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Author Notes: My friend and I both studied abroad in Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China during college, and she fell in love with the city (she's living there now!). So, I made these cupcakes for her birthday one year, for nostalgia's sake. MaLa (??) in Mandarin means hot and numbing, and it's best used to describe the taste of Sichuan peppercorns. The combination of the peppercorns with the chocolate in this recipe is unique in that you get the chocolately goodness first, and then the peppercorns kick in a couple bites later. —Mya L
Food52 Review: Wow! These cupcakes hit it out of the park. They were delightfully spicy, although honestly, next time we will up the Sichuan pepper quotient a bit. We loved the spice combination in the cupcakes and were also very taken with their moist, delicious texture. It took a leap of faith to accept the lack of eggs in the recipe, but sure enough, the ingredients delivered a moist chocolate cupcake with a delightfully spicy flavor. The frosting was delicious as well. We like cake with a little frosting rather than frosting with a little cake, so I halved the frosting recipe and had plenty to top these tasty cakes. These lovely little cupcakes will be in our regular rotation. —lmikkel
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns (or more, if you dare!)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
For the frosting
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup good-quality cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon milk, plus more if needed
- Preheat oven to 350° F and line a 12-cup muffin tin.
- In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, orange zest, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and ginger together.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, milk, vanilla, and vinegar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir, just until combined.
- Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- FOR THE FROSTING: Cream together butter until fluffy. Add sugar and cocoa powder about 1/2 cup at a time until blended. Mix in ginger, vanilla, and milk, adding more or less milk depending on desired consistency.
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