A few weeks ago I had a rather heated conversation with my doctor. Our relationship has always been fraught with drama on the level of theatre or absurdity (usually both), for I’m always convinced that I’ve fallen victim to one affliction or another. When I learned I had a Vitamin D deficiency last summer, I spent weeks on the Internet trying to diagnose myself with an ailment that I was certain my doctor had obscured from me. Chalk it up to a childhood sans health insurance, where hospital visits were epic affairs replete with late movies and hours fidgeting in a waiting room. Back in the day you didn’t see a doctor unless you were on the verge of death, and even then you considered your options.
But back to the conversation at hand. My doctor phoned me with the results of my blood work. I asked, Am I dying? To which my doctor replied, No, but… Naturally, I shrieked because one did not allow for coordinating conjunctions on such occasions. And while my doctor assured me I was fine, just fine, he did notice that I had an abnormal spike in my sugar levels, and upon further investigation, I have a gene that predisposes me to diabetes.
Believe me when I say I was flummoxed. I don’t eat processed or packaged food; I avoid the middle aisles of supermarkets. I EAT KALE! But it didn’t matter because I’m a baker who uses cane sugar. I am a woman who loves carbs. Genetics are genetics. After a few seconds of dramatics, I calmed down and focused on solutions.
Since that conversation, I’ve been the business of sugar reduction. Never have I fallen prey to dramatic dietary changes, but I have made some modifications to my diet. Instead of daily pasta dinner (yes, I know, I know), I have whole wheat pasta three times a week. Instead of bagels and toast, I blitz up a morning protein smoothie that tastes very much like a milkshake.
However, baking proves to be a bit of a challenge. I need to get real with you guys and say there is no true substitute for what sugar, butter and white flour can deliver in a cake, cupcake or loaf. We can make all the modifications under the proverbial sun, but the classics are mainstays for a reason. Yet, I need to get real with myself and admit that the mainstays, while not harmful now, will be in ten years time.
Enter the wretched Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook. Those who know me know that I’ve been going through the tortures of the damned because I have a love/hate relationship with the pedigreed-actress-cum-faux-Martha-Stewart, but her new cookbook is pretty strong, offering smart, virtuous recipes that are free of white flour + sugar.
After I swooned over the banana “ice cream,” I thought I’d try fixing her chocolate almond cupcakes. While they don’t taste like Reece’s Pieces (bless your heart, Gwyneth), they are quite good. These are not your average cupcakes with their airy, feather-light cake consistency, rather they’re fudgy, bordering on a brownie-like texture, and the tops have a lovely crunch to them. My only gripe is that the recipe didn’t convey that the batter makes 18 cupcakes instead of the standard 12 (I found this out researching the recipe online), so some of my cupcakes fell apart after the cooling process.
However, that didn’t stop me from eating one and playing with my kitty.
I invite you to give these cupcakes a go, and I’ll be posting more recipes from the book in an effort to play around with new flours and sweeteners (brown rice syrup is a new, delightful find), sharing my journey along the way.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, modified slightly
Makes about 18 cupcakes
300g (2 cups) white spelt flour (if you can tolerate a little gluten) or all-purpose gluten-free flour (if it doesn’t include it in the gluten-free flour, add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)
100g (1 cup) high-quality cocoa powder
1½ tbsp baking powder
pinch of sea salt
4oz (½ cup) grapeseed oil or Vegenaise
8oz (1 cup) good-quality maple syrup, plus an additional 4 tablespoons
4oz (½ cup) brown rice syrup
4oz (½ cup) strong brewed coffee (cooled)
4oz (½ cup) almond milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
4 tbsp roasted almond butter
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas 4. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and another tin just with 6 liners. Set it aside.
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powders and salt together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil or Vegenaise, 1 cup of the maple syrup, the brown rice syrup, coffee, almond milk and vanilla. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones, being careful not to over-beat (that’s how you end up with tough cupcakes!). While I’m usually pretty delicate with the dough, I was able to add all of the wet ingredients at once and stir until the flour mixture fully absorbed the we mixture.
Meanwhile, whisk together the almond butter and the remaining 4 tbsp of maple syrup and set it aside.
Fill each muffin cup halfway with the basic batter. Evenly divide the almond butter-maple syrup mixture among the muffin cups and top with the remaining batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Let cool completely before serving.