“They do look older!”
In our school district the fifth graders spend a week away from home, experiencing nature and science with their teachers. Having been through this before, when my youngest left for his trip, I wasn’t overly concerned. Some of the other parents, however, were anxious because this was their first time sending off a child, and they didn’t know what to expect.
I found, though, that sharing simple reassures from my own experience helped – the 1 to 8 teacher to student ratio, the highly competent and skilled onsite staff, being with friends and teachers whom they’re already comfortable with….
And I promised them that when their children returned, that not only would they have survived but that they’d come back having grown from their experiences. In fact, I told them that, even physically, their children would look older when they step off the bus. So, I had to chuckle when we picked up our children, and sure enough, several parents said to me, “They do look older!”
When I received an email this week, asking how in the world someone could create their own allergy-friendly recipe, it occurred to me that my response would be the same as it was to the parents….
Reassurances: Once you begin experimenting, the knack will come to you. As with everything, practice is the key, and you already have what you need. Refer to the early posts on this site about the standard ratios and patterns which exist for all baked goods. Re-read the information about individual ingredient substitutions. When you know that a cake always takes about 2 cups of flour and that you can substitute a ready-made gluten free flour blend in a certain ratio, experimenting does not need to be scary.
Promises: You will grow in your ability to create your own recipes simply by experimenting. The practice itself will give you a feel for what does and doesn’t work. Might a recipe fail? Maybe… but as Thomas Edison said about the light bulb, “I have not failed. I just found 1,000 ways that didn’t work.” Culinary mishaps are simply learning lessons.
I know, though, from many, many conversations, that folks will still be apprehensive about “experimenting” despite reassurances and promises, so I thought I’d walk folks through a recent experiment of mine.
Over the summer, I thought I had a coup because an online site was selling the allergy friendly chocolate chips I like for a ridiculously low price. I ordered several bags but was dismayed when they arrived because the company had simply shipped them in a plain box despite the 90 degree weather. The chips had completely melted and then re-solidified in square lumps. The company credited my money back to me, but I was still left with chocolate chunks instead of tiny individual chips.
Last week, my husband asked me if I could bake something for a colleague at work. I decided cupcakes would be good because they’re portable, and I could give some to the colleague and still have some for the children at home. I looked in the fridge and the pantry to see what I had on hand. Several zucchini were beginning to look a little sad, so I figured I should use them, but I wanted to jazz them up a bit. Mini chocolate chips would do the trick, but of course, when I went to the pantry, I only found my solid chocolate blocks.
Thinking I could break it, I started whacking at the block with a hammer, only to discover that the solid chocolate was stronger than me and the hammer. The few chunks I managed to break apart told me that I’d be there forever trying to created little chips. So, I pulled out my food processor. Obviously that would do the trick. I popped the chunks in and whizzed the blade.
Well, let me tell you now: When chocolate has been melted and re-solidified, and you pop it into the food processor with the hopes of creating little chips… you won’t get chocolate chips. You’ll make your very own sweetened chocolate powder. A 10 oz block will make 1 1/2 cups of chocolate powder, in fact. 1 1/2 cups of chocolate powder which I didn’t want to waste but wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
Not to be deterred, though, I plowed on. An average cupcake recipe usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of flour. I knew that if I swapped out 1 1/2 cups of that for the chocolate powder, my recipe simply wouldn’t work, because the chocolate powder wasn’t dense enough and lacked leavening, so I decided I’d just have to add it to the flour and then increase my liquid ingredients, because I knew that in cake recipes, the dry and liquid ingredients are always equal.
The chocolate powder plus the flour (I used a homemade mix of garbanzo bean, sorghum, potato and tapioca flours) came to 3 1/2 cups so I opted to use 1 cup of a homemade soy buttermilk (to add protein and help with leavening), 1/2 cup of unsweetened orange juice (to complement and bring out the zucchini and chocolate flavors), 1/2 cup safflower oil, 3 eggs (increased them from the usual 2 to 3 because the eggs and flour ratio are usually the same and whole eggs because I wanted a moist, dense cupcake), and 1/3 cup of agave (wanted a little sweetener but didn’t need a whole lot because the chocolate powder was sweetened).
My next consideration was the leavening powders. I knew that one needs about 1 tsp of baking powder and/or 1/4 tsp of baking powder per cup of flour, so I’d need something equivalent for the 3 1/2 cups of flour/chocolate powder. I decided to use a mixture of 2 tsp of baking powder with 1 tsp of baking soda (because I wanted my cupcakes to rise but not rise so high that it would sink, and a mixture does that best). I opted to add some spices – cinnamon, allspice and clovers – as well because they’d complement the chocolate and orange flavors nicely.
The final step was to think about the “sugar”. Most cake recipes call for two cups of sugar. I had already added 1/3 cup of Agave, so I knew I could cut back on the sugar to about 1 cup, but I didn’t want to use sugar because I never bake with it. Increasing the Agave at this point, though, would mess up the ratio of dry to liquid ingredients, plus make for a denser cupcake than I wanted; so I decided to use coconut sugar (which would help brown the cupcake nicely).
My experimental recipe was done, and I could only pop it into the oven and hope for the best.
They came out delicious. The chocolate powder made for a milder chocolate taste and for a lighter cupcake than if I had used melted chocolate. My kids want me to make them again and sooner as opposed to later.
Yes, they could have flopped because it was an experiment, but using the knowledge I had about recipe patterns and ratios, I could methodically work my way through the changes, and the results were worth it.
If you begin experimenting, I both reassure you and promise you that you will find the same results.
Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
1 1/2 cup chocolate powder*
2 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend**
1 cup coconut sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/3 cup agave
1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice
1 cup soy milk mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice***
2 cups loosely packed shredded zucchini
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with liners.
- Mix the chocolate powder, flour blend, coconut sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
- Blend the eggs, oil, agave, orange juice and buttermilk well and the zucchini to the wet mixture.
- Combine the dry and wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
- Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups. They will be quite full.
- Bake until the cupcakes are puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Check at 15 minutes and adjust the time accordingly. Mine took about 25 minutes.
* A 10 oz solid chocolate bar processed in the food processor will yield the desired amount of chocolate powder.
** I made a homemade blend of garbanzo bean, sorghum, potato and tapioca flour, but you can use what you’d prefer.
*** It doesn’t have to be soy milk; you can use whatever type you’d prefer. Just be sure to add the lemon juice to make it a buttermilk.