If there is ever an excuse to have a cupcake then Valentine’s Day tops the list. Not to be a party crasher, but there is of course no reason you can’t serve healthy cupcakes for any Valentine’s bash. The concept of “healthy cupcake” sounds so laughable though, so let me explain a bit…
What Makes a Healthy Cupcake “Healthy”?
Alright, ok, so maybe there is no such thing as a truly healthy cupcake, but cupcakes don’t necessarily need to be a complete nutritional nightmare either. Making a cupcake mostly healthy can be done. Here’s the deal…
• A mostly healthy cupcake should be as low as possible in refined sugar (sweetness should come primarily from unrefined “whole” fruits such as bananas or softened and pureed dried fruits like prunes or dates) I personally do not like the taste of natural sugar substitutes like stevia and I do not use products like Splenda either. However, coconut palm sugar is an excellent unrefined replacement for cane sugar. Coconut palm sugar is low-glycemic, has a pleasant caramel-like flavor, works well for baking and dissolves in hot and cold liquids. A sweet bonus: coconut sugar’s nutritional profile includes amino acids, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and B vitamins!
• A mostly healthy cupcake should contain ZERO trans fats (no margarine, no vegetable shortening—be especially careful about frostings as conventional and commercial store-bought frostings are notoriously loaded with trans fats)
• A mostly healthy cupcake should not be made with empty-calorie / omega-6 rich vegetable oils (such as “pure” vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, etc.) Instead, organic extra virgin coconut oil is an excellent vegetable oil replacement that not only delivers a deliciously decadent cupcake but is very heat stable and rich in both antioxidants and phytonutrients. (P.S. If you are worried about the saturated fat in coconut oil click HERE to read why the saturated fat in coconut oil is not the same as the saturated fat from animal foods such as butter, milk and beef.)
• A mostly healthy cupcake should be made with 100% whole grains and contain no refined flour (Read why I prefer white whole wheat flour to whole wheat flour HERE). For added health benefits you can also add in old fashioned (not instant) rolled oats.
• A mostly healthy cupcake should include healthful fats (such as nuts, chia seeds, nut butters, flaxseeds, hemp milk, etc.)
• A mostly healthy cupcake should not be made with cow’s milk. My favorite cow’s milk alternative for cupcakes is hemp milk because it has a rich texture similar to whole milk but doesn’t have that “funky” aftertaste you can sometimes get from soymilk or the way-too-watery texture of almond milk.
Believe it or not, my healthy cupcake recipe below has all sorts of healthy perks including fiber, phytonutrients, fruit and even essential fats.
Can Healthy Cupcakes Be Made with Eggs?
If you are a vegan or you are allergic to eggs you obviously won’t want to use eggs in your cupcake recipe. However, healthy cupcakes can still be made with eggs if you make an effort to buy the healthiest eggs possible—which means going beyond organic and looking for pastured eggs (eggs from hens that are not just “free roaming” but raised on open fresh pasture, the way nature intended hens to live.) Pasture-raised hens enjoy a naturally varied diet, absorb vitamin D from the sun, have a healthier fat profile (more omega-3/ less omega-6), contain more antioxidants and have a calm diposition from the lack of stress and competition caged hens are exposed to. All of this yields a tastier, much more nutritious egg. Organic pastured eggs are not easy to find though. I currently buy eggs from Vital Farms (which is distributed at Whole Foods Market.)
One of the biggest reasons to add eggs to your cupcake is for taste purposes. After experimenting numerous times I have found the best-tasting cupcakes are not egg-free. Besides, if you divide the amount of eggs called for in the recipe into the number of cupcake servings you generally are consuming only 15% of a single egg per cupcake.
Additionally, eggs are a considerably more nutrient-dense alternative than the vegan egg replacements (such as the powdered vegan egg replacement powders made with tapioca starch, which is basically just sugar.) I’ve also experimented with the baking soda and vinegar combo so many vegan cupcakes call for but after repeated trys (and repeated failures) I just can’t seem to make it taste good…unless I offset the vinegar taste by adding tons of sugar, which I really don’t want to do. All in all I think using eggs is a much healthier (and tastier) option. So, while the idea of a vegan cupcake might sound like the end all and be all as far as healthy cupcakes go, the reality is just because a cupcake is vegan doesn’t make it healthy! And, let’s be truthful here…no cupcake is ever really and truly a health food. My recipe for “healthy” cupcakes is far better from a nutritional standpoint than the vast majority of recipes, but from a health standpoint, you would still be far better off having fresh fruit for dessert.
Going back to the vegan issue, if you really, really want your cupcake to be vegan you can try replacing the 2 eggs with 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce or 2 bananas. I did try the bananas and I just didn’t think they were very tasty but if you are used to eating vegan cupcakes you might be pleased. I have not tried the applesauce though but I’m pretty sure it would work. (If you give the applesauce a go please let me know if it works!! AND, if you happen to have an amazing vegan cupcake recipe I would LOVE for you to share it!)
The Best Vegan Frosting
I’ve experimented with a broad range of natural sweeteners and I’ve found I get the lightest, springiest and most delicious vegan frosting uses organic powdered sugar as my main sweetener. Unlike the chalky cloying sweetness you get from refined powdered sugar, organic powdered sugar has a smooth, mellow flavor derived from the molasses it is made from.
Also, for whatever it is worth, my cupcake recipe has about 3/4 less sugar than the typical “healthy” or vegan cucpake calls for.
I’ll be honest, coming up with the vegan chocolate frosting recipe for my “healthy” cupcakes was a mini project nightmare.
Although I didn’t really care about making the batter vegan I really did want the frosting to be vegan because 1) I didn’t want to use butter or cream cheese and 2) I didn’t want to use the empty-calorie margarines or non-hydrogenated shortenings so many vegan cupcake enthusiasts rely on. I went online and found a recipe that called for melting extra virgin coconut oil and mixing it with arrowroot and some agave and something else (I can’t remember what) and the whole thing was just a complete disaster. I almost gave up completely but after several attempts I came up with the idea for the cashew frosting. I must say (as I pat myself on the back!) that this really is a sensational frosting.
Ok, on with the cupcake recipe. Finally.
Chocolaty Healthy Cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Frosting
Yields: 16 cupcakes
• 1 cup pitted organic dates
• ¾ cup raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour or 1-for-1 gluten free flour
• ¾ cup coconut palm sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ¾ teaspoon baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon unrefined sea salt
• 2 organic, pastured eggs
• 1 cup plain unsweetened hemp milk
• 3 tablespoons organic extra virgin coconut oil (such as Barlean’s), melted
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease the muffin tins with extra virgin coconut oil.
2. Place the dates in a microwave-safe dish and cover with water. Place dates in the microwave and heat on high for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and let dates sit in water for 5 minutes to further soften. Drain dates and set aside.
3. Sift the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt together over a large bowl.
4. In a high speed blender, add the soaked dates, eggs, hemp milk, melted coconut oil and vanilla extract; process until smooth and creamy, about 1 minutes. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until no lumps remain.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one cupcake comes out clean and the tops are slightly springy when pressed.
6. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then cool completely on a baking rack before frosting.
Vegan Chocolate Frosting:
• 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours, or up to 4 hours (note: drain cashews well before adding to blender)
• ¼ cup agave nectar
• ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons organic powdered sugar
• ½ cup raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1/8 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
• 3 tablespoons water
1. Put all ingredients in a Vitamix or high speed blender. Blend to a smooth consistency. Add an extra tablespoon of water at a time if frosting is too thick.
2. Cover and store frosting in the fridge for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before using.