Recipe Revamping: Pumpkin Tunnel Cake

“Calories: Tiny evil creatures which live in your closet and quietly sew your clothes tighter every night.”

The above was written on a pillow sitting in a store window, and my son pointed it out to me, thinking it would make me laugh. He was right! I’m convinced these creatures have been multiplying in my closet over the past few years. What else would account for my clothes beginning to become more snug as I age? *grin*

I thought about the pillow when I received an email asking if I could revamp a recipe not just for allergies but to reduce overall calories. The recipe in question was for a tunnel cake and called for a total of six eggs, a cup of butter, and 12 ounces of cream cheese, so it’s no wonder the request was being made!

If you’re not familiar with a tunnel cake, it’s simply a bundt cake with a filling inside. They’re fun cakes to make wonderful to serve to guests because they look pretty and taste lovely. This particular cake was a pumpkin ginger cream cheese cake. The original recipe called for the filling: 12 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 large eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 1/2 cup crystallized ginger; and for the cake: 2 1/4 cup flour, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp ground ginger, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1 15 oz can pumpkin, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup butter, 4 large eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla.

To revamp the cake:

The Filling: To tackle the calories and the allergies to dairy, I opted to use tofu cream cheese and tofu sour cream in place of the regular cream cheese and sour cream, and I decreased the amounts by half. Even with half of the filling, there was plenty to fill the “tunnel” and to give the cake it’s pretty look and it’s surprise taste. I opted to keep one whole egg in the filling because it would help with the texture of the filling, figuring I could do something about the amount of eggs in the cake itself. To further reduce calories (and because I never use white refined sugar), I used Truvia in place of the sugar, which meant I could use half the amount needed.

The Cake: Because the person emailing couldn’t eat gluten, I swapped a gluten free blend for the white flour, but I didn’t want to use a rice flour blend for the entire cake, so I only used 1 1/2 cups of a GF blend and used sorghum and gluten free oat flour for the rest of the amount to add protein and fiber to the cake as well as to give the texture of the cake some density. I also chose to use 3/4 c of Agave instead of the 2 cups of sugar which further reduced calories as well as getting rid of the refined white sugar. To tackle the bad fat in the butter, I opted for safflower oil instead and reduced the amount to 3/4 cup. For the eggs, I decided to use 2 eggs and use 1/2 cup of egg whites for the rest.

The cake came out quite lovely. I served it to guests who asked for the recipe because they liked it so much! Below is the recipe as I made it. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Ginger Tunnel Cake


Ginger Filling:

6 oz Tofutti cream cheese, room temp (3/4 cup)

1/4 cup Tofutti sour cream, room temp

1 1/2 tbsp Truvia

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp salt

1 egg

1/4 tsp gluten free vanilla

1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (I chop it in my food processor into tiny pieces)

The Pumpkin Cake:

1 1/2 cup Gluten Free rice flour blend

1/4 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup oat flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

2 cups pumpkin, cooked and pureed or canned

3/4 cup Agave

3/4 cup safflower oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup liquid egg whites

1 tsp gluten free vanilla

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or white vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a Bundt pan with your preferred method. Just make sure that you’ve covered every crevice well so that your cake will easily come out when you invert it. Nothing is worse than the top of your bundt cake sticking to the pan!
  2. Using a mixer, blend the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add the sour cream, truvia, ginger, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and crystallized ginger. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the gluten free flour blend, sorghum flour, oat flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
  4. Mix together the pumpkin, agave, oil, egg, egg whites, and vanilla.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet with the vinegar and mix well until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.
  6. Fill the prepared bundt pan half full and make a little tunnel in the batter for the filling.
  7. Give the filling a good stir because the ginger pieces would have have fallen to the bottom. Carefully spoon the filling into the tunnel. It will probably spill out a bit. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.
  8. Carefully add the rest of the cake batter to cover the filling.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake has risen, is golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  10. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes, better to do 25 to 30. Carefully invert and remove the cake from the pan. Cool completely.



Handling Holidays: Serving the Meal

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“Umm… did you just use my scoop?”

We were having a lovely gathering at our home of friends over the summer, complete with ice cream sundaes, when I realized that one of our guest’s children was using my scoop to get herself some ice cream.

For most folks, using another person’s scoop doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you have a serious allergy to dairy and cross-contamination can potentially kill you, you tend to be a bit less friendly about “sharing”. Fortunately, I caught the “sharing” in action and was able to wash the scoop before using it for myself.

Holiday meals can be a bear when it comes to potential cross-contamination.  Even if you’ve planned ahead as I had that summer evening with a different scoop for my nondairy frozen dessert which was sitting off to the side of everyone else’s “real” ice cream, you never know when someone might accidentally upset your best laid plans.

So, what can you do?  Some suggestions:

1.  Definitely do plan ahead:  If you’re hosting, decide whether you’re going to avoid cross-contamination by simply making everything allergen friendly.  When I’m entertaining in my own home, I usually just make foods which I can eat which everyone else will enjoy, too.  Then I don’t need to worry.

If there are some foods, however, that you do want to make for your guests which you can’t eat or vice versa, then decide how many of those you’ll make and plan how you’ll separate them from the rest of the food.  Some options:

a. Put allergen free food in similar dishes and the other food in different dishes so you can point out to folks which are which.  I have round and rectangular dishes so it’s easy for folks to know which foods they should be careful to avoid contaminating.

b. Label the food.  Put little index cards in front of the food which tells folks what the dish is free of or contains.  The additional advantage to this is that if you have folks with a variety of allergies, they can see with a quick glance what they can and can’t eat.

c.  Put the food on different tables.  If you have available table space, put allergen free food on one table and the rest on another so folks can go to both tables separately to get their food.

2.  Educate:  Sometimes folks just don’t know how dangerous it can be for them to switch the serving spoons on you.  Take a minute to just explain that folks need to be careful to put the same spoon back into each dish because it would be a great service to your health for them to do so. I’ve found that folks are understanding once they know the potential consequences and take better care about how they serve themselves.

3.  If you’re going to someone else’s home for the holidays, be pro-active: Find out if the host is going to be making food you can eat, and if so, ask them if they could follow some of the above suggestions for your and the other guests’ benefit.

If you’re going to contribute a dish of your own, make sure to both label it and point out to folks at the dinner that it is a special dish made to be allergy friendly, and bring a serving utensil that is “different” to go with it. Maybe it’s an unusual color or a non-traditional size or one that matches the serving dish.  Give folks a way to recognize that that particular serving utensil needs to be used with your particular dish only.

4. Watch the children: In most cases, as with my summer gathering, it’s the little ones who don’t realize, because they are after all just little. So be sure to keep an eye on them. Enlist the help of the other adults to help serve the children and to watch the children who can serve themselves. At a certain age, the children can be told, too, about being careful, because if the food allergy is explained, children tend to be rather caring about not wanting to hurt anyone.

5. Practice avoidance in the absence of information:  Many times folks will bring a dish or purchase a dish and not know exactly what specific ingredients are, but they’ll tell you generally that it is something you can eat.  Don’t.  It’s as simple as that.   I’ve had times when folks have actually fished out an ingredient label from the trash for me and discovered that, yes, five of the six ingredients are fine, but there was that last ingredient that was deadly.

6. Be prepared:  Sometimes, because you’re in your own home or because you’re going to a trusted home which you’ve been to many times, you don’t necessarily think about keeping your Epi-Pen close by.  You just never know.  As with the little incident at my house over the summer, accidents happen.  Always be prepared and keep whatever you need, whether it’s the Epi-Pen or benadryl or the emergency phone number, close by within easy reach.  Better to be prepared than sorry.

Berry Oat Bars

These are favorite with folks I know.  I can’t make enough of them, they get eaten so quickly!


2 cups gluten free whole grain oats

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use garbanzo bean and brown rice flour)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup Truvia or coconut sugar

3/4 cup vegan “butter”

3 tbsp Agave divided

15 oz Polaner All Fruit with Fiber (your choice of flavor)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper so there are “wings” hanging over the edges, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, salt and Truvia or coconut sugar in a large bowl.

3.  Put the “butter” into the oat mixture in pieces and use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the oat mixture until it’s crumbly and the butter is incorporated into the mixture.

4.  Remove about 1/3 of the mixture and put it aside for the topping.

5.  To the remaining 2/3 of the oat mixture, add 2 tbsp of Agave and mix it well.  Pat this into the bottom of the 9 x 13 pan to form a crust.

6.  Spread the Polaner All Fruit carefully over the crust.  (We’ve made raspberry, strawberry, apricot, blueberry, etc….) 

7.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp of Agave to the remaining 1/3 oat mixture and mix it up until the mixture is moist but still crumbly.  Evenly distribute the mixture over the top of the all fruit.  You will have open spots of jam showing.  This is fine.

8.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes.  The oats will be golden brown and the jam bubbly.

9.  Remove from the oven and put the pan onto a wire cooling rack.  It’s very important that you allow the bars to completely cool.

10.  Once the bars are completely cooled, you can carefully remove them from the pan using the parchment paper and cut them into the desired size, or you can cut them directly in the pan and remove them one by one.

Sugar-Coated: Substituting for Sugar

website sugarcoated

“Zer,zer, zer, erk, I’m out of gas.”

My son stopped directly in front of me, his arms extended, a big smile on his face. This was my cue to give him a big hug – the “gas” he needed to continue with his playing.  At eight, though, he actually requires very little “gas” to make him go.  His energy is unbounded, and I very often wish I could bottle it and put it aside for those days when my own energy levels are low.

Unfortunately for many of us, long days and too much on our plates lend themselves too easily to being sapped of our “get up and go” just when we need it the most.  And it’s in those moments when we’re most likely to reach for that five letter word – sugar.  Most of us know enough these days to avoid the Snickers bar for our “quick pick me up”, but the abundance of “healthy” power bars on the market belies just how bad even those are for you.

The dangers of sugar

My husband is a history teacher, and he tells me that the new colonists were quick to realize the benefits of growing the four most addictive crops at the time:  tobacco, sugar, coffee, and chocolate.   When we think about refined sugar, we think about its taste and the quick burst of energy it provides us.  We don’t often think about the fact that sugar,  in many ways, is a poison that our bodies react to unfavorably.  It provides nothing our bodies need, and in fact, it depletes our bodies of necessary nutrients as our bodies work to eliminate the refined sugar from our systems.  Studies link refined sugar to the rise in diabetes, the increase in heart attacks, and even to thyroid problems.

What sugar does

In baked goods, though, sugar is priceless.  It controls the temperature of our ingredients for timely baking; it causes fermentation so our desserts can rise properly; it helps with the “browning” necessary for tasty baked goods; it absorbs liquid to keep our cakes moist; and it even breaks up gluten to yield those tender, flaky desserts we crave.  To think of replacing sugar with something else can seem almost like a sin to many people, and I know folks who won’t even try a dessert made without sugar, because they’re convinced  the dessert simply can’t be as good.

I can tell you, though, that cooking without sugar is not as difficult as it seems, and the desserts are definitely worth trying.

Replacing sugar with fruit

There are many, many different substitutes on the market which people can try, but I confess that I prefer to use one of three options:  Ripe, sweet fruit or vegetables; Agave; and Truvia (Stevia).  Whenever possible, it really is best to simply use fruit.  With fruit, you can get all of the nutrients and fiber that your body needs, along with the sweetness derived naturally.  When baking, simply replace half of the sugar called for with a fruit puree of your choice.  Milder purees like applesauce work well in just about anything.  Pureed bananas, peaches, mangos, prunes, pumpkin, figs, etc… work well in recipes which require stronger or similar flavors.

Replacing sugar with Agave or Honey or Truvia

If you want to eliminate the sugar altogether from a recipe, though, I like to use Agave or Honey or Truvia.  Don’t be fooled, though – simply because they’re less refined than sugar does not make them absolutely better.  What they do have going for them, though, is that you can use substantially less of them than sugar, reducing how much “sugar” you’re putting into your body.  For most recipes replacing the total amount of sugar with half the quantity of Agave or Honey or Truvia is a good place to begin.  For many recipes, you may even find that you can reduce by even more, depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is.

Tips for Agave or Honey

Here are the tips you need:  Because Agave or Honey is liquid, you need to make sure you’ve balanced your wet to dry ratio.  For baked goods like cakes and breads which use a lot of sugar, two options work best:  Either increase your flour amount by ½ cup or decrease your liquids by ½ cup.  If you’re making something like muffins or pancakes, though, where the sugar amounts are actually quite small, you don’t need to make any adjustments at all.

Tips for Truvia

Working with Truvia is a little bit trickier.  Most folks like to simply use the stevia/sugar blends because you can just substitute a one to one ratio for the full sugar, which reduces how much sugar you’re putting into your baked product.  If you want to completely eliminate the sugar, though, you can use half the amount of Truvia as the sugar called for, but you’ll need to increase your dry ingredients (usually the flour amount) to compensate for the missing sugar.  This isn’t necessarily a straight ratio, though.  Usually, you’ll only need to replace about half of the missing sugar to compensate.

A trick I like to use:  Use identical bowls of the same shape and size, one for your dry ingredients, and one for your wet.  If you’re making cakes or cupcakes, you’ll find that the two amounts will normally match in depth and amount.  If you’re making muffins, cookies, or breads, the dry ingredients will usually be slightly more than the wet.  After you’ve experimented a few times, you’ll become quite adept at “eyeballing” and knowing whether you need to add or subtract from one bowl or the other before mixing them together.

If you’re cooking with Agave or Truvia or Honey, it’s always best to start with a small amount and add as necessary.  For example, my children like their Brussels sprouts to have a little sweetness to them.  Simply adding half a teaspoon of Agave to an herbed olive oil marinade is more than enough to satisfy them.  The mantra to remember is:  Less is best.

Replacing sugar with Coconut Sugar

On the market these days is coconut sugar which has a low glycemic index because it’s from coconuts. What’s nice about coconut sugar, if you’re not allergic to it, is that it works the same as brown sugar in a recipe so you can simply substitute one for one. I often will decrease the amount because I don’t like things overly sweet but you can experiment and see what taste preferences you have.

Chocolate Cranberry Cookies


10 oz Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips (or another type if you prefer)

1/2 cup Agave

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or favorite gluten free flour blend

6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp coarse salt

1 cup soy free vegan butter, at room temperature (or another type if you want)

1/3 cup Truvia 

4 eggs, at room temperature or egg white equivalent or fruit puree equivalent 

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped Craisins (if you have a food processor, use it to chop the craisins; you can also just add them as is but the cookie will be “chunkier”)

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips (or another type if you prefer)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your cookie pans.  (I would use “If You Care” parchment paper, but you can Pam spray or coat the pans with oil or butter.)

2.  Melt the mini chips with the Agave over a pan of simmering water.  (I put a small pan of water on the burner and place a large pan with a handle on top with the chocolate in it.  Works well.)  Set aside.

3.  Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

4.  Beat the “butter’ until light and fluffy (if you have a mixer, use it).  Slowly add in the Truvia, mixing well an using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides as necessary.  Add the eggs, one at a time (or whites or puree) and blend well.

5.  Slowly add the melted chocolate and vanilla, scraping the sides with a rubber spatula as necessary.

6.  Add the flour mixture, and mix just until the dry ingredients are moist.  Fold in the chocolate chips and craisins.

7.  Drop the cookie dough by 1/4 cupfuls, leaving about 2 inches of space in between.  Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating your cookie sheet halfway through.  The edges will be slightly dry and the tops cracked a little.

8.  Cool for a couple of minutes on the sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.