Four-star recipe: Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing

“Their flavors will send  your taste buds on a trip around the world…the Chinese cake has green tea and sesame seeds...” All Four Stars, page 268

Classy Cakes–the fictitious “dessert bistro” that Gladys is assigned to review in All Four Stars–is famous for its delicious, internationally-inspired cakes. As for how I decided to write about such cakes…well, if you guessed I was inspired by my travels, you’d be correct!

Sesame pops up a lot in Chinese cuisine. Here I am with a giant sesame bread (kind of like a sesame bagel without the hole) in the market in Xian.Giant sesame bread in Xian

And green tea is definitely a popular flavor for sweet things. For instance, check out these green tea oreos…Green tea oreos

…and this green tea Blizzard (yes, there are Dairy Queens in China!).Green tea blizzard in Singapore

So when I wanted to create a “Chinese”-inspired cake, those were the two flavors that jumped to mind. And they’re both strong flavors, so this recipe took a few tries to get balanced. I’ll admit now that it’s probably not for every palate–but my three students (ages 9-13) who tried these swore that they really liked them, so that seems like a pretty good recommendation. (Plus, of course, Gladys and I think they’re great!)

Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing
(makes 9 large or 1 dozen small cupcakes)

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tablespoons matcha green tea powder
1 egg
2/3 cup white sugar
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp almond extract plus 1 tsp vanilla extract)

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1 Tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk

Black sesame seeds for garnish

If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cupcake cups.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha green tea powder in a bowl. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and oil together with an electric mixer on medium speed. Beat in milk and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into muffin wells until they are 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re at high elevation, bake for 17 minutes at 365 degrees).

Let the cupcakes cool completely before removing them from the muffin tin and icing.

To make the icing: Cream the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in the tahini, then gradually beat in the powdered sugar until well-incorporated, alternating with a little milk. Pipe the icing onto the cupcakes and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Voila! The finished products.

Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing



ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!


Coming soon!

All Four Stars will be published in exactly two weeks! #excitement

Today I’m over at Emu’s Debuts with a post called “How to Fail For Real.” It’s about overcoming fear of failure, and touches on my long journey to publication. (It’s also my last Emu post as an unpublished author. I’ve been blogging there for more than two years!)

On Friday, I’ll be sharing another recipe inspired by All Four Stars right here. Green tea cupcakes, anyone?

all four stars tour buttonAnd next Tuesday will kick off the All Four Stars blog tour, hosted by The Midnight Garden! This tour will feature interviews, reviews, and some terrific bonus content (including Gladys Gatsby’s personal tour of New York City restaurants that appear in the book). And I have some other interviews and guest posts lined up outside of the official blog tour as well. I’ll do my best to post links here, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Starting on July 14, Emu’s Debuts will be hosting its own weeklong launch party for All Four Stars, which will include an interview with fantastic cover artist Kelly Murphy and lots of other fun posts.

And then there are the real-life launch parties in NYC (July 10) and Boulder, CO (July 17)–more details on my events page.

It’s a busy, exciting time, and I’m honored that so many people are helping me celebrate. I hope that you enjoy everything we’ve got planned!

Four-Star Recipe: Gajar ka halwa

“What’s gajar ka halwa?”  Gladys was intrigued.
“It’s a traditional north Indian pudding made with carrots,” Parm said.

“Trust me, it’s the best dessert on earth.” All Four Stars, page 208

Parm Singh is right. Move over, carrot cake–gajar ka halwa is the tastiest sweet dish made with carrots you could possibly imagine!


The first few times I tried this dessert, at Indian buffet restaurants in America, I had no idea what it was–I just knew that I loved it. Then, when I traveled in India, I had a chance to see some halwa-makers in action. Here’s a picture of my husband on the street in Delhi beside a large vat of the steaming pudding, which sells there for around 50 cents a portion. (And considering that you can often get a full dinner for a dollar in India, that’s quite expensive. Gajar ka halwa is a delicacy!)

Andy eating gajar ka halwa

In India, this dessert is often made with a special red variety of carrot, which doesn’t really affect the flavor, but makes the dish even prettier to look at.

In any case, when I needed to come up with an Indian dessert for All Four Stars that picky Parm would actually like and want to teach Gladys to makegajar ka halwa was the obvious choice! Here’s my version of the recipe.

-Traditionally, one would use ghee (clarified butter) as the fat, but don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand–I’ve made it with plain old butter and it has still turned out delicious.

-Also, this recipe contains extra nuts, since Charissa loves them, but if you don’t or are allergic, they are easy to omit.

Parm Singh’s Favorite Gajar Ka Halwa
(makes 4 cups)

Nut-and-raisin topping:
1 Tbsp ghee or butter
2 Tbsp cashews
2 Tbsp almonds (sliced, slivered, or chopped)
2 Tbsp raisins

Carrot pudding:
4 Tbsp ghee or butter
11 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 cups milk (at least 1%, and the higher in fat the better)
1/2 cup sugar (plus more to taste)
1 tsp ground cardamom

If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

In a large, deep skillet (preferably nonstick), melt 1 Tbsp ghee or butter over medium heat. Add the cashews and almonds and toast until the nuts are golden-brown and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Add the raisins for the last minute and cook, stirring, until they are plumped but not burnt. Remove the nuts and raisins into a bowl and set aside.

Melt the remaining 4 Tbsp ghee or butter in the skillet. Sautee the shredded carrots in the fat for 3-5 minutes. Add the milk, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook until the milk is all evaporated, about one hour.

Stir in the sugar and cardamom and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the sugar is melted and well-incorporated. Taste and add more sugar as desired. Before serving, stir in the nuts and raisins, or reserve as topping.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold in small bowls (a little goes a long way).


ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!

Awesome YA debuts out today!

Vivian Divine is Dead by Lauren SabelWell, friends, my incredible critique partner Lauren Sabel has her debut YA novel, Vivian Divine is Deadcoming out TODAY from Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins! Set in Hollywood and Mexico, this book follows teen starlet Vivian Divine as she goes on the run from the people who killed her mother. It’s twisty, turny, action-packed, and beautifully written–just about everything you could want in a summer book.

And you don’t have to take my word for it–Kirkus gave it a rave review!

(Though if you do want to take my word for it, here’s my own review from GoodReads.)

Vivian Divine Is DeadVivian Divine Is Dead by Lauren Sabel My rating: 5 of 5 stars This novel is so impressive in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start writing about it. I could comment on the beautiful descriptive language that the author uses to evoke both Hollywood and rural Mexico. I could talk about the dark threats that hover over Vivian from the first page, keeping the tension thick chapter after chapter. Or I could focus on Vivian herself, and her journey from spoiled starlet to determined, responsible young woman. Put all of these elements together, though, and you have one of the most evocative and original YA debuts I’ve read in quite a while. Clear some space in your schedule before reading this one; you won’t be able to put it down.

View all my reviews

Also out today are The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu (small-town rumors in Texas), Essence by Lisa Ann O’Kane (adrenaline junkies in Yosemite), and The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset (a secret faerie world in Boston), all of which I’ve had the pleasure of reading in full or in part before their releases. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these books. Happy book birthday to all!