I have been busy making Chinese New Year treats and dishes for the past few weeks, as you may know from following my blog. Taro is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with for Chinese style eats, both sweet and savory. Therefore, I couldn’t miss out on making something with taro to put on my cooking list for this month. The taro I used is the small
Taro cake is rather an ambiguous item. When you hear the word “cake”, you might think about the usual sweet baked dessert with soft texture topped with icing or cream frosting. And no doubt there are taro cakes as such, with sweet taro filling and purple taro flavored whipped cream. But this is not to be confused with the taro cake (芋頭糕, “yu tou gao”) originating from South China made with rice flour, with a denser texture and a savory taste from the taro vegetable. These taro cakes are popular snacks in Hong Kong, but are also served in restaurants as part of a main course appetizer in Chinese cuisine. They are also a large part of the Chinese New Year list of things to eat.
In traditional Chinese medicine, taro is used to strengthen the stomach, spleen, and pancreas. It is also used to treat a loss of appetite and fatigue due to a weak digestion. Taro has a high energy value, and can be a substitution for potatoes to create a more energizing dish. It is also believed that regular consumption of taro can prevent cancer and improve beauty because of its detoxifying properties.
This week I wanted to make the dessert type of taro cake (芋頭蛋糕 “yu tou dan gao”) with real sweet taro filling and a purple taro cream cheese frosting. Better yet, I decided to make it more exciting and turn them into cupcakes, filling each one with taro stuffing for a burst of flavor upon biting. I have to admit, my first attempt at developing this recipe was an epic fail; the cupcakes rose in the oven and then sunk again creating a big crater down the middle. They tasted great though, so I re-developed my recipe and found success the second time around!
This recipe uses the small taro root variety, which still has a slight purple tinge when cooked. They turned out to be absolutely delicious; I must say I surprised myself! It is a unique fusion of the Chinese style taro cake dessert with the Western style of cream cheese frosting. This taro filling is a traditional Chinese recipe for another cultural dessert made simply with steamed taro and sugar. I made the cupcake itself not as sweet to offset the sweetness from the taro filling and the frosting. But if you prefer not to have a filling that is too sweet, you can add less sugar to the taro filling. These cupcakes will go into my list of unique recipes that I must make again!
(Makes 15 to 18 cupcakes)
12 tbsp (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 egg whites, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
Large pinch salt
440 g taro root
50 ml half and half or milk
1/2 cup sugar (or if you don’t want it to be too sweet, take away 2 tbsp sugar)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Taro cream cheese frosting
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsp milk
1/2 cup taro powder
5 to 5 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
To make the taro filling: Peel taro root and wash thoroughly under running cold water. Cut taro into thick slices and steam until softened and cooked.
Mash the taro slices finely. Mix in the creamer, sugar, and butter while the taro is still hot. Set aside to let cool.
Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F. Line muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.
Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the blade’s edge. Reserved the seeds.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla seeds and vanilla extract.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on medium speed. Reduce the speed to low and add the 12 tbsp butter, one piece at a time, while beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.
Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 1 1/2 minutes).
Reduce the speed to low and add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium, and beat for 30 seconds more. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each muffin pan to about 3/4 full.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool on the muffin pan for 10 minutes before transferring the muffins onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the taro frosting: Allow cream cheese and butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a bowl of a stand mixer combine the the cream cheese, butter, milk, and the taro powder. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. The color should be a consistent purple. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, beating on medium speed, until the icing reaches a spreadable consistency.
Using a sharp paring knife, core the cupcake by cutting a circle through the cupcake tops 1 to 1 1/2 cm from the edge. Cut the circle about 3/4 of the way into the cupcake, being careful not to plunge the knife all the way down to the bottom of the cupcake. Carefully remove the top and set aside.
Spoon the taro filling into the cupcakes. Trim the bottoms of the cupcake tops to about 1/4 their original height and replace the tops.
The cupcake top should be sitting level with the rest of the cupcake, with the taro filling underneath.
Pipe the taro cream cheese frosting over top. Load a piping bag with the star tip #2D. Start by squeezing out the icing to form a star with the tip barely touching the cupcake surface.
Without releasing pressure, raise the tip slightly and move the tip either clockwise or anti-clockwise around the star.
Make one complete rotation, and finish the design by moving the tip back to the starting position on top of the original star. Pull the tip away vertically to finish with a higher star on top.
Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen in the single layer in a sealed airtight bag for up to 1 month. When you are ready to decorate them, simply defrost completely at room temperature. Unused icing can be frozen for up to 1 month. Enjoy!