Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Bringing "Opa" Back: Ouzo Cupcakes with Vissino Cream Cheese Frosting

Making cupcakes is something I never thought I'd do. Muffins, my sweet-tooth arch nemesis, are the closest I come to making individually sized anythings - sweating in inpatient frustration as I pour batter into each cup. But when the OC Cupcake Camp invited me to bake/eat cupcakes to raise money for human trafficking, there was no saying no.

Well, actually, I'm not that much of a saint.

It was more like when the thought of entering the Cupcake Competition emerged, that my adrenaline (and motivation) kicked in. I rubbed my brain cells together for an idea as I charged straight to Williams & Sonoma (aka Home Depot for Women) in search of the finest frosting piper I could find. The one thing I knew was there would be no butter knife gracing the tops of my cupcakes, no sirey.

I wanted to represent my Greek heritage and what no better way to do that than mix in a few key and very Greek ingredients: Ouzo (an anise flavored liquor), Vissino or βύσσινο ( Greek sour cherry), and Pistachios. 

I used a white cake recipe to mimic the opaque color of chilled ouzo. I can't describe the incredible anise fragrance that  filled the house while the cupcakes baked. Intoxicating, to say the least. In Greece, ouzo is not only served with mezedes, but also with(out) Greek coffee and sweets after the afternoon Siesta nap. I vividly recall one post-Siesta visit to an Aunt's house, sipping on ouzo and munching on nuts and dried fruits. It was perfect, although I can't say it woke me up. Vissino is a classic Greek sour cherry that is often found in spoon sweet form (but can also be juice, soaked in brandy, and flavored in yogurts, ice cream, and candies). Pistachio is also a predominant flavor in Greek sweets, and you can't go wrong combining cherries and nuts. The resulting cupcakes were indeed exotic with the strong liquor, but also fun and playful with the cherry frosting.

I held my breath when a visiting 11 year old self-proclaimed Minister of Red Velvet Cupcakes took her first bite. She had just finished telling me about being on the dance team, how she hated Justin Bieber and loved beating up her little brother all while tapping away on her hot pink iphone. A true judge.  

She liked it. But, of course, not as much as her red velvs.

Ouzo Cupcakes

4 egg whites
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup Ouzo (if you are a hard core aficionado, pump it up to 1/3 cup)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
Vissino Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup chopped toasted pistachios

Allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Heat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour cupcake tins (or cupcake holders). In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and ouzo; beat until well combined. Add egg whites 1 at a time; beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to shortening mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Pour batter into cups.

Bake for 18 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool cakes on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from holders and cool thoroughly. Frost with Vissino Cream Cheese frosting and top with toasted pistachios.

Vissino (Greek sour cherry) Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softening
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup Vissino or preserved sour cherries in jar
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
red food coloring

Whirl sour cherries in food processors for 30 seconds. Set aside. Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Blend in cherries. Slowly add powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency. Add a few drops of red food coloring if you like a more vibrant red color.

Toasted Pistachios
Either buy roasted pistachios from grocery store or lightly toast raw pistachios on a small frying pan on medium for a few minutes, or until pistachio aroma is released. Chop into small pieces.  Allow to cool before using.

Consume with Ouzo. Opa!

I will be making these cupcakes for the OC Cupcake Camp , raising money for human trafficking, happening this Sunday, August 1st at the Atrium Hotel in Irvine, CA. I'll be competing in the "most unique/exotic" category. Wish me luck!


Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul said...

Now we're talking! These look amazing Anna! Love. love, love the flavour combination here. Can you send me one?

Peter M said...

Anna, you rocked these cupcakes....the Ouzo cream sounds decadent, sexy, yum!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Those cupcakes are so pretty! I bet they taste haevenly. A great flavor combination.



Diana said...

I've actually never made cupcakes either! Definitely more of a muffin (wo)man as well. Kind of curious to see what I could do with some red velvs though. Hmmm... you may just be inspiring me to get my cupcake bake on, TALF!

rédacteur en chef du jour said...

Holy goodness! Thanks, I MUST try these! A little obsessed with booze in baking and cooking. And yes, great combo here...

Monique@She's Going The Distance said...

OMGGGG Those look so good!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Anna A. said...

Peter - Maybe we should start a baking with ouzo campaign with your paximadia and my cupcakes?

Peter - Vissino cream, but ouzo cream is an excellent idea. Next cupcake session!

Rosa - Thanks :) They were fun.

Diana - Let's see your cupcake skills, TALF!

Redacteur en chef du jour - Thank you! It really don't get any better than baking with booze!

Monique - Thank you! :)

stuffycheaks said...

did the 11 year old get buzz off your ouzo cupcakes? That'd be pretty funny

Anna A. said...

Stuffycheaks - I was a little worried about getting busted for serving alcohol to minors, but alas, the booze was all baked off. Now if I'd put it in the frosting... hmmm ideas!

Gastronomer said...

I applaud your creativity! Good luck at Cupcake Camp. I think you've got a winner there.

Anna A. said...

Gastronomer - Thank you! Now let's see your Viet-inspired cupcake.

SouthBayGuy said...

Like Diana, I'm much more of a muffin guy (mmm, ouzo + sour cherries + bran?), but these look good. Can I get the sour cherries anywhere in the South Bay? Or do I have to go to Papa C's?

Good luck on the competition. I'm home bound (on-call) this weekend or I'd come down to this. It sounds like a event.

Anna A. said...

SouthBayGuy - now there's an idea! Bran, Ouzo, and cherry - what kind of breakfast msg is that sending? ;)

Helen said...

Beautiful cupcakes! Lovely colours. I'll take a dozen :)

Anna A. said...

Helen - Coming right up :)

Ruth Abatzoglou said...

These are very unique and tasty cupcakes as well as beautiful. You've got to enter them in another contest sometime. They are a winner!

Anna A. said...

Mom - Thanks :) I need to make some zin ones for you now:) A pretty purple color!

Anonymous said...

Just popping in to say nice site.

Lenia said...

Dear Anna,what a great idea you have come up with!I would really like to try these cupcakes!So original!Well done!

Anna A. said...

Lenia - Thanks! I had a dream about making ouzo cupcakes so I did it!