low and pour in the hot milk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan.

Cook the mixture in the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it registers 170 degrees on a thermometer. Pour the mixture into a clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk on medium until cool, about 5 -10 minutes. Add in the butter in 4 additions, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding another.

The buttercream can be used immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you store it in the refrigerator, let it soften first and whisk by hand or in the mixer to bring back to proper consistency.

To assemble: cut the centers out of the cupcakes and fill with the hazelnut mousseline. Using a pastry bag and a star tip, pipe the coffee buttercream over the tops of the cupcakes.

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