Sweet Autumn- Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

It is that time of the year. The parasols have been shelved away, so are the sunscreens. It is the season of heeled boots, coats and scarves in plaid. The fluttering leaves of autumn scatter about the sidewalks as if after a long, desperate wait. And, our puppy Elaichi,  chases them like he does innocent sparrows in flight. But, it’s not just the romance manifested by the weather Gods. It’s also the food. The warm wafts of cinnamon and ginger, the velvety plush of a pumpkin pie, the heavily studded apple trees and the limitless cups of Pumpkin Spice Lattes.


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Today I want to share with you a sweeter, indulgent version of this autumn favorite: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes. Just to clarify, pumpkin spice does not contain any pumpkin, nor do these cupcakes. Pumpkin spice blend is a magical coming together of warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. While lattes take precedence in our home, the spice can be used for a variety of dishes and desserts.
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These eggless cupcakes & its buttercream are brewed with the richness of all these spices but to compliment it all there is a luscious coffee caramel filling that makes it a complete dessert experience. Just for fun, I made leaves using fondant & gumpaste, then painted them with warm hues to resemble autumn foliage and use as toppers for these seasonal delights. Hope you like and one & embrace it this season and after.

RECIPE FOR EGGFREE PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE CUPCAKES
Makes 12

INGREDIENTS
For the cupcakes-
1.5 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Pumpkin Spice(Recipe in notes*)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
6 tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup buttermilk( made by adding 1 tsp of edible vinegar to 1 cup of milk)
2 tbsp instant coffee decoction

For the Coffee Caramel
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp Water
1/2 cup whipping cream/heavy cream
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
2 tbsp instant coffee granules

For the Pumpkin Spice Buttercream
1 cup Unsalted butter, softened at Room temperature
4-5 tsp heavy cream/milk
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp vanilla essence
3.5 to 4 cups icing sugar

METHOD

1) First things first, the Coffee Caramel.
We are essentially making regular caramel and infusing it with coffee.
To begin, place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan,  pour water on top and cover with a lid. Stove on medium heat.
Meanwhile, place the cold and cubed butter in a heatproof bowl and place a sieve in it. Microwave the heavy cream for a full minute or until bubbling. Carefully take the cream out(it will the hot) and mix it with the instant coffee granules. Keep the butter and this coffee cream close.
Once you hear the sugar mixture boiling, remove the lid. If sugar is crystallizing on the sides,use a pastry brush dipped in water to gently wash it down.
Keep watching the sugar and once in turns amber in once area, stir it around gently but quickly until the entire mixture is amber coloured. Put off the stove.
Very slowly and carefully, add the hot cream into the caramel, it will bubble boisterously, stir with a wooden spoon.
Then, sieve this mixture onto the cold butter and just set it aside to melt for about 5 minutes.
Finally, gently stir and cool completely.
Store in an air tight jar

2) To make the Pumpkin Spice Cupcake
First, we make the Pumpkin Spice by mixing all the ingredients listed above in a little bowl. (The remaining spice mix can be stored and sprinkled on a cup of coffee to make winter nights warm and cosy).
For the cupcakes-
Pre heat your oven to 350 F and line the cupcake pan with cupcake liners
Prepare your coffee decoction by heating water and adding instant coffee. Keep aside.
Next, measure a cup of milk and to that, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar and allow it to curdle and form buttermilk.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: All purpose flour, pumpkin spice, baking soda and sugar.
Add to the dry ingredients- oil, vanilla essence and buttermilk. Mix gently ensuring there are no lumps. Stir in the coffee.
Fill the cupcake liners with your batter(2/3rd of the liner) and bake for 20-35 min OR until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let them cool completely on a wire rack.

3) To make the buttercream
It is important that the butter is softened at room temperature. Place on your counter to let it soften.(I usually leave it overnight)
Once softened, place in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer along with milk/cream, pumpkin spice and vanilla essence. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter for a about 2 min on medium high speed until fluffy.
Add the icing sugar in parts and keep beating for about 4-5 minutes until the buttercream is soft and creamy.
-If the buttercream is too thick to handle, add heavy cream/milk. If it is too loose, add icing sugar.

To assemble the cupcake
Make a hole in the center of your cupcake using the back end of your piping tip or even just a knife, around 1/2 and inch diameter.
Fill the cupcake with the cooled coffee caramel.
Pipe the buttercream on top using a piping bag attached to a large size round tip

*Note- Pumpkin Spice recipe
4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix the above and store in an air-tight jar.

Masala Chai Cupcakes, served with a bout of nostalgia…

Let’s take a break from the Italian adventures. I promise not for long. Today, I invite you on a different kind of journey, a trip down memory lane, as I dive deep into the depths of many memories back home. Come, travel with me as I make short stops and immerse in chunks of my past…

♦While the smoldering sun seeped through iron-grilled window panes, the kitchen is ridden with the rattle of pots & pans and infused & bursting with the scent of aromatic spices. It’s 4 pm & amma needs her usual cup of Chai. Dried tea leaves are brewed in hot water & enriched with Ginger, Cardamom, Tulasi, Star Anise & Cloves. The heat leaches out all the goodness in these spices & although subtle they wind up revamping it into royalty.Then comes the milk that our milk-man has delivered fresh in the morning. Boiled again for good measure, strained and served. But for her, Masala Chai is more than just tea-time. It’s a time to immerse in herself, albeit for a few minutes. A time to wash away monotonous responsibilities( although I highly doubt a mother’s heart lends her permission to do that), a time to submerge in calm & forget the challenges of life or at the least keep them aside for a short while. I like to think it’s a rudimentary nectar she takes assistance from to keep herself sane from the obligations & madness that perpetually surround her.

♦Maybe I should share with you my earliest memory of drinking Chai. It was the time when I metamorphosised into a night owl owing to the pressures of student life. Yes, dentistry changed me plenty and that can occupy a whole new blogpost in itself but gulping cups of warm milk-tea was a routine confined only to certain nightmares called internals. I say “drinking” because it was certainly not something I relished. Never an indulgence, just an infaliable drug that I yielded to in order to pull an all nighter.

♦Like my father, I have failed to fantasize tea in this form, unable to dwell in it’s glories & rhapsodize it’s greatness. However, I still label myself a teophile because I happen to admire it in it’s simplest attire. Black or green with a squeeze of lemon or orange. Maybe some mint, seldom a shred of chocolate or ginger! The husband unlike me is enraptured by the kick, power & sweetness of Masala Chai. He is beyond devoted. Those rare days when my parents visited us, mother & son-in-law were able to toss out awkward formalities, all over a warm cup of Masala Chai.

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My tea collection at home

♦I realise I still haven’t made a mention of the 6 foot, 22 year old baby we had with us over weekends while in Bangalore, my youngest brother. He like my mother considers this drink an essential, a staple. I remember nudging him to get to his books whilst tempting with a cup of Chocolate Chai. Worked like a charm, every time.
His passion extends beyond the seclusion of home. Like when he excitedly told us about bustling mornings in Old Hyderabad where he woke up to Chai, Bun & Osmania biscuits. Or when he suggested I try an Iced Chai Spice Latte with condensed milk & whole spices after religiously learning it from a You Tube video.

While I sing songs of nostalgia, I hate to admit that I’m still learning & compelling my tastebuds to render itself to it’s grandeur. Let me clarify, that doesn’t mean I lack appreciation. I do and a special one at that when the Rain Gods pay a visit! Despite the little detests, I am thankful & Masala Chai has invariably become a big part of my life. This recipe is an homage to this warm beverage, an attempt to fall in love with the magic it exudes. Because we all know, if there’s one drink that stands in equal might with Filter Kaapi, it’s this!

My Masala Chai Cupcakes are dedicated to people like me who prefer desserts to pretty much anything else. To people like me who don’t particularly love Chai but are open to similar flavour profiles.
To the ones who’ve already proclaimed their love for Masala Chai because every bite of this rich cupcake is synonymous with a sweet, fragrant sip of warmth. 
And lastly to the brave ones who are willing to experiment & surrender to something new.
Whoever you are and whatever category you find yourself in, I urge you to try these cupcakes, you will not be disappointed.
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As always these cupcakes are egg free, and suffused with freshly ground lavanga (cloves), elaichi (cardamom), Chakra Moggu (Star anise) & freshly grated ginger. They remain the true stars of this show. As the mortar & pestle did their bit, it was almost calming to drink in whiffs of these magical spices and not to forget, redolent of many special times.Tea decoction is added in good measure as well and topped with a generous amount of Chai infused buttercream.
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RECIPE FOR EGGLESS MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES (Makes 6)

INGREDIENTS
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES:
3/4th  cup All Purpose Flour + 1 tbsp

1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/2  tsp Baking Soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup milk + 1 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk
2-3 tbsp of Tea Decoction ( I used Tetley tea bags.)
1.5 tsp of Chai Spice- 

2 cloves
4-5 Elaichi/Green Cardamom pods
2-3 small pods of Star Anise

1- tsp of Fresh grated Ginger
1/4 tsp of powdered Ginger

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cup of Icing sugar
4 tsp of heavy cream/milk
A pinch of salt
1- 1.5 tsp of Chai Spice

Others:
Crumbled cookies or biscuits

METHOD:
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES
◊ Make the Chai Spice by grinding Cardamom, Cloves, Star Anise. Add powdered ginger as well.
◊ Preheat oven to 350 F and place cupcake liners in the tray.
◊Make Tea Decoction by boiling 1/4 cup of water and immersing 2 tea bags. Allow it to brew.
I used Tetley bags but tea leaves can be used too. The Cardamom peel can be added to this decoction as it brews.

◊Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl .(All purpose flour, Granulated Sugar, Baking Soda, Chai Spice)
◊Incorporate the wet ingredients-Oil, White vinegar & Grated ginger
◊Make buttermilk by incorporating 1 tsp white vinegar into 1/2 cup milk. Add this to the remaining ingredients. Whisk well to ensure there are no lumps.
◊ Add 2 tbsp of tea decoction and stir it into the batter.
◊ Next, taste! And I consider this the most important step because if the batter needs any extra spice or tea, then it’s important to add it at this point. The batter should taste like Masala chai

◊ Bake for 17-22 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
◊ Cool completely.

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM
◊ Beat softened butter and heavy cream for a minute until creamy.
◊ Add the icing sugar in parts and beat well.
◊ Incorporate the Chai Spice according to taste. I added a teaspoon.

TO ASSEMBLE-
Frost the completely cooled cupcakes with the Chai Spice Buttercream and top with a dollop (or more!).
Crumble Almond Biscotti or any cookie/rusk on top.
NOTE:
1) Don’t restrict yourself to just these ingredients. Cinnamon, Tulasi etc can be added too. Experiment with individual proportions as well.

2)The quantity of chai spice in the cupcakes & the buttercream can be varied depending on your taste buds.
3) If you’re curious about the flower deco – It’s a buttercream blossom made using Wilton tip #104
4) I apologize for this very , very long post!

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Ode to an Indian Summer – Wholewheat Eggless Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard & Shrikhand Frosting

I read somewhere that..”An empty stomach and a full mind do not let you sleep” or in the likes of it. Obsession, Passion, whatever you choose to call it, the mind refuses to believe in logic and the results are insomnia and groggy mornings. You must wonder how this is pertinent in an article regarding cupcakes & frosting, let me clarify. It is when the sun hides in the horizon, paints the sky with a dark navy blue and the night is saturated with silence, that my brain ostensibly decides to plug the switch on. Ideas flash like light bulbs, sometimes riveting, sometimes not and refuse to abate until appeased. If not for my husband who is constantly wary of my whereabouts in the kitchen or my art table, I wouldn’t  make the effort to sleep for 8 hrs a day. I’ve always been in my opinion that 24 hrs is far too less….why spend prized moments in dreamland when you can paint a prettier picture with reality.

Just a brief halt before we get on to today’s food journey, I’m happy & humbled to share with you all that I’m now officially a Cake Decorating Instructor (Wilton Method Instructor)! What excites me most is that this is synonymous with the few things I love aka Art, Baking & Teaching! Although I have been teaching art & craft for about 3 years now this is a new arena for me to explore and I’m beyond excited…Here are some of my creations….
An official website is on the way but please do check out my page on INSTAGRAM
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Now, we go back to this summer recipe!IMG_1779
It was on one such night when my mind was hovering around my caking obsession,  that it dawned upon me make these cupcakes. I’m all for chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut & oreos but a large part me & my food come from a land where every flavour is infused with the richness of spices. Be it a savory or a sweet dish, we are almost lost without them!  Therefore,  I decided to stick to my roots & conjure up something that included my love for baking with an Indian twist. The result….Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard and a Shrikhand Frosting aka a recipe that screams an Indian Summer! Let me elaborate…
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Elaichi/ Cardamom with it’s sweet, pungent taste is a mandatory in most Indian desserts and nothing can contest a piping hot cup of Elaichi tea/chai after a tiring day at work. They work up their magic in these cupcakes too and the entire kitchen is suffused with the aroma they emanate.
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Mangoes are a part & parcel of Indian summers. Grandmothers pickle the raw ones while the ripe ones are demolished by the grandchildren! My mom erased the boredom out of regular humdrum dinners by indulging us in a particularly decadent yet simple dessert…she squeezes out pulps of the raw mangoes and mixes it with a little milk, sugar & Elaichi to eat with chapatis/rotis & summer dinners suddenly became exciting! The Mango Custard I’ve used in this recipe is inspired from that and it makes for a delicious filling in these elaichi cupcakes.
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Shrikhand is a creamy, delicious dessert made with hung yogurt & sugar and risen into added vigor with the addition of Saffron! Now, Saffron,…reputed to be rather expensive but, aside from bringing in a natural “golden like the rising sun” tinge to the food, the aroma it exudes is beyond ordinary. It’s no surprise that my mom always insists that I incorporate saffron in the sweet dishes I offer to the Gods! The BEST accompaniment with Shrikhand has to be Pooris ( very bluntly, deep fried rotis) and weekend breakfasts with my grandma were synonymous with this but I’ve used it to dress up these cupcakes!
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Like Helen Keller said, “Alone you can do so little, together we can do so much.”
The union of Elaichi, Mango & the Shrikhand is divine but I take no credit because the discovery goes back ages to my forefathers and all I can is that I’m beyond grateful. I’m thankful for the inspiration and the chance to experiment with creative diversity.
Also I’ve used wholewheat in this recipe given it’s health benefits and as always it’s eggless too. Not to worry about the cakes being dense and all. They are super moist, spongy and the golden yellow luscious custard and the creamy aromatic frosting make this a perfect dessert to indulge in.
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I’m going to stop my chitchatting and get on with the recipe….I do hope you try this dessert and do let me know if you liked it!


RECIPE FOR EGGLESS WHOLEWHEAT ELAICHI CUPCAKES WITH MANGO CUSTARD AND SHRIKHAND FROSTING(Makes 8 regular sized cupcakes)

INGREDIENTS
FOR ELAICHI CUPCAKES
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 white vinegar + 1/2 tsp
1/2 cup milk( I used skim)
4 green elaichis/cardamoms + a pinch of sugar
FOR MANGO CUSTARD
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder
4 tbsp milk + 1 cup milk
2.5 – 3 tbsp mango puree
1 tbsp sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
FOR SHRIKHAND
2 cups thick curd ( I used 3%) hung overnight in a cheese cloth
1-1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
1 green cardamom+ a pinch of sugar
a good pinch of saffron strandsMETHOD
To make Elaichi Cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line the tray with cupcake liners.
2. Preparing the elaichi powder – Remove the seeds from the elaichi pods. Add them to a mortar & pestle along with a pinch of sugar and crush them into a fine powder.
3. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients- wholewheat flour, sugar, baking soda and elaichi powder.
4. Make buttermilk by adding 1/2 tsp vinegar to the milk. Add this to the large bowl (with the dry ingredients)along with oil and vinegar. Mix well and ensure there are no lumps.
5. Fill 2/3 rds of the cupcake liners with the batter and bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool Completely.
 To make Mango Custard- 
1. Heat 1 cup of milk with 1 tbsp sugar over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small cup, mix the custard powder with 4 tablespoons of cold milk.
2. Once the milk is boiling, put off the stove. Add the custard-milk mixture to the hot milk while whisking in one hand. Make sure there are no lumps. Let it cool.
3. Add the mango puree to the cooled custard along with 1 tbsp sugar and blitz using a hand blender.(SEE NOTES BELOW)
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep it ready. If the mixture is too thin, just keep it in the freezer for 5 minutes.
To make Shrikhand- 
1.Transfer the hung curd from the cheesecloth to a medium sized bowl.
2. Make elaichi powder with 1 elaichi as explained above.
3. Prepare the saffron- In a tiny cup, heat 1 tsp of milk or add a tsp of hot milk and add a good pinch of lightly crushed saffron strands. ( You can lightly crush them using your fingers as you add them into the cup). Let it sit for a minute or 2 and you will see a beautiful yellow-orange colour imparted to the milk.
3. Add this milk to the hung curd along with sugar and elaichi powder. Fold them into the hung curd very gently for a minute.
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep in the freezer for 5-10 minutes so that it firms up a little.
TO ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES
1. Using a large piping tip, just core out the centre of the cupcakes. ( I used my piping tips to do that)
2. Fill with the Mango custard.
3. Frost the cupcakes with the creamy Shrikhand and garnish with elaichi powder and saffron strands. ( I’ve use a Wilton 2D to pipe the rosettes).
NOTES:
1. Instead of homemade Cardamom/elaichi powder you can use readymade cardamom powder too.

2.The amount of sugar in the custard can be increased if you like. I have used only 1 tablespoon. Taste it and if you feel it’s less, add more.
3. Again, I’ve added a tbsp of sugar to the mango puree as well because the mangoes I used were a little sour. Depending on the sweetness of the mango, you can reduce or increase the sugar.
4. Readymade mango puree can be used as well. I just squeezed the pulp of the mango into a bowl and used it.