May 6, 2012

Low-fat and vegan (super-easy) chocolate cupcakes

Do you remember the days as a child when birthdays meant a little party and cupcakes at school?  Nowadays, food (not to mention sweets) is essentially prohibited at classroom birthday celebrations.  Maybe it's not the case everywhere but where I live, that seems to be the protocol once we reach past preschool.
I totally respect parents' desire to limit their children's intake of sweets and the proliferation of food allergies these days but I really miss those days of birthday cupcakes in the classroom.  When I made these cupcakes, I thought about that.  Since these are low-fat and vegan chocolate cupcakes, I wonder if they might even pass muster with the school nurse and be allowed in the classroom.  And as an added bonus, these cupcakes are a real cinch to make.  You mix wet and dry ingredients together with a wooden spoon and the batter is done.
These chocolate cupcakes are very moist, light, with a chocolate flavor that comes from cocoa and espresso powder.  A little bit of molasses might be the secret ingredient.  The recipe, which comes the Flour cookbook, makes a 6-inch cake but I opted for cupcakes and divided the recipe in half (like I often do) to make a small batch.  I liked these cupcakes because unlike many other low-fat foods, they are not loaded down with sugar so they're not too sweet and there's no cloying aftertaste.
You might wonder how a chocolate cupcake that has no butter, eggs or other dairy tastes.  They're actually really good and I liked it more and more as I tasted it.  When I first took a bite, I thought "ok, they're pretty good but I can definitely tell the difference between these and 'regular' cupcakes."  But the lines blurred the more I ate, and even if they are a little different, it's different in a good way.  It's like my love of frozen yogurt; it's not quite the same as ice cream but a good fro yo is very satisfying too. 

These reminded me of the basic chocolate cupcake recipe I often use and they're even not very far removed from the everyday chocolate loaf cake I once made (just way less fat and calories involved).  The two kids that tried these cupcakes certainly didn't notice anything unusual about them.  And you don't leave the table feeling weighed down after eating one; it is a great option when it comes to getting a chocolate fix in a more healthful way.  And since they are so easy to make, it's a great treat to prepare with kids.
Now, if you don't mind throwing "low-fat and vegan" out the window, you can add frosting.  I couldn't resist and topped a few with some whipped chocolate ganache.  I figured it was alright to mix a little bad in with the good but I might've been a little too generous with the topping since I had more than I needed.  I've been thinking that as a compromise, coating the tops of these cupcakes with just a little bit of chocolate glaze (spoon slightly warm ganache over the top) would be a nice medium ground.  But topping or no topping, I see myself making these again. 

These low-fat vegan chocolate cupcakes are very easy to make.  If you have the ingredients on hand, you can have a batch in the oven within ten minutes.  There's no need to worry about bringing eggs or butter to room temperature since you don't need those ingredients!   

Making the batter is just a matter of bringing two parts - the wet and dry ingredients - together.  For a full recipe (about 12 cupcakes or one 6-inch cake), the dry ingredients include 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons espresso powder, a teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt.  Whisk the ingredients together (I do like to sift when I'm using cocoa powder, which tends to be lumpy, but that's optional).

The wet ingredients include 1 cup of water, 1/4 cup canola oil, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of molasses.  As you can see from the ingredients, it is very light relative to other chocolate cupcake/cake counterparts.
Whisk the wet ingredients together and pour it into the dry.  Mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly incorporated and you have a lovely pudding-like batter.  That's all there is to it!
I divided the recipe in half when I made this.  I popped some cupcake liners into the tin (I wanted to use blue liners - I'm rarely that decisive but I was just feeling like blue on this particular day) and filled the paper cups about 2/3 up.  Doing this, I got 5 cupcakes instead of 6.  As you can see from the finished product, they do rise quite a bit so I recommend filling the liners up just half way and that should yield 6 cupcakes.  That makes the most sense if you plan to add a bit of frosting over the top. 
Bake the cupcakes in a 350 degree preheated oven.  They should take roughly 16-18 minutes (mine took about 17 minutes but again, I filled them a bit more than I should have) but the best way to check for doneness is to see if the cake springs back a bit when you lightly press it in the center. 

Now you can enjoy them unadorned or with just a light dusting of confectioners' sugar on top, as intended...
...or you could be naughty and top these cupcakes with frosting.  The choice is always yours.


Low-fat and Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
From Flour cookbook (I just opted to make cupcakes)

- 12 standard size cupcakes (or one 6-inch cake, as recipe intended*) -

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (or 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsulfured light or dark molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with a rack positioned in the center.  Line standard cupcake tin with 12 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt together.  Separately, whisk the water, oil, vanilla, and molasses together.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix together with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth and combined.  Divide batter into the 12 lined cupcake tins (it will only be filled about halfway up).

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 16-18 minutes, or until the cupcake springs back when lightly pressed in the center.  Let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin and cooling completely on wire racks.

* To bake as a 6-inch cake, bake the cake batter in a greased and floured 6-inch cake pan for 50 to 55 minutes. 

Optional: Dust the tops of the cupcakes with confectioners' sugar.  Or top with frosting of your choice - but be aware that it will lose the "low-fat and vegan" moniker at that point.  I have a recipe for chocolate ganache frosting here (whip the mixture in a standmixer until desired consistency if you like).  I also think a thin glaze of warm ganache spooned over the top of each cupcake would be nice here.

The cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 days.


  1. This looks like a great recipe--and might feed my little chocoholics in a healthier way. I'm going to try it--thanks.

  2. I hope the little ones like it! Mine didn't notice a difference but then again, the frosting on top of his was a distraction.



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