Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kabocha Cupcakes with Maple-Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting (& Other Adventures with Kabocha Squash) for Joanne's "Recipe Impossible Challenge"

When my good friend Joanne of Eats Well With Others announced her "Recipe Impossible: Joanne Eats Well With Others Edition" I just knew I had to enter. First off, I love Joanne and helping her feed her winter squash addictions and turn orange to get her mom off her back for being so pale seemed like a great cause to me! ;-) Secondly, the chance to receive a "Top Secret Mystery Package" with 8 ingredients from the wonderful Marx Foods was too good to pass up. It feeds into all my Iron Chef / Chopped fantasies to be challenged to use at least two of these ingredients in an original recipe. Finally, I am a recent fan of winter squash, having spent many years avoiding it like the plague, so getting creative with this orange veggie seemed like a good growth opportunity.

Probably would have been better to take a picture of the ingredients before I used them!

I was excited to be selected as one of the 10 challengers and the box from Marx Food arrived just a few days later revealing the mystery ingredients:
  • Aji Panca Chilies: mild, fruit, "poblano-esque"
  • Pasilla Negro Chilies: mild and "good in moles"
  • Maple Sugar: pure maple syrup sap made into sugar
  • Coconut Sugar: coconut sap made into sugar, sweet and nutty
  • Ginger Salt: pure sea salt blended with ground ginger
  • Espresso Salt: sea salt blended with ground espresso beans
  • Fennel Pollen: the most intense form of fennel, intense flavor
  • Madagascar Vanilla Beans: rich vanilla flavor and an abundance of seeds
The mission? Use at least two of the eight ingredients in an original recipe using some type of winter squash. My squash pick: Kobocha (aka Japanese pumpkin), because it is plentiful and locally grown and it was the first winter squash I really decided I quite liked. Kabocha, like all winter squash is rich in beta carotene (necessary for making Joanne orange), iron, vitamin C, potassium, and other nutrients.

The decision to go sweet or savory was the next step and since Kabocha is such a naturally sweet squash to begin with, I decided to go that route. Since I know that Joanne loves cupcakes and believes in balance, I decided to go with healthy carrot-cake style, almost a muffin Kabocha Cupcakes, topped with a not-so-healthy, decadent Maple-Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting, dusted with Maple Sugar. Between the cake and the frosting I would be using three of the eight ingredients: vanilla beans, coconut sugar, and the maple sugar.

For the cupcakes, I looked at a couple of healthy carrot cake recipes and my mom's zucchini muffin recipe and melded parts of them together with my own touches to come up with this cake. Without the frosting, it is a less-sweet muffin, perfect for breakfast. With the icing, it becomes a dessert-like treat.

Kaboacha Cupcakes with Maple-Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 12 Large Cup Cakes)

1 vanilla bean
2 eggs
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup packed coconut sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup natural applesauce
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups grated kabocha squash
1 (8 oz) can drained crushed pineapple in natural juice
1/2 cup flaked unsweetened coconut, toasted (see note below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fill a 12-cup cupcake pan with liners.

Scrape the seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean into a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs, orange zest, cinnamon coconut sugar and brown sugar and beat until thick. Stir in the applesauce. Sift the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Fold in the grated kabocha, pineapple, and toasted coconut.

Using a medium ice cream scoop, spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the center cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in their pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Note: For the coconut: I used large coconut flakes/chips and toasted them in the microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring each time until browned. Once cool, I ground them for a few seconds in my mini-chop food processor until coarse.

Maple-Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes enough frosting for 12+ cupcakes)

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 vanilla bean
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup maple sugar + extra to garnish
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon

With a mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Scrape the seeds of a vanilla bean into the mixture and add powdered sugar, maple sugar and maple syrup and continue beating until well combined and smooth. Refrigerate until firm and pipe or spread on completely cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle frosted cupcakes with maple sugar. Store frosted cupcakes and leftover icing in refrigerator.

Notes/Results: Delicious! The frosting is very sweet and creamy and compliments the less-sugary sweet, moist and dense cupcake very well. The cake has the texture of a carrot cake but has more of a pumpkin/squash flavor and it retains its moistness with the pineapple and applesauce filling in for oil. The frosting is very soft, so it is probably better spread than piped, and should be stored in the fridge--but it is so creamy and good that seriously, I could just sit and eat a bowl of it. ;-) And the maple sugar--OK, yum--I will be sprinkling that on top of toast, oatmeal, ice cream, my tongue, etc. ;-) I will make make both the cupcakes and the frosting again. I can see Joanne eating and enjoying these after a run (to work off the frosting!) Much thanks to my visiting sister Phyl for being my chief taster and frosting piper!

I was having so much fun with my mystery ingredients and I still had a bit over half of my kabocha squash left after making the cupcakes. I got to thinking that with Joanne being a grad student, I knew she wouldn't want me waste anything so I set my own challenge to use the rest of my mystery ingredients and the rest of my squash, even the seeds.

I cut the rest of my kabocha into wedges about 1/2" thick and tossed them with some olive oil and black pepper, sprinkled them with the ginger salt and then roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees F. for about 20 minutes, turning them once, until they were soft and slightly caramelized. The ginger salt with its little zing of flavor, paired really nicely with the sweet squash and the wedges make an excellent snack or side dish.

I had saved out the kabocha seeds and washed and dried them. Liking the pairing of chile and coffee on meat, I thought it would also be good on roasted squash seeds. I ground one of each chile with their seeds into a fine powder and mixed it with the espresso salt and a dash of the fennel pollen to coat the seeds before roasting them.

Chili-Espresso Roasted Kabocha Seeds
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 1/4 cup or more, depending on the size of squash)

seeds from kabocha squash, cleaned and dried
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Aji Panca chile
1 Pasilla Negro chile
1 tsp espresso salt
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fennel pollen

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Chop the chilies coarsely and grind them with their seeds in a spice grinder or blender until a fine powder. Mix 1 tablespoon of the chili powder with the espresso salt, sea salt and fennel pollen in a small bowl. Toss kabocha seeds with olive oil in a medium bowl and sprinkle with chili-espresso powder mixture and mix until evenly coated.

Spread coated kabocha seeds in a single layer on lined pan and place in over. Cook about 15 minutes or until seeds begin to pop. Cool thoroughly on pan and then store in an airtight container. Use for snacking or on salads, in soups as a garnish, etc.

Notes/Results: Very tasty--these are mild chilies so no heat, just a rich, savory taste that my sister called "kind of addicting." You catch a little of the espresso taste and the fennel pollen just adds a complexity to the flavor. A tasty little snack that provides protein, vitamin K, iron and copper, and is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.

And that ends my adventures in kabocha squash and the Joanne Eats Well With Other Recipe Impossible Challenge. An entire kabocha squash plus all of the mystery ingredients put to good use, and a whole lot of fun working with such great and diverse quality ingredients.

You'll be able to see my Kabocha Cupcakes with Maple-Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting and all of the other entries at the Marx Foods site (and you can vote in the poll for your favorite--hint, hint!), on November 1st. I am sure that collectively we will have Joanne a gorgeous golden shade by Thanksgiving.

This also seems like the perfect dish/post to link to the Heart 'n Soul Tuesday Blog Hop hosted by my friend girlichef and other fabulous bloggers (A Moderate Life, Hunger and Thirst, and Frugality and Crunchiness wth Christy), featuring good food cooked from the heart that feeds the body and the soul.

So, what's your favorite squash?


  1. what a great way to use all of the pumpkin :)

  2. This is an exciting challenge! I like the idea of having those wonderful muffins for breakfast. I also like all of the spices you added to roast those seeds. I have some from a kabocha squash I used last night. I'll make this recipe soon.

  3. OH YUM! This looks amazing - I've never considered using squash in cupcakes!! Looks absolutely delish!! and the roasted seeds look great too!

  4. Everything looks awesome! That must have been fun to get the mystery package! I've been waiting to see all of the entries come in!

  5. I absolutely love that you used so much of the squash...and the mystery ingredients. The seeds look great! Sounds like you had alot of fun with the challenge.

    My favorite squash is good ole loyal (boring?) zucchini.

  6. You did an amazing job using all the secret ingredients - you are an iron chef for sure! I really like your frosting - it would be amazing on so many things -yumm!! And using all the squash and all the ingredients bonus!
    If these recipes don't put color on Joanne's face, well nothing will!
    great job! I am so glad you linked this to the Hearth and Soul hop!

  7. wow love the cupcakes and your right Joanne is awesome and got to please her squash addiction he he

  8. The cupcakes look so amazing! I love the addition of maple sugar to the frosting!

  9. Yum, I love the taste of kabocha. With all that delicious squash in it, these cupcakes must be truly fantastic. I know I'd enjoy them.

  10. What an amazing selection of ingredients! Fennel pollen is one of my favourite scents - it is the key to my homemade bacon cure. But coconut sugar! Wow!

  11. I don't know where to begin, Deb! Maple sugar, ginger salt, fennel pollen...that was definitely a box full of goodies! Your muffins sound downright amazing...but so does the simple roasted squash and seeds...I want to try them all! Fabulous job with the challenge, and thanks for sharing with the hearth and soul hop this week, as well :)

  12. I am just warning you that the amazingness of this recipe may or may not have me so taken that I may or may not be on a plane to Hawaii to hug you as we speak. Write. Whatever.

    seriously, kabocha is my favorite winter squash. I adore cream cheese frosting. AND I love that you found uses for the other ingredients as well.

  13. What a great way to use all those wonderful ingredients! I'm a huge fan of squash and never miss an opportunity to use it. The roasted seeds sound absolutely addictive :-)
    We've got a blog award waiting for you at Bistro Gerard :-)

  14. Hooray Deb! This is indeed a very fun challenge, especially since you received all those goodies. (Maple sugar - sounds swoonworthy). I've read in Suzanne Goin's cookbook that Kabocha is much better to cook with than standard orange pumpkin. Your cupcakes look terrific. The frosting sounds out of this world with the maple syrup and sugar!

    Great job using all of the ingredients! You can always count on my vote.

  15. I tagged you in a "get to know you" blogging game. If you feel like playing, stop by for your questions! If not, no worries.

  16. Awesome! So creative, and so delicious. I love the spiced roasted pumpkin seeds idea.
    I was also in the challenge and I love, love, loved the coconut sugar (though I didn't end up using it in my submission).

  17. Your box of goodies is fantasic, but what you did with them is amazing! You are so talented. I am in complete awe!

  18. You did such a great job with all of the ingredients! These cupcakes look so great. My favorite squash is a pumpkin we could get in Brazil called moranga. It is similar to the kabocha in color.

  19. Deb, you are simply amazing!!! What an exciting challenge and there is no way I could have come up with something so good. That coconut sugar sounds wonderful, never had that. Will have to see if I can find it!

  20. Wow, Deb, that just blows my mind - very creative use of all the ingredients, and the fact that you didn't waste anything is awesome. Love the look and sound of everything you created. Especially love the sound of that maple sugar and fennel pollen - if only I could get such things here.

  21. How irresistibly delicious Deb! You did an awesome job on the challenge. I was thinking cupcakes or muffins too but ended up going another way. It's a toss up between butternut and spaghetti squash for me.

  22. Wow - I love it! So many exciting recipes: sweet, savoury, snacks, desserts - all from one squash! Good luck with the competition!

  23. Thanks everyone for your positive comments! I had fun with the competition and playing with all the different spices! Thanks to Joanne and Justin at Marx Foods--this was a (delicious) blast to take part in! ;-)

  24. LOL, I made cupcakes, too! I thought I was being so original :P Yours look amazing, and I really enjoyed the challenge, too.

  25. What a great idea you did with the seeds. Darn I wish I would've thought of that :-)

  26. Outstanding post and concept Deb! Whew...you are certainly a chef to be reckoned with! Woohoo!! Best of luck in this challenge! Looks like you'll be getting another box from Marx soon!


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