Doll’s Day is a lovely Japanese tradition that resembles a highly symbolic version of afternoon tea. In what began as a tradition in the imperial court, beautiful dolls representing members of the imperial family as well as musicians, courtiers and samurai are displayed in a careful order on tiered shelves lined with red fabric. Girls are given these dolls as gifts, and invite their friends over to admire the elaborate displays.
The traditional Hinamatsuri foods offered at these tea-time viewing parties are often cherry-blossom themed, as this time of year is also the beginning of cherry blossom season, or Sakura Matsuri. One of the foods we found most intriguing is the sweet called sakura mochi. These are sticky rice balls, colored pink, folded around sweet red bean paste and decorated with pickled sakura, or cherry, leaves. They look like gorgeous edible cherry blossoms, and inspired us to make some pretty cupcakes with some of the same flavors. Red bean paste and matcha powder, both available online, give these mini-cupcakes a little bit of the sakura flavor while appealing to Western tastes too. We even found a paste that has sakura leaves in it, so every bite has a little bit of cherry tree baked into it.
Sakura Mini-Cupcakes with Cherry Blossom Frosting
1 ½ cups (7 ½ oz) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into chunks
½ cup crème fraiche (or substitute sour cream)
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks, room temperature
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp whole milk
optional: 1 tsp matcha (green tea) powder
8 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup red bean paste*
approximately 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Set oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350℉. Line mini muffin pan(s) with liners. If you are making the matcha variation, mix the matcha powder well with vanilla extract: this will help the color bloom to its brightest green.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle, gently mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. On medium speed, beat flour mixture together with egg, yolks, vanilla (mixed with matcha if using), sour cream and butter until smooth and satiny, about 30-45 seconds. If mixture seems dry, add milk, 1 tbsp at a time, beating as little as possible until desired texture is reached. Scrape down bowl and stir with a rubber spatula, making sure all flour is incorporated.
Using a #60 “disher” scooper (holds approximately 1 tbsp), fill liners with batter. Bake 13-16 minutes, until a toothpick in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for five minutes in pan, then remove from pan and cool completely on a rack. Once pan is cool, make the remaining cupcakes the same way.
Mix butter on high speed for three minutes or until light and fluffy, then mix in red bean paste until smooth. With mixer running on medium speed, add powdered sugar a little bit at a time until fully combined: taste for sweetness as you go, as different brands of bean paste vary in sweetness. Spread or pipe on cooled cupcakes.
*Red bean paste comes in many different varieties. We used this one, which is mixed with dried cherry blossom leaves and flavor. Whichever brand you buy, make sure to get the fine paste rather than chunky.
Makes 18 mini cupcakes.