Earth Day Cupcakes

This past Thursday had me running around the flower market to prepare for a decorative arts exhibition at Sotheby’s; I was assisting with the styling.  If you haven’t been to New York’s flower district, let me paint a mental picture for you.  The sidewalks are crowded with little pots of blooms, succulents, and wayward branches, all jostling for room.  They seem to be crowding toward the edges of the sidewalk for the most coveted spots, away from the foot traffic of people on their beeline to work.

I love navigating this urban forest.  Another styling assistant friend shared that jobs at studios located in the flower district were a hassle, because it’s hard to wheel the grocery cart through the organic sprawl.  Yeah… I’m pretty sure my wide-eyed flower enthusiasm will wear off pretty quickly, but for now, I’m still enchanted.

So, surrounded by endless flora, it’s safe to say that I have spring and nature on my mind, just in time for Earth Day on Saturday!  In the next few weeks I’d like to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s cherry blossom festival, and hop aboard New York’s floating garden (which happens to host pop-up events, FYI!).  Be sure to carve out some time to experience and lobby for the photosynthesizers in your life.

Here are some Earth Day Cupcakes, complete with tiny chocolate mushrooms!  The mushroom-shaped chocolate-biscuit combos are one of my favorite Japanese cookies.  There are also bamboo shoot shaped cookies if you want to go really wild for the holiday.  Chocolate tree stumps exist as well, but I suggest saving those for a different day, they might send the wrong message on Earth Day…

These mini cupcakes are matcha flavored and topped with luscious chocolate buttercream.  A sprinkling of matcha dust on top of each cupcake gives the illusion of moss growing on some undergrowth.  Happy Earth Day!

Piñata Cupcakes

My loathings are simple. stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting. -Vladimir Nabokov

Whenever I encounter a butterfly, my mind is immediately flooded with thoughts of the author Vladimir Nabokov.  While he is most famous for Lolita, I prefer his other works, especially Speak, Memory, where the author’s personal character is more transparent.  While Nabokov’s memoir may be embellished upon, one thing remains true, that man loved his butterflies.  Anecdotes displaying his love for them flap playfully in and out of his flowery paragraphs.  It fascinates me how different artistic pursuits and hobbies can be in dialogue with each other within the same person.  Go read some Nabokov and let’s talk!

Recently I visited the butterfly conservatory inside of the American Museum of Natural History.  It’s pretty clear that I needed every reminder of warm weather that I could get.  Surrounded by floating flashes of color and clouds of air so humid that you could almost faint, it was a brief respite from the melting-but-cold world outside.

Now that 50 and 60 degree temperatures are finally here, it’s time to celebrate.  In honor of spring weather (which is full of surprises), I made piñata cupcakes with butterfly sprinkles.  When you bite into the cupcake, the secret sprinkles come pouring out.

These cupcakes are yuzu flavored.  Yuzu is a Japanese fruit with an invigorating citrus sweetness.  The cupcakes are also topped with yuzu buttercream.  They must be pretty good, because my roommate’s cat stole an entire cupcake from my table and ran off with it… that’s a first!

Scroll down for the recipe!

Yuzu Piñata Cupcakes

Makes about a dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup yuzu juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 eggs at room temperature

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine white chocolate chips, almond milk, butter, and yuzu juice over a double boiler, until melted.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In an electric mixer, use a paddle attachment to beat the chocolate mixture together with the confectioners’ sugar.  Add eggs one at a time.
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients until well incorporated.
  6. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Let cupcakes cool before using a cupcake corer or a sharp spoon to carve out the center of each cupcake.

Yuzu Buttercream

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon yuzu juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • yellow food coloring, if desired

Instructions:

  1. Beat butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually incorporate the confectioners’ sugar.
  3. Beat in yuzu juice and vanilla extract.
  4. If desired, add lemon zest and yellow food coloring.

To assemble:  After the cupcakes have cooled and you have removed the cores, fill with desired sprinkles.  Top with frosting to hide the secret interior.  Pro top: for the full piñata effect, use little Pocky cookies as mini baseball bats.  Blindfold and enjoy!