Cloudberries….Puffin Eggs…Ramson Flowers….and Ashes of Hay. Sounds like summer, doesn’t it? Actually, these are just some of the native-to-Denmark ingredients foraged and prepared by chef Rene Redzepi at his acclaimed restaurant “Noma”. Having worked side-by-side with no lesser talents than El Bulli proprietor and master molecular gastronomist Ferran Adria, and Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, Redzepi nonetheless set out to scavenge the local landscape and serve only foods native to his homeland. The result has recently won him the honor of being voted “Best Restaurant in the World” by food critics around the globe.
I read about Redzepi and his extraordinary cuisine in today’s New York Times Dining Section. If you would like to learn more about Chef Redzepi and Noma, go to WHAT’S AT NYTIMES.COM/DINING to view an interactive feature, and be inspired!
Incidentally, inspiration seems to be an ongoing theme these past few days. My family and I just returned from a much-enjoyed Fourth of July weekend in San Francisco. As usual, prior to planning our days’ activities, we booked tables at some of our favorite restaurants in the city, including the italian A-16, thai dishes at The Slanted Door, and a new find for us: Tong Kiang for a never-ending rotation of delicious chinese dim sum offerings.
Two show stoppers from these culinary indulgences: the parfait-like banana tapioca with sweet potato chunks/avocado ice cream/lime meringue dessert at Slanted Door was surprisingly refreshing and delectable; the Salt and Pepper Ice Cream at Humphrey Slocombe in the Mission District, which was a featured article in the NYT Sunday Magazine section (7/4/10). We ventured there after reading the article, hoping for a taste of foie-gras or hibiscus beet ice cream, but they were not offered that day. Instead we sampled proprietor Jake Godby’s “Secret Breakfast”, a deliciously sweet and creamy concoction of corn flakes and bourbon in what resembles a vanilla cream base.
Stimulated by the exotic gustatory mixings of the weekend, I arrived home itching to create a treat of my own and whipped up several dozen CHAI-SPICED MINI CUPCAKES WITH ALMOND-CHAI CREAM CHEESE FROSTING. I topped them with crushed blanched almonds and sent them out to several of my trusted testing sites; the hungry hordes at Paramount Studios, my book group foodies, and my girlfriend’s college-age daughter and her chai latte drinking friends. Their verdict so far: ‘these babies are a keeper’.
Below is my recipe, but Shhh….it’s a secret!
Chai-Spiced Mini Cupcakes with Almond-Chai Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 box Betty Crocker Vanilla Super Moist Cake Mix
(batter prepared according to directions on box)
A mix?? I know—right??
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp allspice
¾ tsp cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
Stir the spice mix into the cupcake batter until evenly distributed and bake in lined mini-cupcake trays, according to package.
For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened (I use Philadelphia)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla til blended. On low speed mix in the powdered sugar, then turn speed up to high and beat until fluffy and smooth
Add the following flavorings on low speed:
1 scant tsp almond extract
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
Chill frosting til firm.
When cupcakes have cooled completely, pipe on the frosting with a small tip in a circular motion, ending in the center with a tiny peak. Crushed blanched almonds sprinkled on top add a pleasingly crunchy texture and look pretty.