Fairy cakes, baby cakes, patty cakes, little cakes . . . whatever you call them, cupcakes are a diminutive, delightful dessert. I love cupcakes; they have a special place in my heart. In fact, like many in this country, I’m slightly obsessed with them.
The first object of my cupcake affection was Magnolia Bakery in New York City. Back in the early nineties, every time I was in the Village, I made sure to stop by this adorable bakeshop. On my excursions down to Magnolia (I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for nearly twenty years), I concluded that there are two types of people—cake people and frosting people. While Magnolia had fabulous cakes, their frostings were even better—actually, they were obscenely good. And what better way for one person to eat a large amount of frosting than piled on top of a delicious cupcake?! I was madly in love with Magnolia.
This particular affair ended abruptly. In 1998 I discovered I had celiac disease (a multi-organ autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten). This diagnosis spurred me to bake gluten free for myself, from scratch. So I began to make my own cupcakes. Even though the cupcake is typically a gluten- and dairy-filled dessert, people with food intolerances hanker for this delightful little treat just like everybody else. Two children and many birthday parties later, my passion for cupcakes has not cooled one bit, and I am still smothering them in frosting.
While my family loves cupcakes just as much as the next, there are a number of us with food restrictions. My older son also has celiac disease, as do my sister, mother, and mother-in-law. My younger son is gluten-intolerant. As you can imagine, gluten-free cooking is near and dear to my heart (as is celiac education and awareness). My husband, on the other hand, has no food restrictions whatsoever—though he definitely prefers a nutrient-dense, high-protein snack. I also have many friends who have an intolerance to dairy. So when I bake, I’m looking to create something that satisfies everyone’s needs—gluten free, dairy free, low in sugar, and high in protein. That’s a lot of criteria to meet! Luckily, I like a good challenge.
In May 2010 my romance with cupcakes became more public—and more involved. I featured cupcakes on my blog, elanaspantry.com, creating a “Month O’ Cupcakes.” That month-long cupcake project became the basis for this book, as I experimented to find even more cupcake and frosting flavors to satisfy the growing gluten-free audience. My children and I went through every cupcake book we could get our hands on in order to determine the “must have” types of cupcakes for “our” book, and then I set out to create gluten-free versions that rely on only a handful of natural ingredients.
My cupcake obsession did not skip a generation. Not even close. My children love cupcakes just as much as I do. My older son is a chocolate boy. It was he who decided that we needed Marble Cupcakes (page 27), and he went on to pre-test this creation and write up very professional notes along the way. My younger son loves anything that is edible and pink. He does a fine job when it comes to licking clean bowl after bowl of Strawberry Meringue Frosting (page 97).
My boys were also the inspiration for the Special Occasion section of this book. They love complicated, gooey confections and I love making such treats in a healthier form—hence this section was born. The Special Occasion cupcakes do have more steps than those in the rest of the book, however they are quite impressive visually and are beyond decadent.
While my children were focused on fancy, fun, showstopping cupcakes—such as the Banana Split (page 77)—I was determined to come up with a delicious vegan cupcake. Cooking without the gluten from wheat flour, the fat from butter, and the protein from eggs is not an easy task. I sometimes joked with my friends (and Facebook followers) that I was creating a recipe out of thin air. Forty-nine test batches later, I was finally satisfied with my gluten-free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes (page 23). I was determined to make this vegan treat so that readers would be able to use it for the Special Occasion recipes in this book. With a variety of vegan frostings, a vegan cupcake was necessary to round out the offerings.
In addition, I slipped in several “savory cupcakes” to the recipe mix, which I’m calling “muffins.” After baking so many sweet cupcakes, I couldn’t resist adding a few savory, because it’s not always easy to find great gluten-free muffins.
Naturally, all of the recipes in this book are strictly gluten free (gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley). You will not find a recipe here that calls for even an ounce of gluten.
As for other food restrictions, there are the vegan cupcakes that I mentioned above, plus an assortment of dairy-free and vegan frostings and fillings, so that all of you can break bread with as many friends as possible, regardless of dietary restrictions. That’s always my goal.
Finally, a couple of tips on how to use this book. I have included a sweetness rating for each of the cupcake recipes here. This rating will let you know which cupcakes are less sweet and better for something such as brunch or a snack, and which recipes are very sweet and entirely decadent treats best saved for a festive dessert. Although I give suggestions for frostings at the top of most of the cupcake recipes, you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Feel free to get creative with pairings other than those I have suggested.
Cupcakes 101: Equipment, Tips, and Ingredients
Much can go wrong when baking cupcakes. This I learned along the way in creating an entire book about them. So, I have to give major credit to the writers of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Almost everything I learned about troubleshooting the little cakes came from them. Many thanks to Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero!
I often receive questions about baking cupcakes at various altitudes and am asked if adjustments are necessary. Thankfully, this is not the case. I’ve tested many of these recipes at both mile high and sea level. So, please note that if your cupcakes are not turning out, an altitude adjustment is not the solution. See some of the other recommendations I list to help you figure out what the issue may be.
Creating great cupcakes requires the use of certain tools. Nothing too fancy is needed here; these are just a few notes to let you know what equipment I keep my kitchen stocked with to achieve perfect little cakes.
A few recipes in this book require a “high-powered” blender. I use the Vitamix brand, though Blendtec will work equally well.
I store all of my flours (and all of my dry ingredients) in glass jars in order to keep them fresh and maintain optimal moisture content. I have found that almond flour and coconut flour can be stored in tightly sealed glass jars in the refrigerator or freezer for several months.
I keep a 1/2-cup measuring cup in the almond flour and a 1/4-cup measuring cup in the coconut flour. I have quite a few sets of measuring cups so that my two boys and I can be making different recipes at the same time and have all the cups that we need—without sharing!
I use an electric handheld mixer in most of the cupcake and frosting recipes in this book, other than a few that call for hand mixing of ingredients.
I use metal measuring cups for both wet and dry ingredients—the old-fashioned kind like my mom used. While general baking guidelines suggest using a liquid measuring cup for liquids to avoid spilling and also because there’s a handy spout for pouring, I prefer to use the dry measuring cups for all of my ingredients. First, having glass around when my children are baking is a bit of a risk. Sometimes the kitchen gets crowded and we get a little wild (imagine ingredients flying everywhere). Second, I find that using less equipment, and fewer different types of equipment, simplifies and streamlines the baking process, thus enhancing my creativity. Lastly, I use the metal measuring cups instead of plastic because plastic is made from petrochemicals that contain endocrine-disrupting compounds.
I find that a rounder, deeper set of measuring spoons works best. With less surface area on top, there is a smaller chance for measuring inaccurately. Again, I use metal measuring spoons rather than plastic. I find that metal equipment wears well and lasts longer than plastic.
Given that I try to stay away from fruit-flavored extracts and flavorings as much as possible, and prefer less processed ingredients such as zest in both my cupcake and frosting recipes, I highly recommend this tool to speed your prep work. Another trick? Use citrus zest as an alternative topping to sprinkles; it’s naturally beautiful, deliciously flavorful, and rich in health-building bioflavonoids to boot.
I use one large and one medium mixing bowl for these recipes. I also use a deep bowl (made by Vietri) for making whipped cream and meringues; unlike other bowls, this one is almost “V” shaped, rather than “U” shaped. Using a bowl that is deep and not very wide is a little trick of mine that helps in aerating cream and eggs in whipped creams and meringues. My boys refer to our Vietri as the “whipped cream bowl,” and easily make a batch of whipped cream in it at the drop of a hat. They are fearless in the kitchen, and this bowl helps them!
I recommend using aluminum muffin pans for making your cupcakes—coated, silicone, and disposable pans will not yield the same results. I use both regular and mini-size muffin pans, depending upon the recipe.
My recipe tester, Karin, went out and got herself three of these just to make sure her oven temperature was exact. I would suggest one, so that you know that your oven is baking at the correct temperature. I keep mine in the oven all the time to confirm that my oven is properly calibrated, and I am providing the correct temperatures. Baking is a science (unfortunately, for the less scientifically minded among us), and temperature is an important part of the equation. If your temperature is off, your results are likely to be off as well. This is one culprit that is often overlooked when the desired results are not achieved.
I use a flexible rubber spatula to scrape every drop of batter out of a bowl of frosting or cupcake batter. I also use a spatula when measuring the cupcake batter into the lined muffin tins—it’s a great tool for leveling out those 1/4 cups of batter.
Be sure to time the cupcakes when you are baking them. There is a window of time in each of the recipes for cupcake doneness. When baking, everything can affect that window—from the weather outside to the climate in which you live. That’s why I give a range for the baking times.
Gluten-free baking can be quite different from “standard” baking, and different gluten-free flours can vary from one another greatly. Recipes using coconut flour have unusually high ratios of wet to dry ingredients—so high, in fact, that some people suspect a mistake in the writing of the recipe. Do not be deterred, though—cupcakes made with coconut flour are absolutely wonderful, and although batter made with this flour can be quite wet, the resulting cupcakes are delightfully fluffy. While ingredient ratios in recipes using almond flour look more “normal,” the resultant batters seem a bit thicker than standard batters made with gluten.
A note on multiplying the recipes—when you want to increase the specified yield, I recommend that you make a second batch, rather than doubling the recipe.
When you are ready to bake, let the oven continue to preheat for at least 15 minutes once it reaches the necessary temperature. I know, this is a waste of energy; however, it will allow all the parts of the oven to come to the needed temperature, and your cupcakes will bake more evenly. Place your cupcakes on the middle oven rack, unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Lastly, please do not open the oven door every 2 minutes! This is a temptation for me every time I bake a batch of cupcakes, but opening the door to the oven changes the oven temperature and can ruin a good batch of cupcakes. Use the oven light if you have one and need to obsess the way I do, and don’t peek until the lower end of the recommended baking range.
I do not recommend making cupcakes more than a day ahead of time. If you do want to make the cupcakes before needed, make them the evening before and allow them to cool in the pans overnight.
Coconut and almond flour cupcakes keep in slightly different ways. I leave my cupcakes made with almond flour out on the counter and they become more moist as the days pass. I live in the dry climate of Colorado—if you do this in a humid climate it may not work, so in that case I recommend you place your almond flour baked goods in an airtight container in the refrigerator after one day. On the other hand, coconut flour cupcakes cannot really be left out for more than 10 to 14 hours or they will harden and turn into rocks. Therefore, I like to store my coconut flour cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator and recommend this for all climates. Frost just prior to serving.
I don’t recommend freezing any of the cupcakes or frostings—these desserts are much better served fresh.
Triple Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 9 • Sweetness: High
Dark, milk, and white chocolate chips are sprinkled throughout this rich chocolate cupcake. For a more sophisticated version, use only dark chocolate chips. Guaranteed to fulfill your daily chocolate craving.
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (73% cacao)
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 9 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and agave nectar. Blend the wet ingredients into the coconut flour mixture with a handheld mixer until thoroughly combined, then fold in all of the chocolate chips.
Scoop ¼ cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 1 hour, then serve.