I’m fudging a little to call these “amazake,” but I’m not sure what else to call them (aside from rice flour almond cupcakes with honey-ginger buttercream frosting, but that is both uninteresting and long). They were inspired by amazake, so that’s what they’re going to be called.

Amazake (甘酒) literally means sweet sake, and it’s basically the first step in making sake. I’ll spare you the details: it’s fermented rice in which the starch breaks down into sugar. So, even though no sugar is added, it tastes sweet. Much is said of amazake’s health benefits, so take that as you will. It’s recently found some popularity as a sweetener, but it’s still pretty obscure outside of Japan, where it is usually enjoyed as a traditional drink. It’s commonly provided at Shinto shrines for those who come to pray during the New Year’s festivities. Despite the name, it’s quite low in alcohol, and so is safe for anyone to drink. If you look it up online, you’ll find lots of people using it in smoothies, baked goods, and as a sweetening agent for whatever tickles their fancy. I don’t know if that’s true in Japan, as I’ve only ever seen it as a winter drink, but it’s nice to see it finding favor in foreign kitchens.

I have never had it, but I have certainly heard of it. I was discussing with Geordie my desire to make a ginger-y cupcake, and he wistfully wondered if it was possible to make one that was reminiscent of amazake (Geordie can be quite wistful when discussing Japan). I pondered this. Amazake is often served topped with grated ginger, which lends it some heat to its sweetness. I could make that work. The goal would be to capture the essence of amazake, if not the actual flavor.

I started with rice flour. I’ve made Japanese-inspired cupcakes with rice flour before, and I know it makes a dry, dense cupcake. Not so great on its own, but when paired with a creamy frosting, it works. You have to keep an open mind about rice flour cupcakes, though. If you’re not expecting that dry, rice-y mouthfeel, it can be an unpleasant surprise. Once you’re used to it, the taste can be quite nice. I used a little almond extract in the cupcake batter, just to add a little more depth to the flavor. They baked up quite nicely, smelled delicious, and looked very pretty.

On to the frosting. I knew I wanted something with ginger, but I worried that ginger alone would be overpowering or, frankly, boring. To get some ideas, I turned to google and found several frosting recipes using ginger. The one that sounded the best was a honey-ginger buttercream. Sweet, but not overly so, with a hint of honey to tame the wild, invigorating ginger. And that would, I knew, pair well with my almond-scented rice cupcake.

And so.

amazakecupcake

As tasty as it is pretty. Garnished with crystallized ginger, it has a rather exotic feel to it. Definitely not your typical cupcake. And while it may not be a traditional Western Christmas treat, it does remind me of wintery Japanese treats. I liked it better than I thought I would.

And yes, it’s gluten-free. Two in a row, and I wasn’t even trying. It’s hard to say which might be better. They’re quite different, in terms of flavor, texture, and overall experience; it really would depend on your tastes. Again, neither of them are like your typical flour cupcakes, but they’re both definitely worth eating!

Today, I’m doing something I usually don’t do, which is post the recipes. I didn’t follow these two to the letter, so I thought I’d share with you my adaptations.

 
Rice Flour Cupcakes
(adapted from Whole Foods)

½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1¼ cup rice flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cupcake tin. Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs and the extracts. Add flour and baking powder and mix until combined. Fill cupcake holders about half full. This is a very thick batter, so it’s hard to judge how full the cups are. About 3 tbsp of batter worked well. I filled all 12 cups evenly with one batch. Just try to keep the cups equal, and you’ll be fine. Bake 18-22 minutes. Cupcakes are done when they toothpick-test clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Yields 12 cupcakes.

 
Honey-Ginger Buttercream
(adapted from GroupRecipes)

½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp honey
heaping ½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp minced crystallized ginger

Beat butter until creamy. Gradually add in the sugar, beating after each addition. I ended up using a generous half-cup of sugar, so adjust to your taste. Add the honey and ginger. Again, adjust to your liking. Geordie would have been happier with a little more ginger, but I thought there was plenty. Beat well, then add vanilla extract. Beat again until creamy. This is not as fluffy as a regular buttercream, but maybe my butter was too soft. I had to put it in the fridge to help it firm up a bit. This was enough to frost all 12 cupcakes generously. Garnish cupcakes with the crystallized ginger.

 

Happy baking!

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