Corona Cooking: Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

“It depends on your perspective….”

For many of us, the topsy-turvy daily changing world we are currently living in as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic is not welcomed. We fear for more than just our physical health. The closing of schools can exacerbate familial tensions. Mandated work leave may bring financial hardship. Social distancing can increase already felt isolation. Much stands to be lost, both globally and locally.

Yet, for just as many, this is an opportunity to embrace rest from the stresses of the daily grind and routine. Some see this as a time to be with family members we have too little time for in the midst of the usual “rushing here and there” lives we live. Others have been taking the unexpected time at home to spring clean or to create or to try something new. Many have been connecting more via social media, encouraging one another, even as social distancing prevents physical gatherings.

Perspective is an interesting concept. It refers to the view from which someone considers something, and recently I realized just how different my perspective is from a well-known cooking organization. “Ground-breaking recipes” in bold letters hailed my attention across the grocery aisle. I wondered what they had learned which those of us who had been cooking gluten free for years did not already know.

On the positive side, I was glad that this particular organization had created a gluten free issue of their magazine. It seemed to me, they’d been slow to do so. As I read through their recipes and suggestions, they appeared to offer good advice and had great tips, a couple of which I actually hadn’t tried myself before. They even had a short section at the end about those who are dairy sensitive as well as gluten, offering some ways to alter their recipes.

Where I took issue, though, was very bald statements they made about the fact that in order to create tasty gluten free food, only white rice flour should be used, that if you deviate from their homemade versions of flour blends you do so at your own risk, and that only a few of their recipes should be amended because the butter, whole eggs, and sugar were necessary. Since white rice flour has absolutely no nutritional value, and few people have the time to make their own homemade flour blends, and even more people are trying to eat healthier with less butter, whole eggs, and sugar, I found myself a bit put-out overall by the magazine.

And since I have a bit of time on my hands these days, I decided to see if I could literally make the magazine eat their words. I took one of their recipes for a dark chocolate cupcake and altered it to see if the difference was as stark as the magazine indicated it would be. My test-eaters agreed it was not, and that they actually preferred the version I had created. So, I share it here with you now, in case you, too, have some unexpected time to bake.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes


1 cup safflower oil

3/4 cup Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips

2/3 cup Hershey unsweetened Special Dark cocoa powder

1 1/4 cup King Arthur whole grain gluten free flour blend

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup liquid egg whites

2 whole eggs

2 tsp gluten free vanilla

1 cup coconut sugar or monk fruit sweetener blend

1 cup non-dairy milk (soy or oat or flax)

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin/cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
  2. In a large microwave safe measuring cup, melt together the safflower oil, dark chocolate chips, and unsweetened cocoa powder by microwaving for a minute and stirring until everything is smooth and completely melted. Set aside to cool.
  3. Combine in a bowl, the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the egg whites, eggs, vanilla and coconut or monk fruit sugar until well mixed.
  5. To the large bowl of liquid ingredients, add the cooled chocolate and milk, blending well.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the the liquid and stir until all ingredients are completely incorporated and mixture is smooth.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the lined tins.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes until the cupcakes are puffed, dry and firm to the touch.
  9. Remove from the tins and allow the cupcakes to cool on wire cooling racks.
  10. Eat as is or frost with desired frosting.




Creative Cooking: Gingerbread Cupcakes

“It’s about coming together as a community….”

Some friends of mine decided recently that we should put all the walking we have been doing to good use, specifically, I walked my first 5K last weekend, and we did another this weekend.  The first supported community living in general and raised funds for a local community initiative; the second was to help raise awareness and aid for cancer research and care for children.

Not having done a 5K before, I did not know what to expect, and I was surprised by the diversity that one finds at such events. Race, politics, religion, lifestyles, level of health, even reasons for doing each of these particular 5K races varied from person to person. Something about participating in a 5K transcends everything other than the fact that everyone is there, which seems to make you automatically a part of a special group.

I was also marked by the optimism and positive vibes which steep such events. People cheer you on from the get-go and continue to encourage you the entire way, and even if you are last, you receive the same accolades as the person who was first, sometimes even more so! Whether you run, walk or are in a wheelchair, you are accepted and permitted to do the race at your own pace in the manner which works best for you. Best of all, though, is that you become a part of a community as opposed to being alone.

People I did not know felt comfortable chatting with me before, during and at the end of the races because of that common bond, which was that we were all participating in the 5K. We were all part of “the group”.

I thought about this yesterday as a mom told me about her worries for her middle child who just started her first year of college. The daughter has a lot of food issues but has difficulty watching what she eats because she does not want to be different from her friends; she does not want to miss out on the foods they are eating… pizza, pasta, desserts. She just wants to “be a part of the group,” as she tells her mother quite frequently.

We all want to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Being a part of a community that runs and walks and wheels together for the good of community and humanity is a good thing to be a part of. Being a part of a close-knit group of friends is also a good thing. Sometimes, however, that community we are choosing to join needs some education, and sometimes we have to remember that we can be a part of community life and still be different, and more than that, our differences are what most of the time make for a more vibrant community life. As with the 5K, we should be able to be accepted and permitted to do the same thing differently.

This week, I had a workshop with a very large group of much older folks who had never considered trying to eat healthier or allergy friendly… ever. They wondered, as they rightly should have, whether it was even possible to make the foods they loved in the manner which I promised them they could. As such, I had my work cut out for me to create desserts which fit their expectations. To that end, one of the items I made was gingerbread cupcakes.

The folks had indicated that they loved gingerbread, and how could I possibly make gingerbread without using at least two cups each of molasses and sugar and without white flour and butter. It simply would not be the same! Well, I am happy to say that they loved the gingerbread cupcakes so much that they took all my leftovers home, leaving nothing for me to share with the family after! Fortunately, the family had been able to taste test a couple before!

So, below is a recipe for gingerbread cupcakes which is dairy, gluten, soy, and egg free. I did opt to use coconut sugar to get the texture that I needed for the gingerbread but any folks with a coconut allergy can feel free to use the traditional brown sugar or substitute agave, using half the amount you would for the coconut sugar. The coconut milk can also be changed to any type of milk that best suits one’s food needs. I also used date molasses instead of regular molasses which is made entirely from dates but if you cannot find that, you can use regular molasses.

Gingerbread Cupcakes


3 cups gluten free flour blend (I used King Arthur’s Whole Grain version)

1 cup coconut sugar

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp ginger

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cloves

1 cup date molasses

1 cup coconut milk

1 cup safflower oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners
  2. Mix together the flour, coconut sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.
  3. Blend together the date molasses, coconut milk, and oil.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet with the apple cider vinegar. Blend quickly just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cupcakes are puffed and dark golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow the cupcakes to sit for five minutes and then remove them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. These cupcakes are extremely flavorful and need no frosting at all. If you would like to frost them, though, as I did for the workshop, the frosting I used is below.

“Cream Cheese” Frosting


1/4 to 1/2 cup vegan butter (how much you choose to use depends on how buttery tasting you want your frosting versus cream cheese tasting)

agave (I suggest starting with one tablespoon and tasting to see if you need more sweetness)

4 oz to 8 oz tofu cream cheese (how much depends on how much butter you used, how much of a cream cheese taste you want and how thick you want the frosting; if you don’t have a dairy allergy and want to use real cream cheese instead of the tofu version, you may)

cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and/or cloves (add to your tastes, starting with 1/4 tsp of your choice or choices.

Frosting Instructions:

  1. In a mixer, mix the butter until smooth.
  2. Slowly drizzle in the agave with the mixer on low to blend the agave in with the butter until creamy. Taste to see if you need to add any more agave.
  3. Add the tofu cream cheese and blend well until the frosting is to the desired thickness for easy spreading.
  4. Add the spices to your liking. I use all four for a nice spice frosting.
  5. If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it with milk of your choice. If it is too runny, thicken it with a little powdered sugar, using only 1 tsp at at time.

Valentine Greetings: Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes


“Yay! Another snow day!”

After a winter of warm days and relatively little snow, Mother Nature decided that we needed three feet to fall within a week and a half. My middle child is vexed that the three tests she was supposed to have had a week ago still have not been administered due to two snow days and three start of school delays. My oldest and youngest, however, have been thrilled for the extra time to hang out in dorms with no classes (my oldest at college) and to play at home with the family (my youngest in middle school).

As a family, we’ve made use of the snowbound time to catch up on the never-ending t0-do list and to spend time together since the youngest really wanted us to play with him. Many hours sledding in our backyard, playing board games, competing on the Wii, and watching reruns of old shows left the family in the mood for something “special” to eat.

Since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, we decided to make some Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes, one of the family’s favorites. You make a chocolate raspberry center which you tuck into the cupcake batter so when you eat it, you enjoy a nice creamy flavor surprise.  What’s nice about this recipe is that it’s free of most foods folks tend to be allergic to, so just about anyone can enjoy them.

Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

2 tbsp Polaner’s seedless raspberry All-Fruit

2 tbsp Earth Balance vegan, soy free butter

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a microwave safe large glass container, place all three ingredients and microwave for 1 minute. Stir until the mixture is completely smooth.
  2. Place the container in the refrigerator and let the mixture cool and begin to thicken. It can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on how hot your microwave makes the chocolate, how exact your measuring is, etc…. What you want is for the mixture to be thick enough when you spoon it that you can mound the chocolate onto a cookie sheet.
  3. When the chocolate has thickened enough to form little mounds, place a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet and create 24 chocolate mounds using a teaspoon to scoop out the chocolate mixture. You essentially are making a little “hershey kiss” of your own.
  4. Once you have 24 more or less equally sized chocolate mounds, put them into the fridge to harden while you make the cupcake batter.

Cupcake Ingredients:

3 cups favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 cup unsweetened Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder

3 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup agave

3/4 cup safflower oil

2 cups water

2 tsp vanilla

3 tbsp vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 24 cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
  2. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt well and set aside.
  3. Mix the agave, oil, water, and vanilla and add to the dry ingredients with the vinegar. Mix well until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  4. Put 1 1/2 tbsp of batter into each of the 24 cupcake tins.
  5. Carefully peel and place one of the chocolate raspberry mounds into the center of each of the cupcake tins.
  6. Divide the remaining batter evenly among the cupcake tins (about 1 1/12 tbsp) to cover the chocolate mounds.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The cupcakes will be rounded, firm to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean. My oven always bakes them in 15 minutes but a friend said hers took 20.
  8. Let the cupcakes sit in the tins for 5 minutes. Then remove them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. Frost with your favorite frosting recipe or use the one below is one I’ve adapted from Elana’s Pantry.

Frosting Ingredients:

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup avocado oil

2 tbsp agave

2 tsp vanilla

your preference of “milk”

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Mix the chips, oil, and agave together in a microwave safe glass container.
  2. Heat the chips for 1 minute. Stir. If it needs to be heated more, do so 20 seconds at a time until you can stir the chips smooth.
  3. Add the vanilla and stir well.
  4. Transfer the mixture to your mixer bowl.
  5. Put into the freezer until the mixture begins to hard around the edges but is still softer in the center.  This can take between 15 to 30 minutes.
  6. Using your mixer, blend the chocolate mixture on high speed until the mixture becomes thick and smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides a couple of times.
  7. Add “milk”, a teaspoon at a time until the mixture is to the creamy consistency you prefer for frosting your cupcakes.


Creative Cooking: Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

“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

3 eggs

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

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with liners.
  2. Mix the chocolate powder, flour blend, coconut sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. Blend the eggs, oil, agave, orange juice and buttermilk well and the zucchini to the wet mixture.
  4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
  5. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups. They will be quite full.
  6. 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.





Creative Cooking: Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

“Can we make something chocolate?”

My few weeks have been beyond crazy.  On top of our usual busyness of school, work, and activities, we’ve continued to deal with my oldest’s recovery from being hit by a car, we’ve grieved the death of a friend’s daughter, we’ve agonized over a loved one being in the hospital in an induced coma, and we added rehearsals for my son to be in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and auditions for a play I’m directing.

So, it’s now just a few days before Thanksgiving, and I’m finally turning my attention to the menu for that day and returning to this blog which I have ignored for these past three weeks. When I asked my children what we should have my middle child responded with the question:  “Can we make something chocolate?”

Now, two of my three children are well-rounded dessert lovers. When presented with choices, they may choose a slice of apple pie or a piece of zucchini cake or a ginger cookie or a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. My middle child, however, when given options to choose from, will opt for the chocolate cream pie or the chocolate fudge cake or the double chocolate cookie or the chocolate cheesecake.

So, I wasn’t surprised when she asked if we could make something chocolatey. She always does, and I always suggest that we stick to the traditional pies for Thanksgiving and make something chocolate for another time. I surprised myself yesterday, though, by actually contemplating the idea of making chocolate cupcakes.

Why? Three reasons: One, I just had a really, really long week and the thought of something comforting like chocolate cupcakes was enticing; two, with the death of my friend’s daughter at such a young age (20’s) and my own daughter being alive after being hit by a car, I’m realizing that life’s too short to NOT have chocolate, no matter the season; and three, we just watched my son’s performance in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where I was reminded that it’s all really about family and friends and time together and not the menu.

So, if you need assistance in revamping your holiday menu to fit allergy or health needs, please read my posts from last year (Nov and Dec 2013) where you’ll learn all sorts of lessons for how to do so; but for this Thanksgiving, I’m offering a creative addition to the Thanksgiving menu:  Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes which are gluten, dairy, nut, soy, peanut, and egg free. Enjoy and have a most Happy Thanksgiving!

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes


3 1/2 cups gluten free flour (I used Authentic Foods Multi-Blend)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1 cup Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup Hershey’s dark unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup oil (I used safflower)

1 cup Agave

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups water

2 tbsp vinegar (I used raspberry but apple cider or white will do)

Polaner’s Raspberry All-Fruit

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners.

2. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder. Add the chocolate chips and set aside.

3. Whisk together the oil, agave, vanilla, and water.

4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, adding the vinegar.

5. Divide half of the batter evenly among the muffin cups. I usually put about 1 1/2 tbsp of batter into each.

6. Carefully put one teaspoon of raspberry all fruit into the center of the batter.

7. Evenly distribute the remaining batter among the muffin tins, carefully putting the batter over the raspberry all fruit.  Again, this is usually about another 1 1/2 tbsp.

8. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes.

9. Cool in the muffin tins on a wire rack for about five minutes before removing them from the tins and completely cooling them on a wire rack.

10. For a festive touch, put the cupcake into a bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or nondairy frozen dessert next to it with a raspberry and mint leaf on top.


Recipe Makeover: Birthday Cupcakes

website bday cupcakes

“Your credit card has been declined.”

My oldest is heading off to college at the end of the summer, and we’re discovering that preparing your child for college is akin to wedding planning: tiny details which you never considered suddenly pop up as huge decisions.

For example, should your child take her clock from her bedroom with her to college which would save you the cost of buying a clock for her dorm room but which would leave her bedroom at home clock-less for when she returns at winter break or when you use it as a guest room for the grandparents? Because, of course, having a clock to tell time is rather important even if the room will be unoccupied for 3/4 of the year from now on!

Or if the college encourages you to bring curtains to keep out sunlight in the early morning and campus lights in the evening but you don’t know your room assignment and the dorms all have differing window sizes, do you a) purchase curtains anyway, hoping you’ll hit the jackpot for correct sizing; b) wait and plan to buy the curtains the day you drop your child off, hoping that you will have both the time and the luck of finding a place close by that sells curtains; c) tell your daughter that she’s just out of luck and won’t have curtains at all; or d) cry because you’ve suddenly realized that your daughter is grown up enough to be leaving the house and you’re having discussions about whether or not to purchase her own curtains. (The answer, of course, is D!)

And with wedding planning, you suddenly discover that you are about to spend a lot more money than you had originally anticipated as a result of all those tiny details you hadn’t considered before.

So, the other day, we headed out, determined to shop for all that our daughter needed in one day-long expedition because unfortunately our time for such matters is rather short in between other summertime obligations. We went from discount store to discount store (to save money) over a course of several hours until….

We were fortunately at the last store of the day when suddenly the cashier tells me that the credit card I had been using was declined. I knew it couldn’t be that we’d reached our limit because, even with all the spending, we hadn’t even reached a thousand dollars, so I was confused but gave the cashier my second credit card.

When I got home, I discovered that our unusual spending pattern (I normally only use the credit cards for gas and groceries about once a week) had triggered a fraud alert on the card. It was nice to know that my credit card company was on top of possible fraudulent charges, but it had still been disconcerting to be told that my credit card was declined.

I find that when I speak to a crowd at one of my baking workshops that people sometimes have a fear that they’ll be called out as a fraud if they serve something that is allergy friendly — that people might think the made-over baked good isn’t as good as the tried and true white, flour, sugar and butter recipes.

I found myself worrying about the same thing when my daughter told me she wanted to make yellow cupcakes for her birthday party sleepover. To date, I hadn’t made yellow cupcakes because my crew always asks for chocolate over other varieties. As I poured over recipes, I finally decided to just bite the bullet and do it. What was the worse that could happen? I had already triggered one fraud alert; what harm could another do?

Original Yellow Cupcake Recipe from Betty Crocker:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup shortening, 1 tsp vanilla, and 3 eggs.

The Makeover:

1. The flour: We opted to use Bob’s Red Mill gluten free baking flour which mixes garbanzo bean, fava bean, and sorghum flours with potato starch and tapioca starch. It’s a nice dense flour which would give us the consistency you normally find in a yellow cupcake but which would add protein and fiber. We added xanthan gum and the mix was complete. We increased the flour amount by a quarter cup, though, because we opted to swap out the sugar with liquid agave.

2. The sugar: We decided that Agave would be the better way to go, because my daughter didn’t want to risk any aftertaste with Stevia or texture issues with coconut sugar. This meant decreasing the amount needed to half of the sugar called for. It also meant increasing the flour a bit to compensate for the extra liquid.

3. The milk: We chose to use flax milk because that was what we had in the house at the time. Substituting soy or rice milk would work just as well.

4. The butter and shortening: Since we wanted the cupcakes to come out as close to the original as possible, we decided against decreasing the amount of fats called for, simply opting to substitute a soy free vegan “butter” for the butter and using a vegetable shortening as called for.

5. The eggs: Again, since we didn’t want to mess with the “yellow” in the yellow cupcakes, we went ahead and used the three eggs. If I had been choosing myself, I would have opted to make “white” cupcakes and used only egg whites for a healthier version. This would have meant whipping the egg whites and incorporating them into the batter just before baking. But my daughter insisted on yellow cupcakes so we kept the yolks.

6. The salt: Normally I would decrease the salt by half, but since teenage girls don’t need to worry yet about salt intake, I figured it was okay to just leave it as is.

7. The verdict: I have to say, none of the girls realized that the cupcakes were a made-over version. We got rave reviews — especially since my daughter decorated them with cute monkey and panda bear faces!

Yellow Cupcakes


2 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten free baking flour blend

1 tsp xanthan gum

3 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegan soy free “butter”

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup Agave

3 eggs at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup flax milk

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. (I like to use “If You Care” brand muffin liners.)**

2. Whisk the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt together well and set aside.

3. Cream the butter and shortening together in a mixer. Scrape down the sides.

4. While the mixer is on low, very slowly pour in the Agave a little bit at a time, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well before adding the next one. Scrape down the sides.

6. Add the vanilla and blend.

7. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

8. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups, and bake for about 20 minutes.  The cupcakes will be rounded and golden and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out mostly clean. (Note: You’ll still have a few tiny pieces sticking to the toothpick. If you wait for a completely clean toothpick, the cupcakes will be overcooked and dry. As soon as the tops spring back when you lightly touch them instead of being a liquidy center, you should presume they’re done.)

9. Cool the cupcakes in their tins on a wire cooling rack for five to ten minutes before removing them to the wire cooling racks for complete cooling.

10. Frost as desired and enjoy!

** We made 18 regular size cupcakes with this batter, but we fill the tins pretty full, about 3/4 full because I like the cupcakes to rise up over the top.  If you fill them the traditional 2/3 full, you’ll probably get 24 cupcakes out of them.


Recipe Makeover: Wacky Cupcakes

website wacky cake

“It’s just not wacky enough.”

The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and certainly for families in the Depression and World War eras, lack of rations led to the creation of what we know as wacky or Depression cake. These are cakes made without eggs and milk which were scarce, and today many people with egg and dairy allergies have turned to them gratefully for countless number of birthday and family parties.

The email I received yesterday, though, made me laugh because it said, “Unfortunately, the recipe just isn’t wacky enough for my family.” This particular person also needed the cake to be gluten and sugar free in addition to egg and dairy free.

And I’m finding that to be a common problem among folks who send me emails. The world has come a long way: grocery stores, online sites and even restaurants carry gluten free products, nut free foods, dairy free items, and sugar free versions of just about everything. Unfortunately, for the person who is allergic to more than one of these, it can still be difficult to find foods which meet all the needed “free” criteria.

So, this morning, I took a gander at reworking the two recipes sent to me. I had signed up to bring some allergy friendly desserts to the Teacher Appreciation luncheon my children’s elementary and middle schools were hosting, so I decided I’d use the recipes to make cupcakes.

The first recipe sent was for a plain wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 cups of water.

The second recipe was for a chocolate wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,  3/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp vinegar, and 2 cups cold water.

For both recipes, it just called for mixing everything together.

The Makeovers:

1. The flour: Since it needed to be gluten free, I had to decide which type of flour blend to use. Since the recipe is already compensating for the loss of eggs with the use of vinegar and baking soda, I was concerned about the batter’s ability to rise. As such, I decided that Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free Mix which is a blend of garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum, and baking powder would be best.

Why? Because 1) the mix of rice and garbanzo bean flour would allow for the higher fiber and protein without being too heavy; 2) the mix already has the xanthan gum in it which means one less item to mix in myself; and 3) the extra baking powder would help to compensate for the lack of leavening ingredients.

Folks who can have gluten could always use a white whole wheat or red whole wheat to boost the nutrients and fiber in the recipe.

2. The sugar: I decide that I would opt for two different sugar substitutes. For the chocolate wacky cake, I used coconut sugar because I wanted to try a dry substitute and because I thought the brown sugar flavor of the coconut sugar would complement the chocolate flavor better. I used a one for one substitute.

For the plain wacky cake, I opted for Agave, wanting to experiment with a liquid substitute. Also, I had decided I’d turn the cake into a chocolate chip spice cupcake which I felt the Agave would complement better. For the Agave, though, I used half the amount of called for sugar, and added 1/2 cup to the amount of flour needed to counter the extra liquid.

3. The oil: Because I prefer healthier plant oils, I chose to swap the vegetable oil with other types. For the chocolate cake, I used a blend of olive, grapeseed and canola oil which would lend a fruity undertone to the chocolate flavor. For the vanilla cake, I chose to use safflower oil to lend some flavor without overpowering it to the vanilla.

4. The vinegar: Since the recipe didn’t specify, I was presuming they were calling for regular distilled white vinegar. Since I prefer to always add a little “something”, I decided to use a raspberry vinegar for the chocolate cake and an apple cider vinegar for the vanilla cake.

5. The additions: I chose to keep the baking soda, salt and vanilla the same for each recipe, but I added cinnamon and nutmeg to the vanilla cake to make it more a vanilla spice cake, and I swapped the regular unsweetened cocoa powder for Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder to lend a deeper chocolate flavor.

I also decided to throw in chocolate chips to help give the cakes more structure. For the chocolate cake, I added a package of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips. For the vanilla cake, though, I wanted more of the taste to exude from the batter so I put a package of Enjoy Life mega chunks into my food processor and ground them to tiny pieces which I incorporated throughout the batter.

6. The assembling: The original recipes called for simply mixing everything up. Since I wanted to make sure the batter would fully incorporate all the necessary ingredients for adding structure and leavening, I opted to do the cake batter in steps. First, I mixed all the dry ingredients minus the chocolate chips/pieces together. Then I used a spoon to incorporate the chocolate chips/pieces into the dry ingredients. Then I mixed all the wet ingredients minus the vinegar together. Finally, I added the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, adding the vinegar last and mixing until everything was well-blended. By doing this, I ensured that the effects of the vinegar would last through putting the batter into the muffin tins and into the oven.

7. The cooking: Since I needed to bake for the luncheon and because I wanted to see quickly if the structure of the batter would hold up, I opted to make cupcakes instead. I lined 24 muffin cups per each recipe with muffin liners and scooped batter into each cup all the way to the top of the muffin liner, being careful to simply scoop the batter in without squashing it down. Then I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, turning them halfway through the cooking time.

Upon removing them, I left them in the muffin tins for about 15 minutes before removing them. This allowed the cupcakes to begin their cooling inside the tins which allows the structure of the cupcake to gain stability before being removed. After the 15 minutes, I removed the cupcakes to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

8. The new recipes:

For the chocolate wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 2 cups coconut sugar, 1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp baking soda. Then add one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate chips. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup healthy blend oil (olive, grapeseed, canola mix) with 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp raspberry vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.

For the vanilla spice wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 2 tsp baking soda. Food process one one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate mega chunks into tiny pieces and add to the dry mixture. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup safflower oil with 1 cup Agave, 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.