Vegan Cupcake Challenge!

A small healthy-cuisine restaurant down the street from my yoga studio has a “We’re Hiring” sign in their window, so I stopped in one afternoon last week. I spoke with the owner, a kind older woman with laugh lines and a gentle handshake. I brought a list of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert dishes I knew how to make. She asked if the desserts were vegan.

“No,” I said, “I’ve never tried vegan baking.”

“We need vegan cupcakes,” she said.

I drove straight home to dig through my cookbooks and back issues of Vegetarian Times, and have spent the last few days baking dozens of vegan cupcakes.

Round One

Chocolate Cupcakes

Thank you, Rochelle Palermo and Vegetarian Times (September 2008), for a brilliant recipe. An avocado and a bit of oil replace the eggs and butter in this deliciously moist and chocolatey cupcake.

I modified the recipe a bit, substituting cheaper ingredients for pricier ones (for example, sugar for maple syrup). To make the cupcakes a bit healthier, you can use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. I found that these cupcakes taste best when they are prepared several hours, or even a day, before serving, which gives the icing time to thicken and become even more chocolatey, if that’s possible.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 avocado, pitted and peeled
3/4 cup plain soymilk
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350°F. Line 12-cup muffin pan, or two 6-cup muffin pans, with paper liners (it’s fun to get creative—I picked pretty floral ones).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend the avocado in a food processor or blender; add the soymilk, oil, and vanilla and blend until creamy. Stir the avocado mixture into the flour mixture (make sure to stir from the bottom, too, to incorporate all the dry ingredients well).

Fill paper cups about three-quarters full with batter. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool.

Chocolate Icing

1/2 cup soft silken tofu, drained
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Blend tofu, vanilla, and salt in food processor or blender until smooth. Meanwhile, melt the vegan chocolate chips in the microwave (in a microwave-proof container like a Pyrex measuring cup) for one minute. Add the melted chocolate to the tofu mixture, using a spatula to make sure you get every last delicious melted bit, and blend some more.

Transfer the icing to a bowl, seat yourself comfortably, and happily ice the cooled cupcakes, using a spoon or small spatula to slather on the icing.

Give the icing a few hours, or even overnight, to thicken and darken and generally become more fudge-like.

Present a cupcake to someone near you and watch their delight! Cupcakes can be stored in a container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or you can leave them out on a nice plate for a couple days.

Round Two

Vanilla Nutmeg Cupcakes with Strawberry Jam or Fresh Pineapple

Encouraged by discovering such a fabulous chocolate cupcake, I next turned to the Veganomicon and its Jelly Donut Cupcakes recipe, which I tweaked ever-so-slightly (and renamed).

I experimented with adding the filling about halfway through baking, once the cupcake solidified a bit, so the jam or fruit don’t sink to the bottom.

The first time I attempted this variation the filling was beautifully suspended in the center of the cupcake; but the second time it sank to the bottom. So I have stuck to the original recipe and adding the filling before baking. Besides, I’m not sure if opening the oven for a minute halfway through baking is a good idea.

I’d love to try other fruit-and-spice combinations with this recipe: cinnamon instead of nutmeg and add a sliver of fresh strawberry; cardamom and blueberry; or ground ginger and raspberry…!

Makes 12 cupcakes.

1 cup plain soymilk
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350°F. Line 12-cup muffin pan, or two 6-cup muffin pans, with paper liners (I used pink ones for the strawberry jam version and pale yellow ones for pineapple).

Pour the soymilk, vinegar, and cornstarch into a measuring cup and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. I prefer to use a mixing bowl with a pouring spout, as the batter will have a rather liquid consistency.

Create a well in the center of the flour mixture. Stir the soymilk mixture with a fork, making sure the cornstarch has dissolved, and pour into the flour mixture. Don’t worry – the well will overflow. Add the oil, sugar, and vanilla and stir everything together until combined. Fill the paper cups about three-quarters full of batter and add filling, either 1 tsp. of jam or a triangle of pineapple.

Bake for 21 to 23 minutes, or until tops are set and begin to turn golden. Cool and store in a container for up to 3 days.

Future Vegan Cupcake-Maker?

I brought samples to the owner mid-week. She enjoyed both cupcakes, but particularly liked the one with pineapple. She offered me a super-part-time gig as vegan baker of vanilla nutmeg cupcakes.

She also wondered if I could add more baking powder to make the cupcakes even fluffier. I did my homework and read about leavening agents, acid salts, and baking powder versus baking soda, and developed the hypothesis that using a double-acting baking powder with sodium aluminum sulfate (which releases carbon dioxide at higher temperatures in the oven) could potentially add an extra fluffiness that the aluminum-free baking powder with monocalcium phosphate (which releases carbon dioxide at room temperature) could not.

The difference was minimal, so I tried a version with 1 tsp. baking powder, but the body of the cupcake, although it held its shape, was too soft and spongy.

The Vegan Cupcake Challenge has turned out to be quite the learning experience! I’ll keep you posted on how the job unfolds. Have you undertaken an experiment in the kitchen lately? I would also love feedback and tips on how to add extra fluffiness to the dough.

5 thoughts on “Vegan Cupcake Challenge!

    • Thank you so much, Em, for the suggestion and the link! I became rather frustrated with the baking powder angle — I never thought to play with the vinegar. I’ll have a science fair in the kitchen one of these days. 🙂 I’m also excited to check out more of Chef Chloe’s site, and try her cupcake recipe, too.

  1. Pingback: Vegan Cupcake Challenge: The Sequel « Kamila's Kitchen

  2. As a member of “testing group” I can testify that cupcakes were simply marvelous. I especially liked chocolate ones, they were like little chocolate clouds :). And without a guilt component, because you are not eating all that grease. Nick and Anton are joining me on that!

    • Thank you! I think the woman who developed the chocolate cupcake recipe is a genius, I never would have thought that an avocado could be used in baking!

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