Don’t be alarmed by all of the descriptors. Chances are, if you happened upon these cupcakes, you wouldn’t know that they were without flour. Or dairy. Or even sugar, hardly. Because when you take a bite, they have a perfectly moist, tender crumb. They’re sweet, but not artificially so, as many “sugar-free” treats often are. Cinnamon and nutmeg perfectly compliment the richness of the coconut cream frosting. What’s even better? One cupcake is enough to satisfy. In the world of cakes and sweet treats, this is a rare occurence for me.
The world of gluten-free baking is still quite new to me. So far, most of my baking has relied upon packaged baking mixes (thank you, Pamela’s – your bread mix is heaven!). However, I decided it was time to think “outside the box.” After finding that I had a surplus of zucchini in my kitchen (after all, I can’t resist buying too much sometimes at the farmer’s market!), I decided to bake a quick bread. But not just any old quick bread, I wanted something a bit fancier (without much more work)! Cupcakes – I could make zucchini cupcakes. They would be spiced similarly to carrot cake, in sort of a carrot-meets-zucchini cupcake concoction. Amy at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free posted a carrot cupcake recipe that set off the inspiration for these beauties.
In addition to being gluten-free, I wished for these cupcakes to have a speck of nutrition. Also, knowing that many celiacs and other people cannot have dairy, I wished for them to be dairy-free. I wanted to make something without using cupfuls of sugar, or nutritionless flours. I decided upon agave nectar for the sweetener, and coconut and almond flours in place of regular flour (or a gluten-free baking mix).
Agave nectar is a natural sweetener made from the juice of the agave plant. It has a texture similar to honey and is slightly sweeter than sugar, but unlike so many alternative sweeteners, it is not bitter and does not have an “off” taste. It has a low glycemic index – around 30, substantially lower than sugar, which has a glycemic index of around 65. This makes it a good choice for those watching their blood sugar levels.
Almond flour, specifically blanched almond flour, has been around a long while, but recently came to my attention through Elana at Elana’s Pantry. She bakes only with non-grain-based flours, and typically uses almond flour. In my experiments, I’ve found almond flour to be great for baking – it creates a tender crumb and has a subtly sweet flavor, is very low in carbohydrates and is high in protein. I bought mine through Honeyville, as the almond flour they sell is more finely ground than what I typically could find in stores. As for the coconut flour, I heard about it through Elana as well. It’s also high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. I bought Bob’s Red Mill, and this was easy to find at Whole Foods.
Back to the cupcakes. That’s what you were here for anyway, right? I do want to share that these were substantially sugar-free, and not entirely sugar-free, although they could be easily modified. I used sweetened dried cranberries, and crystallized ginger as mix-ins, but of course, you could leave these out or substitute with things such as unsweetened cranberries, raisins, chopped walnuts, etc.
One of the best aspects of these cupcakes? They were pretty easy to make. You could leave them unfrosted and consider them a muffin for breakfast, or top with frosting for a more decadent treat. They are delicious to share, or perhaps tasty enough that you will need to stow away a few, just for yourself!
For the cupcakes, adapted from Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free:
1/2 c light agave nectar
1/3 c virgin coconut oil
2 T water
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 c coconut flour
1/2 c almond flour
1 1/2 c grated zucchini
1/4 c chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 c dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking papers.
Whisk agave, coconut oil, water, vanilla, and eggs together until mixed well. In a separate bowl, mix together baking soda, baking powder, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, salt, and flours. Mix together dry ingredients into wet, and stir until just combined. (Don’t over-mix.) Fold in zucchini, ginger, and cranberries.
Pour even amounts into baking papers. Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin as soon as possible. (I used a fork and, sliding it down the side of the cupcake, carefully lifted each from the tin.) This will prevent the bottoms from getting soggy. Set on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Coconut Cream frosting, adapted from Elana’s Pantry:
1 14.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk (not light)
1 c agave nectar
5 t cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
1-2 T water
1 1/4 c virgin coconut oil
1 c unsweetened coconut flakes
In a medium saucepan, heat coconut milk, agave, and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring.
Combine cornstarch and water and mix until you get a slurry. Add slurry to saucepan and bring to a boil briefly, stirring. Remove from heat. Gradually blend in coconut oil. Add coconut flakes and stir.
Place saucepan in freezer for 40 minutes or more, checking and stirring occasionally, until frosting solidifies. Blend again until fluffy. Spread over cupcakes. Top cupcakes with dried cranberries, if desired.
Note: I found that this recipe makes way more frosting than is needed for these cupcakes. The frosting freezes quite well. When you want to use the frozen frosting, just allow to thaw until the frosting is able to be stirred and spread, and use on cupcakes as needed.
Refrigerate cupcakes if they will not be served within an hour or so, to preserve freshness. I’ve found they keep in the fridge for several days.