Tuesday, November 03, 2015

California Cottage Food Law: Cardamom Cupcakes with Plum Swiss Meringue Frosting and Pomegranate Seeds

In one of the more "San Francisco" things that's ever happened to me, a couple of guys showed up to my last baking potluck and hustled us for their new baking internet start-up.  Yes, you read that correctly: a baking internet start-up.  Ah, the joys of living in SF.

Their basic business plan is that they have arranged all of the pesky non-baking details, like setting up a secure online payment system, contracting out with a delivery business, etc.  This leaves bakers with only thing to worry about: baking.

They've got several bakeries signed up and using their website but they specifically came to my potluck because they're trying to get home bakers who want to have their own from-home baking business to use their website.  They wanted to get some of us interested and to essentially be the from-home baking beta testers.

This is where the California Cottage Food Law comes into play.  As of January 1 2013, cottage food business became legal in the state of California.  A cottage food business is any food production business where the food product is manufactured in a non-commercial cooking space (i.e. a home kitchen).  Commercial food production facilities are monitored by the state for health and safety and food production business are licensed.  Before the Cottage Food Law was passed, all cottage food production was illegal.

So these guys are aiming for this new business area.  Leaving aside issues such as if it's worth it to run a cottage food business and if it's really possible to make money from a cottage food business, there's one major problem: frosting is not legal.

As odd as that sounds, there's a very logical reason for this and it's codified in the law.  "Baked goods, without cream, custard, or meat fillings" and "Flat icing" are legal, as is "Buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste that do not contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese".  Now if you're wondering exactly how it is that you're supposed to make frosting that doesn't contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese, the answer is that it's very difficult.  I suppose you could make something vegan but I have yet to try a vegan version of buttercream or Swiss meringue frosting that doesn't taste like a gigantic sugary mess.  The law specifically excludes eggs, cream, and cream cheese because of problems with refrigeration.  Eggs especially can be vectors for bacteria and the state cannot inspect and license non-commercial food production facilities, so the compromise is to allow cottage food businesses to make and sell food types that aren't well known for spreading illnesses and food poisoning.

Basically, the start-up guys didn't do their homework.  If you want to (or already are) run your own cottage food business, do your homework!  Check your state laws and make sure that you're not accidentally breaking any laws.  I had no idea about the restrictions in the California law until I looked it up.  Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law.  If you have a cottage food business and make somebody ill by selling any illegal food types, you are going to be in serious trouble.

The theme of the potluck where I got hustled was "autumn spice".  Although Americans seem to be obsessed with pumpkin spice, I decided to use cardamom, which is a spice that I ate a lot of when I was kid and we lived in the Middle East.  It's a standard spice in the Levant but for some reason it hasn't really got any traction in the US.  I don't know why - it's fantastic.  I also made the Swiss meringue frosting again for practice and I think that I've finally got the piping figured out.  Check out how pretty this cupcake was:

Then I accidentally washed the piping tip down the drain when I washed up.  Oops.

Since cardamom isn't used very much over here, I didn't look for cardamom cupcake recipes.  Instead, I found a good cinnamon cupcake recipe and swapped out the cinnamon for cardamom.  It worked like a charm.

I also didn't make the frosting that came with the recipe.  I love the combination of cardamom and plum so I made plum and pomegranate meringue frosting to go with my Middle Eastern spiced cupcakes.  The Swiss meringue frosting gets easier to make each time, and I definitely needed the piping practice.  This time I put a smaller amount of frosting in the piping bag and made sure that all of the air was squeezed out before starting piping.  Although I had to refill the bag more often, it was must easier to handle and steer the frosting to where I wanted it to go.  I recommend trying smaller amounts of frosting if you're having trouble controlling the piping bag.

The other change I made to the cupcake recipe was to sprinkle the cardamom-sugar mix in the middle of the cupcakes instead of on the top.  I like having a layer of taste explosion in the middle instead of having it on top, where the sugar and spices can easily fall off when you bite into the cupcake.  Unfortunately, I didn't measure out the amount of spices and sugar that I mixed together to make the middle layer so I've had to estimate it in the recipe.

This recipe makes 18 cupcakes and I ended up only needing 12 cupcakes, so I took the leftover batter and made a small loaf cake.  I mixed cardamom and cinnamon with granulated sugar and sprinkled it on top of the loaf before I baked it, to make a crispy cardamom topping.  I frosted it with the plum frosting and covered it with pomegranate seeds.  The crunch of the pomegranate seeds contrasted really nicely with the firm frosting and soft cake.

I only made half of the frosting recipe.  This recipe is very easy to make fractional amounts of and the original recipe makes about 5 cups of frosting.  Half of the recipe let me frost 12 cupcakes and one loaf cake and there was still some frosting left over.

Cardamom Cupcakes

Original from Taste of Home


  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg whites and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups one-thirds full. Combine sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon; sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon over each cupcake.  Fill the muffin cups another one-thirds full to be a total of two-thirds full.

Bake at 375° F for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes 18 cupcakes.

Plum Swiss Meringue Frosting

This is the same recipe that I used to make the mango Swiss meringue frosting, except that I used plums and pomegranate seeds instead of mangoes.

I chopped up one plum and removed the seeds from one pomegranate.  I boiled a couple of cups of water with about 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with the plum and about 1/3 of the seeds from the pomegranate for approximately 20 minutes.  This allowed the amount of water to reduce substantially and to let the plum become very soft.  I blended the plum and seeds together in a 3 cup Cuisinart.  The pomegranate seeds were still firm but did blend with the plum in the food processor.  After making the meringue frosting, I blended the plum-pomegranate mixture in using the KitchenAid stand mixer.  After frosting the cupcakes, I placed on pomegranate seed as a topping.

The batter before adding the cardamom

I just sprinkled cardamom in until it looked like the right amount.

Cardamom and cinnamon

Make the filling about half spices and half sugar

Fill the cups about one-third full

Sprinkle the spice-sugar mix over the batter

Cover up the filling with more batter, until the cups are two-thirds full

After 12 cupcakes, there's still almost half of the batter left.

Loaf cake with spice-sugar topping

Baked cake and cupcakes.

Getting ready to remove the pomegranate seeds

Boiling the plum and pomegranate seeds

The result

Plum and pomegranate seeds blended

Heating the egg whites over a double-boiler and whisking them

The frosting with the plum puree added in

Frosted cupcakes.  The bottom right was the last one and it shows.

With pomegranate seeds

The loaf cake version

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