Friday, September 26, 2014

Halloween Cupcakes with Vanilla and Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

It's hard to believe that Halloween is just right around the corner. Same time last year, I remember making my first ever cupcake especially for this occasion and although they came out OK, I vowed to do better this year. Besides, one year is more than enough time for me to improve my culinary skills. 

Now I'm not going to lie to you. These cupcakes were sort of an accident. You see, I had originally planned on making them look tres chic and elegant by piping the frosting into a beautiful and perfect rose. Although I've never attempted anything like this before, I thought to myself, "How hard could it be?" Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as I thought!

So I got all my ingredients together, baked them in cute Halloween cupcake liners( which came out perfectly moist and yummy ) and made the two colors of frosting, making sure they were the exact hue I wanted. After carefully shoving the two colors of frosting into my piping bag, I was ready. 

As soon as I started to squeeze, I knew I was in trouble. The frosting didn't seem to come out as smooth as it usually does and knew it was the wrong consistency. Damn! Still I thought it'd be fine. 

Unfortunately I was wrong. After just mere seconds, my piping bag ripped apart, shooting the piping tip outside the kitchen window with a huge amount of weird-colored frosting all over my counter top! I wanted to scream! At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But as those who know me well, I'm not one to give up without a good fight. I also refused to waste good frosting and cake. Butter doesn't come cheap and I hate throwing out good food. Frosting isn't food you say? In this case, we must simply agree to disagree.

So I gathered up whatever frosting I could salvage off my counter top and shoved it all back into a brand new piping bag. But this time, I simply piped the frosting on with a simple swirl design. Nothing fancy, except making sure it's two-toned. 

To compensate for the lack of a wow factor, I stuck on some Halloween toppers I had lying around ( you wouldn't believe what I have lying around all over my tiny apartment!). This added just the right amount of whimsy and what do you know? They didn't turn out as bad as I thought they would!

So without further ado, here's the recipe for some awesome Halloween cupcakes that not only look good, but taste good as well.

Vanilla Cupcakes


2 1/3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners in individual muffin cups or a muffin tray. Grease muffin cups or spray with baking spray.
2. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat the butter with electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar, beating well and occasionally scraping the bowl. Beat until well incorporated.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Add vanilla and mix well.
6. 1/3 at a time, alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the butter/sugar mixture, beating just until blended.
7. Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Two-Toned Frosting


4 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk
orange food coloring
black food coloring


1. Mix half the powdered sugar and half the butter with electric mixer on low speed. Stir in half the vanilla and just a little milk.
2. If it's too thick, add tiny amounts of milk and beat again until the frosting smooth and spreadable.
3. Add orange food coloring and set aside.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining butter and chocolate. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla.
5. Add in a little milk and beat until the frosting is smooth and spreadable, adding more milk to control consistency.
6. To frost the cupcakes, prepare a piping bag fitted with a decorating tip. I used the simplest one with a tube opening.
7. With your spatula, scoop out the black frosting onto just one side of the piping bag, making sure to push it all the way down. Try to keep it just on one side.
8. Next scoop out the orange frosting onto the other side of the piping bag and push it down all the way.
9. Push the frosting to the bottom of the bag. Once you are ready, apply pressure to the piping bag and decorate the cupcakes.
10. Finish the cupcakes off with a decorative cupcake topper if desired.

Helpful Tips

  • I find that piping the cupcakes from the center outwards results in a nicer finish. 
  • Add milk sparingly to adjust the consistency of the frosting. 
  • Use good quality chocolate for the best-tasting cupcakes.
Don't forget to take advantage of all the Halloween-themed accessories you can buy online these days, such as cupcake liners, toppers or even a complete decorating kit. You can also purchase piping bags with tips online, without the hassle of looking for it in stores.

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Halloween Baking Cup Decorating Kit with Sprinkles

What I like about this decorating kit is that it's an all-in-one package. It comes with everything you need to make awesome Halloween cupcakes. It's a quick and easy way to add a wow factor to ho-hum cupcakes. The kit includes:

  • Halloween paper cups
  • Halloween picks for the spider legs
  • Eyeball sprinkles

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Banana Pancakes with Walnuts and Maple Butter Sauce

If you've been reading my blog, I'm pretty sure you know by now how much I am in love with pancakes. It's pretty crazy how obsessed I am with them and because of this ridiculous obsession, I am incredibly nitpicky and critical of pancakes. 

If you love pancakes as much as I do, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I mean think about it for a second. 

To begin with, pancakes have to taste good even in its plain state, completely unadorned. No butter, syrup, nothing. Just on its own they should be light and fluffy, with a slight crispiness to the exterior, but not too crispy. The cooked batter should have hints of salty, sweet and tangy flavor from the buttermilk, but just a teeny-tiny hint of all the above. Too much salt or sugar and even buttermilk can quickly ruin a good pancake.

As I experimented all year long to try and come up with the perfect buttermilk pancakes,  Ive failed miserably more than a dozen times. In fact, I was started to gets extremely frustrated at the six-month mark and came very close to throwing in the towel. 

Fortunately, I kept at it, tweaking my recipe until one day,the perfect pancake was born! I am truly and undeniably satisfied with the results. And yes, I ate a lot of pancakes. And yes, all year long! 

Today I'm sharing with you what I consider to be the ultimate banana pancakes. Truth be told, it took me months to come up with these babies. Now you're probably wondering why it took me so long and I don't blame you. 

Most people would simply cut the bananas into slices and put them on top of the cooked pancakes and that's totally fine. But it wasn't enough to satisfy my banana pancake cravings. They had to look good as well as taste good. When it comes to cooking, I'm anal retentive like that. ;)

Prior to banana pancake perfection, I attempted a number of things. First I simply threw in chopped bananas into the batter which tasted fine. However I found that made this way, certain parts of the pancake turns out mushy and texture-wise, it was iffy. It reminded me of biting into a piece of banana cake that's under-cooked in some parts, which isn't the worse thing in the world, but far from the perfect banana pancake.

I also tried caramelizing the bananas first, but I felt this was just too time-consuming for the average person. In addition to tasting good, the recipe needed to be simple.

So after much deliberation, this is what I did. I decided to place 5 fairly thin banana slices directly onto the pancakes while the first side was being cooked on the griddle. Once the first side was done ( about 3 minutes ), I flipped it over to cook the other side ( another 2-3 minutes ) with the bananas, slightly caramelizing them in the process.

I also thought of combining the melted butter, maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon, creating a fabulous sauce to pour over the pancakes. This eliminates the need to slather on extra butter at the end. Plus the cinnamon adds extra oomph and compliments the banana flavor.

Once they are done, a dusting of powdered sugar and walnuts pieces finish off the dish. Once this is done, all you need to do is pour the maple butter over the top and dig in! 

This recipe is 99% fail-proof and I can almost guarantee it. I had a friend come over to try and replicate these pancakes and just as I predicted, they turned out fantastic. I'm also using milk and lemon juice to substitute for buttermilk as it's virtually unheard of here in Japan. 

For moist and fluffy pancakes, be careful not to over-mix the batter. Resting the batter in the refrigerator will also help increase the fluffy factor.

If you want, you can prepare the buttermilk and pancake mix the night before, saving you time in the morning.

Banana Pancakes with Walnuts and Maple Butter Sauce


Makes 2 servings

Pancake Batter:

150 grams ( just a little over 1 cup ) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
150 cc ( 2/3 cup ) milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg

2 small to medium-sized bananas
6 pieces walnuts

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Powdered sugar

Maple Butter:

3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter, melted


1. Add milk and lemon juice into a small bowl. Mix well. Put in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. 30 minutes or overnight is better.
2.  Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl. Mix with a whisk to combine dry ingredients well.
3. Add milk/lemon mixture and egg into flour mixture. Mix with a whisk until ingredients are combined. Do not overmix. 
4. Add melted butter to the mixture and mix until just incorporated into the batter.
5. Cover the bowl of batter and place in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. Whisk well to combine and set aside. 
7. Slice the bananas.
8. Put plates in warm oven. Heat the griddle to 180 C. 
9. Pour batter onto griddle using a ladle. 
10. Place banana slices right on top of pancakes on the griddle. Reserve a few slices for topping the pancakes. 
11. Once small bubbles start to form on the batter and edges become slightly dry ( about 3 minutes ), flip over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. 
12. Place cooked pancakes on warmed plates.
13. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, banana slices and walnuts.
14. Pour maple butter over the pancakes and eat.

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Organic Maple Syrup from Coombs Family Farm

In my opinion, pancakes must be eaten with real maple syrup. Pancake syrup cannot be substituted for the real thing and this is crucial to the perfect pancake experience. After many taste testing, this was probably my favorite.

100% pure and organic, this grade B maple syrup from Coombs Family Farms has no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes and comes bottled in a BPA Free plastic jug.

If you're making all that effort to make the perfect pancakes, why spoil it with a mediocre syrup? You wouldn't do that would you? Nah, I didn't think so. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Tour of Lion Coffee

Have you ever been on a tour of a coffee factory? Neither have I until one sunny afternoon on my most recent visit to the beautiful island of Oahu. And although I've lived here for half my life, I never knew a tour of Hawaii's famous Lion Coffee even existed until I read about it in a guide book I was browsing through in Japan.

As I've always been a huge fan of Kona Coffee, this was a great opportunity to learn something about my favorite coffee brand, as well as what goes on behind the scenes.

On this day, my sister was kind enough to drive us here and as it was her first time as well, she was looking forward to this just as much as I was. After a couple of drives around this primarily industrial area, we finally catch sight of the Lion Coffee sign.

From the outside, it doesn't look like much and it feels as though you aren't really supposed to be there. However once you enter the place, you're immediately greeted by shelves of Lion's offerings, including their signature coffee blends, 100% Kona Coffee as well as their Hawaiian Islands tea selections.

The interior was much more welcoming than the outside, and a rustic sofa in the corner added to the warmth of the place. A cafe serving coffees, teas and snacks was also located on the premises.

Tours are held three times daily ( 1 PM for Japanese and English tours ) and reservations aren't necessary unless you come with a large group. We signed up for the 1:00 PM tour and after 10 minutes of browsing through the store selection, it was time for our tour to begin. 

The first part of the tour is a  history lesson on how the company got started. It was interesting to learn that Lion Coffee is America's oldest major coffee company and was actually born not in Hawaii, but in Toledo, Ohio in 1864. It was in the year 1979, that they decided to relocate to Hawaii to focus on American coffee beans. 

After the brief history lesson, we continue on  to see how the coffee is actually made. The first room contains huge bags of coffee beans getting ready for the next step. Unfortunately I can't recall what these bags actually do. They smelled really good though.

Here is where the coffee beans are being roasted. You could really feel the heat from these roasters but the heavenly aroma wafting through the air was worth it. 

I don't know about you, but this was my first time eating a freshly roasted coffee bean. How did it taste you ask? Well, it was sort of bitter, but had a pleasant nutty flavor and tasted like coffee. 

Lion Coffee is known throughout the world for their flavored coffees. This is where we find out exactly what they use to flavor the them beans. Reading off the names of the various flavors made my mouth water as I envisioned these Hawaiian flavors in desserts.

Serious what do you think? Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Vanilla Macadamia, Toasted Coconut...don't they just bring you visions of sweet and heavenly delight? No? Well I guess that's just me then. Moving on. :)

As we continued on with the tour, I was surprised to find out that they made teas as well. Hawaiian Island Teas have always been one of my favorite brands and it's common knowledge that I keep an ample supply at home at all times of the year. But what I didn't know what that they were made right here at Lion Coffee. Never knew that and never would have guessed it. 

You see, as much as I love coffee I no longer drink much of it. Drinking coffee gives me heart palpitations, so I switched to teas some time ago. I know there's caffeine in most teas, however for some reason, teas don't affect me the way coffee does. Strange isn't it? 

Anyway, getting back to the subject of their Hawaiian Island Teas, they are separated into three categories, Tropical Black Tea, Green Tea and Rooibos Tea. 

The black teas come in a variety of tempting flavors such as Maui Mango, Passion Fruit Na Pali and Strawberry Lychee. My personal favorite is the Guava Ginseng Green Tea, which is delightful with a spoonful of honey in it. It's seriously one of the best teas out there. 

Here's the machine that cranks out the packaging for the various coffees. It's pretty mesmerizing to see it in action and one could probably start at it for days without getting bored. ;)

At this point, we are each given a small bag of coffee and a box of tropical tea ( Lilikoi flavor ) to take home. Yay! I love unexpected surprises like this and although the tour is free of charge, it was nice of them to give us samples. 

Like it sign says, Kona coffee is rare and expensive as it is grown in only one place in the entire world. If you've never had Kona coffee before, I urge you to try it to see how good it is for yourself. No other coffee compares or even comes close to the balance and smoothness of Kona. 

At the end of the tour, we were all invited to sample some of the varieties of their amazing coffees! Obviously our tour guide needed to prepare for his next tour group coming in so we hurriedly thanked our very enthusiastic tour guide and decided it was time to let him go.

If you are a coffee lover or want a change of pace from beaches and surf, the Lion Coffee Factory is a great way to spend a couple of hours learning about one of the best coffees in the world.

Check out this overview of the Lion Coffee Tour on YouTube.

Essential Information

Lion Coffee
Lion Coffee Tours
Purchase Lion Coffee Online
Purchase Hawaiian Island Teas Online

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Are you a fan of Kona coffee? What's your favorite coffee? Or do you prefer tea? Don't forget to let me know you visited. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Matcha Cupcakes + Lemon Buttercream = Absolute Bliss

Ever since I've been on a mission to eat healthier, I started to cut out many bad habits from my daily life. Drinking soda ( diet or regular ), McDonald's and staying up until 5 AM. Yes I lived with insomnia for the longest time and cutting out my morning coffee helped big time! 

I also decided to decrease my intake of things like white flour, white rice and other simple carbs to a bare minimum. Not only do these things help me keep my weight in check, they also make me feel better. 

Still as most of my friends know, I love food and sweets are one thing that I cannot and will not give up. Ever! And I'm serious about this! Period!!! So while it's true that I never skip desserts, I got into the habit of making them myself. 

The great thing about cooking is that you know exactly what goes into your mouth. It's all about control and as long as you know what you're doing, you should be OK. As far as I'm concerned, an occasional trip to Magnolia Bakery is not going to kill you. 

Green tea has been touted for its incredible health benefits for many years now, but the Japanese have been drinking tea for centuries. Not only is it an incredibly refreshing drink, Matcha ( powdered green tea ) is also used as an ingredient in cooking. 

For example, high-end tempura restaurants in Japan will usually have a salt-and-matcha mixture to dip the tempura into. However my favorite way of consuming Matcha is in the form of sweet and yummilicious desserts. 

Earlier this year, I became obsessed ( as I tend to do with things I love ), with cupcakes and started baking my own on a regular basis. Actually, I take that back. My obsession with cupcakes more probably started earlier, perhaps sometime around the summer of 2009 on a trip to Los Angeles. I had the most life-changing red velvet cupcake there and ever since, I've been a cupcake lover. 

So one day, I decided to combine the two into one fabulous dessert. 

As everybody who bakes knows, getting a cupcake perfect is not always easy, especially when experimenting with new flavors. In fact, I had to tweak this recipe three times before I landed on the precise formula for perfect matcha cupcakes.

On my first try, I made the mistake of using the cheapest brand I could find at the local supermarket. The result was a batch of tasteless cupcakes that looked better than they tasted. What did I do with them you ask? They went straight into the bin.

On my second try, they turned out better. However I wasn't completely satisfied with the combination of matcha cake and matcha frosting. It was simply too much matcha. Green tea overkill! Straight-forward green tea taste with no hidden agenda. Boring!

On my third try, I finally got it right! I decided to combine the tartness of lemon to balance out the earthy flavor of the Matcha powder as well as to counteract the sweetness of the frosting. A final sprinkling of Matcha powder and fresh lemon zest on the top completed my masterpiece. 

I probably could have eaten the entire batch of 24 cupcakes myself, but I'm not crazy enough to let myself die from cupcake overload. Instead, I sent a dozen of them away to friends after a successful albeit drunk dinner party at home. 

What did I do with the other dozen? Honestly? It's hard to admit here after all that talk about healthy eating habits, but I devoured them all by myself in two days. Yes, I am a glutton but when it comes to cupcakes this good, I simply don't care!

Matcha Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting


Matcha Cupcakes:
2 1/3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons Matcha powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk

Lemon Frosting: 
6 cups confectioner's sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons milk as needed

lemon zest
matcha powder


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pans with baking cups. 
2. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and matcha. Set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, beat butter until smooth.
4. Gradually add granulated sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time. Beat for 2 more minutes. 
5. Add the eggs into the butter mixture and mix until smooth.
6. Add the flour mixture and milk 1/3 at a time, beating each time until just blended. 
7. Fill each baking cup 2/3 full.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
9. Cool the cupcakes completely. 
10. To make the frosting, mix the confectioner's sugar and butter with electric mixer or spoon in a large bowl. 
11. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest.

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Using the best-quality matcha is crucial for best-tasting results. Some of the best green teas come from the Uji region of Kyoto, Japan. Using only the best parts of the tea leaf, teas from this region impart superior flavor and is high in antioxidants.