C is for Chinese Five Spice and Cupcakes

January 14, 2011

I apologize for the delay in posting – I started my last semester of classes this week, and am having bittersweet mixed feelings.  On top of which, I already have a ton of homework (yuck!) but plan to get back on track now because I don’t like waiting a week between posts.  Well, I’m surprised to say we’re 3 for 3 on our ingredient/recipe alliteration (Chinese five spice/cupcakes).  Interesting coincidence.  I wonder how long that trend will continue.

So you’re all aware, I make no bones about the fact that I detest the flavor of licorice.  Whether in candy like Good n’ Plenty or black Twizzlers (which I’m pretty sure are marketed exclusively to old people), or the shots of Jagermeister I’ve rather reluctantly choked down with RedBull at parties—I just can’t stand the stuff.

So, naturally I was apprehensive when Erik turned up with Ingredient C:  Chinese Five Spice (particularly as I could smell the putrid pungency of anise trailing from his overnight bag before he was barely through the door).  The blend encompasses the five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty) usually in a combination of cinnamon, cloves, anise, star anise, and Szechuan pepper and is apparently very common in – you guessed it – Chinese cuisine.  (Some versions, including McCormick, have ginger instead of the pepper, but we used the Williams-Sonoma version which has the classic five flavors).

We decided to make Chinese Five Spice Cupcakes with a Maple Buttercream Frosting, which turned out to be surprisingly delicious despite my reluctance.  My advice to those of you who have never tried this, or are wary of its potency and complexity:  try it anyway.  It reminds me of a spice cake (such as you’d get using pumpkin or apple pie spice blends, etc.) but with more of an exotic depth of flavor from the anise and pepper.  And the maple from the frosting only enhances the experience.  I hate to admit when I’m wrong about something, but I must admit I certainly misjudged Chinese Five Spice.  So, the recipe:

Yum so pretty!

Chinese Five Spice Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream


  • 2/3 c. soy milk
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar (or white or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 ¼ c all purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1½-2 tsp chinese five spice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
  • ½ c maple syrup (REAL maple syrup, the Log Cabin stuff won’t work)
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 drops Lorann maple oil (or 2 tsp maple flavoring)

In small bowl, combine soy milk and vinegar and let stand for 5 minutes, allowing the soy milk to curdle slightly.  Once curdled add oil, syrup, sugar and flavorings to milk.  In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  Whisk wet ingredients to dry.  Pour into cupcake liners.  Bake at 350 for 18-20 min.

Woot for single bowl recipes!


  • ¾ c. margarine or butter
  • ¼ c. shortening
  • 3 ½ c. powdered sugar
  • 2 drops Lorann Maple oil (or 2 tsp maple flavoring)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

In electric stand mixer, cream margarine (or butter) and shortening with extracts.  Add sugar, beating until blended and fluffy.  Frost cooled cupcakes and sprinkle lightly with five spice if desired.  Nom.

Fun Fact:  If you use margarine instead of butter in the frosting, this recipe is 100% vegan!




  1. These look fabulous….I happen to have some 5 spice powder that I’m going to have to press into service I think. 😉 Maple buttercream…..lovely!

    • They were very delicious! Let us know how they turn out!

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