17 days in Europe. 45 miles hiked with 60 lb backpacks. 1 (bad bad) case of food poisoning. 7 pounds lost, each. Endless laughter with friends on first week.  Beautiful sunsets and snuggles with my love for the rest.  Exploring small towns, big cities, and eating all the pasta and pizza to our hearts’ desire — may we always take these wonderful adventures together.

It’s good to be home.  We came back to our sweet Layla, a flourishing blooming garden and of course the warmth and comfort of family and friends.  Even better, Xiaolu from 6 Bittersweets agreed to prepare a guest post for my birthday today.  Imagine the happiness I felt when I found this in my inbox this morning :)   I met Xiaolu through the lovely world of food blogging and we instantly connected.  With her inspiring photography, elegant recipes, and most importantly her genuine personality we clicked immediately. Thank you Xiaolu for making my birthday special this year, it was one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten.  Turning 26 will be extra sweet this year, Feast your eyes on these bad boys!


When Joy emailed me some time ago to introduce herself and ask me to prepare aguest post for her birthday, I was beyond honored to accept her invitation. First, because she’s an incredibly talented food photographer who’s made her passion into a living — now that’s something to admire! Second, because I had just discovered and fallen in love with her blog! Joy posts the type of food that I crave…recipes as fresh and healthy for you as they are delicious and pleasing to the eye. Now months later, I’m proud to know Joy as a genuine sweetheart and dear friend. Thank you all for having me here today, and please join me in celebrating our birthday girl and gorgeous new bride with something sweet =D!

Although Joy was generous in giving me free reign over her birthday treat, I begged her for a few hints for finding the keys to her tastebuds. What she revealed was this: she adores pastry cream (could “eat it for days”) and you’d rarely find her turning down a good rum-soaked cake. With these promising leads, I set out to tailor-fit a special cupcake to suit her tastes. Luckily it appeared Joy and I share not only a Chinese heritage, American upbringing, and passion for food, but also similar taste in sweets. But despite my love of both pastry cream and rum cake, I could tell something was missing. Something fresh, light, and juicy. Something like a berry?
Once raspberry was identified as the missing piece, the rest of the recipe came together quickly: my favorite egg-less vanilla cupcake with an egg yolk added back in for richness (yes, I’m crazy like that ;p), a sweet n’ buttery rum glaze, pastry cream with mashed raspberries for a refreshing lift, and topping it all off…my favorite subtly sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting. Considering the two big occasions being celebrated, I couldn’t leave these cupcakes Plane Jane no matter how delicious they were inside! Joy let slip that she loved the color yellow, and I found it perfect that someone as vibrant and fun as her would be drawn to a color much the same. I couldn’t resist baking these sweets in yellow wrappers and topping them with festive homemade flag and pompom toppers (tutorial to come on my blog). The only thing missing was the birthday girl herself!
Dearest Joy, congratulations on the wonderful life you have already built and best of luck on all the exciting adventures that you and Mr. Joylicious are sure to embark on in the many years to come!

Rum N’ Raspberry Custard Cupcakes [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from VCTOTW, Always Order Dessert, and Gourmet
Makes 12 cupcakes
XIAOLU’S NOTES: I bought the printable images for these flag cupcake toppers from the Etsy store ReadyGo for $6 and added the text electronically in Photoshop. Then I simply printed them out on white card stock, cut out the shapes, and attached them to lollipop sticks using tape. The price for the printables is not bad at all considering you get up to 4 colors, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard to draw your own designs in Photoshop or a similar program either.
For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup MINUS 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp dark rum
  • For the rum syrup
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp dark rum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease tops of a 12-cup standard muffin pan, then line with baking liners. Whisk the milk and vinegar together in a measuring cup and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to curdle.
Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the milk mixture, oil, sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, almond extract, and rum, and mix together thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until no large lumps remain [small ones are okay].
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake cupcakes for 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool completely.
While the cupcakes cool, prepare the rum syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, water, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until the butter completely melts and the sugar dissolves. Let reduce slightly, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum (it may bubble). Let cool for 5 minutes.
Cut a cone out of the top of each cooled cupcake and set it to the side. Using a spoon or pastry brush, coat the sides and bottom of the opening with rum syrup, about 2 teaspoons per cupcake. Fill each opening with about 2 teaspoons of pastry cream, place the cut-out cone back on the cupcake, and press down slightly to secure. Finally spread or pipe cream cheese frosting onto each cupcake!
Raspberry Pastry Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 3/4 cup milk [not skim]
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup fresh raspberries, coarsely mashed

Heat milk in a small saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not boiling. While milk heats, whisk together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heatproof bowl until smooth.
Add 1/4 cup of hot milk to yolk mixture in a stream, whisking, then add remaining milk, whisking constantly. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and comes to a boil, 5 to 10 minutes.
Immediately force custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl and stir in butter and vanilla. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold and thickened, at least 3 hours. Stir in mashed raspberries just before use.

Pipeable Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3/4 to 1 cup (1 1/2 to 2 sticks) trans fat-free margarine or butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 to 3 cups (6.5 to 13.25 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. (1 block) vegan or full-fat dairy cream cheese, cold and cut into large chunks

Sift powdered sugar into a small bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, cream the butter, 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, and vanilla until thoroughly blended and fluffy. Add the cream cheese, a chunk at a time, beating after each addition (just enough to work it in until it’s smooth). Taste the frosting, adding and beating in more sugar as needed. Be careful to avoid overbeating or the cream cheese may start to break down and become gloppy. If not using immediately, chill until needed, then beat again until smooth just before using.


  1. Sukaina says: 16 May ’11 • 13:20:38

    Now those cupcakes look like something special. Such a pretty color combination too. Wish you the best always Joy!


  2. Xiaolu/6Bittersweets says: 16 May ’11 • 13:21:45

    The pleasure was all mine, Joy! Thanks for inviting me into your virtual home. I can’t believe we’re the same age. I mean you look 26 or even younger, but you’ve got the dream career and always seem more mature than me when we chat 8). Only wish I could give these cupcakes to you in person. One day, though!! Sorry to hear about your food poisoning, but glad the rest of the trip was amazing =D


  3. Anncoo says: 16 May ’11 • 16:00:34

    Happy Birthday JOY! 祝你生日快乐!
    Those cupcakes from Xiaolu look so pretty, I’m sure you love it!


  4. chelle says: 16 May ’11 • 16:29:32

    oooo xiaolu your cupcakes are lovely as usual, the yellow pompom poppers are squeal worthy cute! and nt forgetting, happy birthday to joy!


  5. LoveCupcakes says: 16 May ’11 • 18:44:07

    Those cupcakes are very elegant along with its cute cupcake toppers makes its more inviting to eat. Thank for sharing this cupcake recipe.


  6. Brian says: 16 May ’11 • 19:50:05

    WISHING YOU A VERY VERY VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY! So sorry you got food poisoning. So scary!

    And thank you for introducing me to this wonderful blogger! Wonderful post!


  7. Sue says: 16 May ’11 • 22:45:24

    Xiaolu was a smart choice for making a birthday dessert! Beautiful job! They sound DELICIOUS, especially with the raspberry pastry cream! Happy Birthday to you!


  8. Aldy says: 17 May ’11 • 00:45:37

    Hi Joy,
    I have come across your blog via Xiaolu’s blog–and I am in bliss! You have an absolutely beautiful-mouth-watering blog. Happy Birthday ! And all the best :)

    Have a wonderful day,



  9. zurin says: 17 May ’11 • 04:42:38

    Happy Birthday Joy. :)

    Xiaoulu, you diid such a beautiful job. Love the pompoms. cant wait for the tutorial ;) Im sure Joy was more than happy with your ‘gift’ for her birthday. So special.


  10. Sylvie@GITK says: 17 May ’11 • 05:42:12

    Happy, Happy Birthday Joy, hope it was a good one! Those are some amazing cupcakes Xialou, you’re the cupcake queen!


  11. Jennifer (Delicieux) says: 17 May ’11 • 08:31:10

    Happy Birthday!!!!! I hope you have a wonderful day!

    I can Xialou got it off to a fine start with these gorgeous cupcakes! They are so cute. I love the little pom poms.


  12. The Harried Cook says: 17 May ’11 • 11:33:54

    Hi, I came over from Xiaolu’s website and I really like yours! I will be back for more of your recipes and posts… I hope you had a wonderful birthday & I’m sure Xiaolu’s breathtaking cupcakes really made your day! :) Glad to have found you!


  13. cooking rookie says: 17 May ’11 • 18:37:30

    Happy Birthday, Joy!
    I came from Xiaolu’s site. I don’t know how it happens that I’ve been away from your site for so long. I am going to subscribe now, and visit frequently, I don’t want to miss your beautiful posts!


  14. Ilke says: 17 May ’11 • 21:05:15

    Just visited Xialou’s page and found another talented person just like her! Happy happy birthday and wish you a great life with your loved one!


  15. Jeannie says: 18 May ’11 • 02:32:48

    Simply beautiful! Happy Birthday to the birthday gal…may you have many more joyous years to celebrate:)


  16. briarrose says: 18 May ’11 • 22:11:05

    Lovely mix of flavors.


  17. shaz says: 19 May ’11 • 00:03:14

    Hi Joy, just popped over form Xiaolu’s blog. You have a beautiful place here. Happy belated birthday :)


  18. Shirley@kokken69 says: 19 May ’11 • 00:47:05

    The wonder of multiplication effect afforded by the networking media of today… Leading one to another… I am glad that Xiaolu has led me to discover your lovely blog. Everything I havebseen thus far are just so breath taking! Xiaolu, of course been the baking princess that she is never disappoints!


  19. kankana says: 19 May ’11 • 00:49:57

    Happy Birthday Joy :) Xialou recipes always blows me away and these cup cakes looks so delicious and the presentation .. SIGH!


  20. Chocolate Central says: 19 May ’11 • 02:37:50

    Happy Birthday Joy. Xiaolu mentioned yesterday in a personal email to me that she just did a guest post, but didn’t say for who. I stumbled upon it on Foodbuzz just now. What beautiful cupcakes. I couldn’t agree more that she is a sweetheart and a very talented photographer. She is my Go-To-Gal for food blogging information. She is always sooo generous with her time and knowledge.


  21. torviewtoronto says: 19 May ’11 • 02:57:34

    this looks delicious lovely presentation


  22. Jenn (JJ’s Cakery) says: 19 May ’11 • 04:46:06

    I love the sound of the raspberry custard filling….yum! My favourite cupcakes (and the only way to make cupcakes) are filled ones! Put some run into that combo, and you have a dynamite treat!


  23. naomi says: 19 May ’11 • 23:57:15

    OMG! I’m so glad Xialou pointed me to your site. I love it! Just gorgeous and gorgeous cupcakes for your birthday. Hope it was good one!


  24. Xiaolu/6Bittersweets says: 20 May ’11 • 10:15:07

    Thanks for the support, everyone! And I’m so glad I was able to help more people discover Joy’s lovely blog.


  25. Sook says: 25 May ’11 • 17:28:45

    I love the decoration, Joy! So cute!


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