Sunday, January 13, 2013

Healthy-fied Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

It's a new year, which means New Year's resolutions are upon us.  I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who ate a little too much pie and candy over the holidays and have resolved to eat healthier, at least for a couple of months.  Here are some of the guidelines I laid out for myself last year:

1) Eat something green with every meal.  Obviously broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, and lettuce are easy to work into lunch or dinner, but spinach is my favorite for it's versatility, particularly at breakfast time.
2) Poultry, eggs and fish for protein.  Red meat as little as possible.  Roasting a chicken on the weekend goes a long way to making this fairly easy.  I can incorporate the leftovers into sandwiches and soups during the rest of the week.
3) When it comes to breads and pastas, make them whole grain.  There's no way I can give up carbs completely, but I can at least attempt to make them better for me.  I'm a fan of the textures of whole grain breads, anyway, so this one's easy to follow.
4)  Don't bring any baked goods into the house - if you want something, bake it yourself.  This can be a little hard to remember when a package of cinnamon rolls is looking at me at the grocery store, but, in the end, it's one less thing to pay for in the check-out line, and budget always wins.

Now, there's nothing too outrageous to follow here, but it can still be hard to stick to the rules all the time.  For example, I should probably stop counting the parsley in my pasta carbonara as "something green" (that one also breaks the red meat rule).  Still, with these rules in place, I feel a little less guilty about all of the sugar-laden treats I make.  But I realized that I would feel even less guilty if I could make some things that don't require you to eat salad for lunch every day to make up for it.  So I've added another rule to my list this year:

5)  Make healthier baked goods.

Now, "healthier" is a broad word, but I figure if I can make a few things this year with less sugar and less fat then that can only be a good thing.  So here is my first attempt to live up to that rule:  Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting, Healthy-fied.

What's that blur in the corner?
It's the cat wondering what's so fascinating about these cupcakes.

I picked this as my first attempt, because it's a simple recipe that utilizes a lot of common substitutions for anyone out there looking to make any recipe better for them.  We have half of the flour replaced with white whole wheat flour.  A lot of people are doing this with they're baked goods these days - it's an easy way to work some whole wheat into your diet.  For cakes and cupcakes, only replace about half, because the whole wheat flour will give you a more dense pastry.  For cookies and brownies, you could probably replace all of the flour (in fact, I often do) with little noticeable difference.

Applesauce in place of butter.  Applesauce is an easy substitute; you can make it on a 1:1 ratio for butter.  If you're worried about leaving out that buttery flavor, you can keep in just a small amount of the butter and replace the rest with applesauce.  This works best with cakes and brownies.

Stevia baking blend in place of sugar.  Stevia is a plant used in zero-calorie sweeteners like Truvia.  If you've ever tried one of those little packets that go with your coffee, you know it doesn't really taste like sugar, and is about 300 times sweeter.  The baking blends are usually mixed with sugar, and you can use 1/2 cup for every 1 cup of sugar the recipe calls for.  This reduces the calories from sugar by about 75% and the taste difference isn't as noticeable since you're baking it into something.

You'll also notice a pretty high vanilla content in this recipe.  This also helps to counter-act the lack of sugar.  So, if you're reducing the sugar in something, add a little more vanilla.  Makes a big difference.

There is a little sugar and butter in the frosting, because the taste of the sugar is a much more important element there.  But, we're controlling the amount of sugar by using cocoa powder rather than chocolate, and cutting down on fat by not using milk or cream.

Keep in mind that, with substitutions like these, you're probably not going to end up with something exactly like the sugar and butter and white flour version of the recipe.  But the idea is to make something that's still sweet and satisfying, and you can most definitely achieve that without all the fat and calories.  Now, onto the recipe!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting (makes 12 cupcakes):

For the Cupcakes:
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup stevia-based baking blend (I used Truvia)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup low-fat evaporated milk

For the frosting:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup stevia-based baking blend
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to  350°F.  Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda and salt until combined.  Set aside.

In another bowl mix together the stevia and canola oil until blended.  Add applesauce, egg, egg yolk and vanilla, and continue mixing until combined.  Alternate adding dry ingredients and evaporated milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix until combined (scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).

Divide the batter among the prepared cups.  They should be about 3/4 full.  Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean.

To make the frosting:

Add all the dry ingredients and water in a small saucepan.  Heat on medium and whisk for several minutes until the mixture thickens.  Add butter and vanilla and continue mixing until incorporated.  Frost cupcakes while the frosting is still warm.

Now eat!  And leave your guilt behind.

P.S. Like the dessert stand?  I'll cover how to make one from thrift-store finds in a future post.

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