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

Ingredients:

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

Ingredients:

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.

Holiday Traditions: Revamping Gingerbread

“Your daughter made the entire class cry.”

My oldest was in Kindergarten when I received a phone call from her teacher who was concerned about the fallout of my daughter having caused distress to all her little classmates.

The evening before we had spoken with our children, only the two daughters at the time, about Saint Nicholas, about the real person who had cared deeply for the poor children of his country at the time, and how he had died but that his spirit lived on in the modern version of Santa Claus.  Apparently, the next day, when my daughter’s classmates were talking about Santa Claus, her little truthful autistic self felt compelled to let her classmates know that Saint Nicholas was dead,which her classmates interpreted as Santa Claus having just died and that there’d be no Christmas that year.

We had to have a nice long chat with our daughter about what exactly one can share with other people and exactly how one should go about sharing even if “it’s the truth” as she kept insisting.

What I remember clearly from the incident, though, was the surprise of the teacher when we explained that the issue arose because we didn’t actually encourage a belief in a current active Santa Claus, that we wanted our children to learn compassion and care for people around them by understanding what the real Saint Nicholas did because of his faith in God and that our children and we, too, could care for the people around us and take care of the poor because of our faith.

At the time, she seemed to think that we were somehow depriving our children of “imagination” as she put it. We argued that our children had plenty of that without any extra help from Santa Claus and that while we didn’t push a belief in Santa Claus, our children did believe in the Tooth Fairy and Leprechauns so they weren’t completely without a fairy world.

I doubt we convinced her, though, and I find that the same thing happens when it comes to food traditions for the holiday. Too often people tell me that they don’t want to try my holiday goodies because “it won’t be the same”. My argument is that it’s not supposed to be the same. Traditions are wonderful, and our family has boatloads of them, but change is good, too, and sometimes, something new can be even better than the original tradition, especially if it means that you can include the members of your family who otherwise would have to miss out on the food tradition because of their food allergies or restrictions.

One of the holiday food traditions in the States is the making of gingerbread. Last year, I shared how we had revamped a roll-out ginger cookie recipe. This year, I’m going to share a gingerbread recipe. We made this for my in-laws over Thanksgiving, and we tweaked it a bit to make it even better for Christmas.

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread

Ingredients:

2  15 ounce cans pears in 100% pear juice

1 1/4 cup sorghum flour

1 1/4 cup cornstarch

2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp ground ginger powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup warmed pear juice from the canned pears

1/2 cup coconut sugar or regular sugar

1 cup date molasses or regular molasses

1/2 cup vegan soy free butter

2 beaten eggs

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Grease the bottom of a glass pan. You can use vegan butter or shortening or a plant based oil of your choosing. You can use a 9 x 9 x 2 square pan or an 11 x 8 x 2 rectangular pan. Which type of pan you choose will slightly affect the baking time and how thick your gingerbread is.

3. Drain the pears from their cans, reserving the liquid for use as part of the wet ingredients.

4. Slice the pear halves into thin strips and arrange them on the bottom of your chosen pan. They will need to overlap with one another to create a nice thick layer of pears.

5. Whisk together the sorghum flour, cornstarch, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Set aside.

6. Warm a cup of the leftover pear juice in the microwave until the juice is boiling. Microwaves may vary, but mine usually just needs about 45 seconds to a minute.

7. To the boiling pear juice add the sugar, molasses, and butter. Stir until everything is dissolved and well combined.

8. Mix together the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients with the beaten eggs, just until everything is combined and the dry ingredients are wet.

9. Carefully spread the gingerbread batter evenly over the pears and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Depending on which size pan you use and whether it’s a glass pan or aluminum will affect the baking time, so set your time for 30 minutes and check from there. I make mine in an 11 x 8 x 2 glass pan which takes about 40 minutes. A 9 x 9 x 2 will probably take closer to 50 minutes. Aluminum pans may cook more quickly.

10. When the gingerbread is done, you can serve it as is, which is what I did for my in-laws and cut out pieces with the pears on the bottom, or if you want to do what I did for a party I hosted last week, you can carefully turn the pan onto a platter and serve the cake with the pear-side up which is very pretty.