The Secret Ingredient


I feel a bit naughty writing about the same recipe in two places but this one is just too good not to! I’ve started a new column in The London Student about ingredients that are a little bit out of the ordinary, or at least not in keeping with the meat-and-two-veg ethic. Here is what I had to say about wasabi:

I’m sure you’ve smeared it on your sashimi or nigiri, but have you ever wondered how this peculiar green paste got to sit alongside your pickled ginger and fish-shaped sachet of soy sauce?

Although wasabi is most commonly compared to horseradish, it is in fact not related. It is a small plant that grows in rural Japan, hence its literal translation ‘mountain hollyhock’. It takes several years to mature naturally although it can be cultivated in a man-made environment, where special attention has to be paid as it can only grow in temperatures of between 11-14°C. So it’s just as well you only need a smidgen to make a difference to your dish. The paste we most commonly come across is made from the root of the plant, but the leaves, stalks and flowers can also be used to make a pickle to accompany Japanese curries if you’re lucky enough to discover the entire plant in an Asian supermarket.

As it is normally included in savoury dishes, I thought I would mix things up a little bit and combine it with chocolate for a cupcake with a kick and a punch. I know you’re thinking, ‘Holy Katsu!’, but bear with me. The bitterness of the chocolate and the warmth of the wasabi work in harmony rather than competing to make a beautiful little number. Here is how to do it:

Chocolate and Wasabi Cupcakes (makes 16)



For the cakes:

100g good dark chocolate (at least 70%)

100g butter

175g golden caster sugar

1 tspn vanilla extract

3 large eggs

100g self-raising flour

½ tspn baking powder

¼ tspn salt

1 generous tbspn wasabi paste (Don’t be scared! It loses some of its potency in cooking)


For the icing:

50g softened butter

100g full-fat cream cheese

250g icing sugar

1 tspn vanilla extract

½ tspn ground ginger


To decorate:

Crushed wasabi peanuts

Stem ginger

  • On a very low heat in a large saucepan melt the chocolate and butter together and when they are smooth, add the sugar. Mix well, but don’t worry, the sugar is not supposed to dissolve so the mixture will be a bit grainy.
  • Leave to cool for 10-15 mins.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time.
  • Then, sift in the dry ingredients and finally thoroughly work in the wasabi.
  • Scoop a good dessertspoon into each paper case and bake for 15-20 mins, depending on your oven. To test, insert a thin knife or skewer and if it comes out clean then they are done, but if it has some goo on it then they need a little more time.
  • While they are in the oven, make the icing. Blend the butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon.
  • Gradually sift in the icing sugar and when all is well blended, add the ginger and vanilla.
  • When the cakes have cooled, slice the tops to give a flat surface for the icing. Smear a good teaspoon of the icing on top and decorate with the crushed wasabi peanuts and finely chopped ginger as you see fit.
  •  Tuck in!


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