My love affair with cupcakes
And in this sugar-free chocolate series, we get to my favorite-ever treat: cupcakes! My love affair with cupcakes goes way back. I remember baking them in grade school for my birthday, and I loved when anyone else brought them in; this was back in the day before rampant food allergies ruined the fun. I had a funny way of eating them too: bottom first. I was always one to save the best for last, the ‘best’ in this case being the frosting. I would leave just enough cake so the icing wasn’t a complete mess, then savor the frosting-dominant bites one tiny morsel at a time.
As an adult my sugar tooth remained strong, and I got really into baking – especially cupcakes. I improved my baking skills and experimented with creative flavor variations, and got a fancy frosting piping tool to make them pretty. Included in my repertoire beyond the best vanilla and chocolate cupcakes ever were coconut cream, rosewater pistachio, peppermint mocha, rum caramel, and my wine-cheese-and-chocolate cupcake, to name a few. Yup, I even successfully got the cheese flavor in, balanced just right with the wine and the chocolate. This was serious stuff for me – a creative outlet with delicious results.
In fact, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my cupcakes yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly 5 years ago it was officially ‘time to bake’ and take a break from grad school studies.
The sugar-free cupcake project
Here I am today, still baking cupcakes, but with a very different view on what quality ingredients look like. The picture above shows just how much sugar and processed crap I put into my baked goods. They tasted good, but there was nothing good about them. Because of this, I have not baked cupcakes in quite a while. I found other treats to satisfy my sweet tooth in a healthier way (read: dark chocolate).
My taste for sugar has definitely evolved as well. The overly processed stuff just doesn’t taste right. So anyway, I gave myself the challenge of coming up with a cleaned up version of my ultimate indulgence – cupcakes – and due to the sugar-free chocolate challenge at hand, I had to make a chocolate version.
Funny enough, as much as I love cupcakes and as much as I love chocolate, I’m super picky about my chocolate cupcakes (this goes for cake too) so generally did not choose chocolate if I had the choice. So for a chocolate cupcake recipe to get my taste buds’ seal of approval, it’s gotta be really good.
What makes a good cupcake
Because of this, I wasn’t all that confident that a sugar-free vegan cupcake would really work. Cupcakes are finicky in the first place, and eliminating a key ingredient like sugar without even using paleo replacements like honey or maple syrup was definitely going to be a challenge. But I was pretty impressed with these cupcakes – the texture is just right and they taste delicious.
A great cupcake should have a light, spongy quality with just a touch of sweetness to offset the icing. It shouldn’t be dry or crumbly and the balance of flavors must be just right – not overpowering, yet distinct and delectable. These cupcakes achieve that ideal texture – the liners peeled right off without stickiness, and my fork slid in and pulled off a bit without any crumbling – I was super impressed!
Cinnamon Mocha – My favorite flavor combo
And the flavor-blanance works. The cupcake is not dry and has a light mocha flavor, while the frosting is rich, dense and full of both chocolate and coffee, with cinnamon to draw out the intensity of each. Why add cinnamon? Because cinnamon in coffee is the best! For real, cinnamon has loads of health benefits and adds a natural sweetness to your coffee.
I also add cinnamon to most of my chocolate treats, whether it’s intended to be a dominant flavor or not. Why? Because the natural sweetness of cinnamon balances the bitterness and adds depth to the chocolate flavor. I happen to love cinnamon, but even just a dash adds a richness to the taste that takes the treat to the next level.
The key cleaned-up ingredients
So coming up with a quality cupcake for my ultimate sugar-free project was a somewhat daunting task. I started with blanched almond flour. Almond flour is, naturally, made from almonds, making it a gluten-free, high-protein, low-carb option for baking, which makes it sugar-free diet-approved. Blanched almond flour, which is made from ground almonds with the skin removed, creates a fluffier result than it’s sibling, almond meal. I love using almond meal in certain recipes, but blanched almond flour is hands down the better option for cupcakes.
I also managed to find a powdered stevia product that might actually be ok – I’m still in the process of researching and testing the best sugar-free baking substitutes, however Wholesome Powdered Organic Stevia seems to be a pretty decent option. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it’s better than most processed stevia products out there. The green leaf stevia powder is the best stevia out there in terms of health benefits, but I have not tried it in baking, and I’m pretty sure it won’t work.
Finally, the veganizers: coconut and arrowroot flour. Arrowroot is gluten-free and paleo-approved, and apparently when mixed with water and coconut oil, can be used as an egg replacer. Coconut milk, cream, and oil are all used in this recipe, though I feel that the mocha flavors dominate.
Cinnamon Mocha Cupcakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Recipe
What you need for the cupcakes:
- 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
- 1 tbsp ground coffee
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 2 cups blanched almond flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup Wholesome Organic stevia powder
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tbsp arrowroot flour
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla
What you need for the Cinnamon Mocha Frosting*:
- 1/2 cup Lily’s stevia sweetened baking chips
- 1 tsp coffee extract
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 1 tbsp full fat coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
*Depending on what ratio of frosting to cupcake you prefer, you may wish to double this recipe, as I did, of course.
How to make the Cinnamon Mocha Cupcakes:
- Preheat your oven to 350 and fill your cupcake pan with baking cups.
- In a small saucepan on medium heat, stir the coconut milk, ground coffee, and coconut cream until the coconut cream melts and and grounds have infused the mixture. Take off the heat and let cool.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine the water, arrowroot powder, and the 2 tbsp of melted coconut oil. Mix until thoroughly combined.
- Add the melted coconut oil, coffee mixture, arrowroot mixture, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. There shouldn’t be any lumps but do not over-stir the mixture.
- Spoon the batter into your baking cups until about 2/3 full.
- Bake 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan about 10 minutes then remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
How to make the Cinnamon Mocha Frosting:
- While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the frosting. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips, stirring as they begin to melt. Remove from heat as soon as the last bits are melting.
- Place the coconut cream in a large bowl and using a spatula, pour the melted chocolate over the cream. Make sure the chocolate is still very warm so it softens the cream. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix the chocolate and cream until blended.
- Add the coconut milk, coffee extract and cinnamon. Beat until thoroughly combined. The texture should be creamy.
- Frost the cooled cupcakes. Makes 12-14.