And might this dashing diva surrounded by cupcakes be? No other than Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, a creative baker who blends exotic and underused flavors together in her cupcakes, both savory and sweet. The end result is complex but not convoluted cupcakes. After meeting her (and eating her cupcakes) at a few Brooklyn cooking competitions, I could begin to recognize her knack for pairing flavors.
See below for some of Roopa's unique cupcake combination suggestions, for flavors you might not think work together, but do!
Name: Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello
Location: Brooklyn, NY
1. How did you get into cupcake baking?I started baking when I was 6 years old – I started out making my own birthday cakes with boxed mix and in high school moved on to cakes from scratch. Since then, I’ve taught myself more advanced recipes and techniques (much of the classic French pastry repertoire). I really only started baking cupcakes about 5 years ago when I had more time on my hands and found myself hosting parties once every few months. Although I love a beautiful layer cake, cupcakes are just easier to serve so I started serving those at parties and it took off from there.
2. Do you have a signature cupcake?Definitely. It’s a pistachio-cardamom cake topped with rosewater meringue buttercream frosting and a miniature rosebud. It’s a very classic flavor combination in Indian desserts, which is where I draw much of my inspiration for flavors.
3. What kind of cupcake do you plan to bake next?I’m always dreaming up new flavors but since the weather is getting cooler, I’ll probably do a mashup of my pumpkin cupcake with maple-ginger cream cheese frosting and my spiked cider cupcake (apple cider cupcake with apple cider and rum meringue buttercream frosting).
4. Where do you find inspiration?My cakes and cupcakes draw their flavors from the foods I love to eat. I grew up eating Indian food and Thai food is another one of my favorites, so you’ll find those flavors heavily represented in my repertoire. I particularly like those because many of the flavors used in those cuisines – cardamom, saffron, mango, pistachio in Indian, and Kaffir lime, ginger, chili, palm sugar in Thai – work so well in desserts and also because no one really makes desserts with these flavors, so my cupcakes really stand out. I also like to use local and seasonal fruits and flavorings so Sixpoint beer often turns up in my cupcakes and I will only make strawberry cupcakes when I can get the berries at the farmers market
5. Describe a memorable (funny/disastrous/life-changing) cupcake baking moment you've had.Well, I just won the Brooklyn Roots Experiment with a cupcake! The contest required that entrants make something that either represents Brooklyn’s culinary past or uses ingredients made or grown in Brooklyn, and I did both – I made an updated version of the Brooklyn Blackout Cake made famous by Ebinger’s Bakery in the 50’s. My new version was a Brooklyn Buzz Brownout Cake that was comprised of:
- Chocolate cake made with Sixpoint Craft Ales Gorilla Warfare (a coffee porter made with Gorilla Coffee, which is roasted in Park Slope, Brooklyn – and the beer is brewed in Red Hook, Brooklyn)
- Chocolate pastry cream filling
- Coffee meringue buttercream frosting made with Gorilla Coffee
- Toasted chocolate cake crumbs
- Brooklyn Dodgers B made with Mast Brothers chocolate (which is made in Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
6. Give one piece of cupcake advice for other bakers out there.Don’t be afraid to try out flavor combinations that don’t involve the standard vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and peanut butter. Draw inspiration from not only other desserts you’ve eaten but also foods you like – you’ll be surprised at how well flavors from savory dishes can translate into a sweet treat.
Unique Flavor Combos
Chocolate, Thai chili, and Kaffir lime – Chocolate and chili is a very popular combination these days – like Jacques Torres’ Wicked Hot Chocolate with cinnamon and Ancho chili – so I decided to give it a Thai twist and use fruity and hot Thai bird chilies and Kaffir lime leaves to temper the heat and provide a typical Thai flavor. I’ve used this combination in a variety of other desserts, but when I make this as a cupcake I use a plain chocolate cupcake and a chocolate ganache frosting infused with chili and Kaffir lime. This flavor combination actually proved to be a huge hit – I used it in a chocolate ice cream that won 1st prize from both the judges and audience at the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment last year.
Zucchini, olive oil, and saffron – this was inspired by a zucchini and pasta dish at my favorite restaurant, Dirt Candy. I made these cupcakes for the viewing party for the episode of Iron Chef America starring Dirt Candy’s chef, Amanda Cohen. The cupcakes were zucchini-olive oil cakes and the frosting was cream-cheese based with a bit of Greek yogurt and a hint of saffron. This one really demonstrates that you can take flavors from a savory dish and transform them into a dessert.
Green tea and pomegranate – I came up with this cupcake a number of years ago when green tea was all the rage. I had seen green tea cupcakes with green tea frosting, but I wanted to do something different, so I made a cream cheese-based frosting infused with pomegranate molasses to provide a tart contrast to the mellow yet deep flavor of the green tea.
Thanks, Roopa! Stay tuned for next week's Cupcake Baker of the Week. Leave us questions, feedback, and suggestions in the comments below, or e-mail Melissa at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org