Whole Story

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Make it Natural: Cupcakes for Special Diets

By Alana Sugar, April 22, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar
Yvonne, one of our Whole Story readers, sent us this idea for a recipe makeover:
My daughter used to love to bake. However, we recently found out from her naturopath's tests that she is gluten-, dairy- and egg-intolerant. Do you have any kid-friendly (cookies, cakes, muffins) baking recipes which are dairy, wheat and egg free? Thanks a million!
Frosted Spice CupcakeWe'd love to help! We thought cupcakes might be just the thing to get Yvonne and her daughter back in the kitchen in a hurry. Typically a cupcake batter might be made with wheat flour, eggs, milk and butter. So Yvonne's request does seem challenging, but the recipe I developed for Frosted Spice Cupcakes is a winner no one will be able to resist. These were a big hit in the test kitchen - even with tasters who normally don't eat special diet goodies. We hope you'll enjoy them as much as we did. Here's how I approached this cupcake recipe. Apply the techniques to your own home baking!
  • Replace wheat flour with gluten-free flour. The general substitution for gluten-free flours to wheat flours is 1:1. White rice flour is very commonly used, and that's what I went with in this cupcake batter. White rice flour does not contribute much flavor, so I added warm spices for greater depth. Another ingredient, xanthan gum, is added in small quantities to provide texture and volume. This powdered thickener helps keep your end product from falling apart. You can use other binders, such as guar gum, but xanthan is commonly used. Look for it on the baking aisle-it usually comes in a pouch. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour for muffins and cakes, and more for chewy breads.
  • Replace dairy ingredients with non-dairy ingredients. I often substitute non dairy milk and yogurt for the "real stuff" in recipes. As with flours, the ratio is 1:1. I have found that unsweetened, plain almond milk is the closest thing to dairy milk out there. I have used it in quiches, puddings and hot cocoa. Coconut milk yogurt is a fairly new option, and it works well in these cupcakes to contribute a rich flavor and a moist texture. Try using it for buttermilk-just thin it with a little almond milk, coconut milk or water to make it the consistency of buttermilk, and use it in cornbread, pancakes, breads, muffins, etc. Many non dairy milk substitutes contain added sugar, and I avoid these by carefully reading labels. If I want something sweeter, I can add a little natural sweetener on my own.
  • Replace the eggs. Ener-G Egg Replacer is an egg substitute in powder form made from a leaving agent, potato starch and tapioca starch. There are added natural binders that make it perform as an egg would, for example binding ingredients and providing texture. It also helps your baked goods rise. To use, mix 1/2 tablespoon egg replacer with 2 tablespoons warm water to make the equivalent of one egg. You can use it in baked goods and for custards and pie fillings, but you can't scramble it like you would eggs.
  • Replace butter with vegan margarine. Vegan margarine is what I use when I need a substitute for pure butter in a recipe that is dairy-free. I could use oil such as canola or sunflower for some recipes, but when I want a buttery consistency and feel, I use the natural, non-hydrogenated (no trans-fats!) margarine. The margarine will soften like butter and can be used in frosting recipes, baked goods, melted butter recipes, etc. I look for margarine that is a blend of oils such as olive, palm, canola, etc., as this makes for a better spread and a wider assortment of fatty acids. If purchasing natural margarine at Whole Foods Market, you don't have to worry about trans fats, but otherwise, you must be a label reader to avoid products containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
I hope these tips help you with your baking projects. Happy baking! Send us Your Recipe Request! Do you have a recipe you'd like us to make natural? Post it in the comments section below! If we select your recipe for a healthy makeover and publish the improved version on our website, we'll send you a $25 Whole Foods Market gift card.




Ali Kamas says ...
Due to allergies my son is on a vegan and gluten free diet. He loves tofu, but most of the prepared tofu is marinaded with ingredients containing wheat. I would love to be able to make a tofu with some kind of seasoning or batter that is gluten free. Thanks!
04/22/2009 7:22:48 AM CDT
Mary Speer says ...
Does coconut milk yogurt have enough acidity to substitute chemically for buttermilk as it is, or should I add vinegar or lemon juice to react with the baking soda for proper rising?
04/22/2009 7:57:13 AM CDT
s danko says ...
happy earth day! my way to celebrate earth day on a daily basis-to enjoy all the good things the earth has provided us with--to enjoy the simple pleasures of life which cannot be bought---to give back whenever possible---finally to eat local produce--finally to take time out and celebrate the planet!
04/22/2009 8:08:17 AM CDT
Diann says ...
Try silken tofu, not marinated with anything and perfect for desserts or sweets. The creamy texture will remind you of yogurt or sour cream or even pudding.
04/22/2009 11:37:01 AM CDT
Titianne says ...
Can Whole Foods possibly get their plastic grocery bag made of 100% recycled soda bottles into a form that can fold up and be put inside of a purse? I just keep forgetting my WFM grocery bags and it would help to keep them stashed in my purse. I read online somewhere to put a piece of tape in the car that says "Don't forget bags", but I am not really fond of that idea. Thanks.
04/22/2009 11:37:53 AM CDT
Bettye says ...
To Ali Kamas, My husband and I manage a chiropractic/nutritional response testing practice. Very precise and customized to each person. Our patients are on wheatfree/gluten free mostly sugar free diets. We recommend tamari ( a wheat free soy sauce ) that can be added to your tofu marinades. Life can be improved and allergies eliminated with NRT. Browse online Dr. Ulan in Florida ( my husband's teacher ) who provides names and phone numbers of all NRT practitioners in the U.S.A. Changes lives with commitment and dedication. Sounds like your son would be a beautiful candidate! Blessings: Bettye Cart in California, at Wellness Innerlink, Inc.
04/22/2009 12:08:05 PM CDT
Angie says ...
What about baking these types of cupcakes at high altitude? Are there additional changes that need to be made to account for high altitude?
04/22/2009 12:20:04 PM CDT
sugara says ...
For Mary Speer - Thanks for your question. I have found the coconut milk to work well as a substitute for yogurt in many recipes, although it is a bit sweeter and not tart like regular yogurt. I often add a little bit of lime or lemon juice to give it a little boost. I would definitley recommend doing that when substituting for buttermilk. Enjoy! Alana
04/22/2009 2:16:50 PM CDT
sugara says ...
Hi Angie, Thanks for your question. I would bake these cupcakes at 375 degrees since you are at high altitude. In general, baking gluten free at high altitutes requires a higher oven temp (25 degrees F. is good) and a little less liquid (maybe 2 TBS less than called for). Your baking time might be a little longer, too. Enjoy! Alana
04/22/2009 2:39:47 PM CDT
S. J. Krup says ...
I would strongly recommend that you do NOT use white rice flour for gluten-free cupcakes or other baked goods. Anyone who has experience with GF baking knows that a BLEND of flours is much better than just using rice flour (which would give the cupcake a very gritty texture and poor crumb). Gluten-free flour blends are available commercially (e.g. Bob's Red Mill, Betty 4-Flour GF Blend, etc.), and can also be mixed at home. (Do a web search for gluten free flour blends, for suggested ratios and contents.) They often include brown rice flour (healthier than white rice flour), garbanzo bean flour, tapioca, potato, and corn starches, among others. And Alana, please do your research before offering any more gluten-free recipes. GF food CAN taste good, even to someone who regularly eats wheat products -- just ask my husband!
04/24/2009 1:34:15 PM CDT
Nicole says ...
All foods for all special diets can taste good! It boils my blood when people thing that because some adjustment needs to be made to a recipe it is bound to taste less tasty or more complicated, etc. I've worked with special diets for over 15 years and I have yet to find anything unpleasant about special diets, except the increase in cost, and even that can be managed. In addition -- gums are not necessary in gluten free baking -- ever. Not in breads, not in flaky pastry, not in cookies, nothing. Special Diets give folks the opportunity to chose what they truly like, not just 'what's there', allowing folks to be more mindful eaters. There needs not be a loss of taste, texture, presentation,etc. merely and increase in options.
04/24/2009 1:52:14 PM CDT
Nona says ...
I haven't experimented much with Gluten-free baking, but I do not use any animal products and my animal-eating extended family always requests my desserts. I use Almond Milk in all of my baking recipes and always have a hit. Add a tablespoon of lemon per cup and it creates a buttermilk effect. Earth Balance is the best for buttery taste in and delictable icings on top. I use unrefined sugars, homemade applesauce, and refined coconut oil as well. I have learned that you can do great baking without using animal products, just haven't mastered the gluten-free aspect yet. Any suggestions for great cookbooks? It's very hard to find vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free cookbooks that don't use animal products AND avoid refined sugars, while Gluten-free. Perhaps it's too much to ask.
04/24/2009 2:07:24 PM CDT
Nona says ...
I meant to include refined flours in that list as well.
04/24/2009 2:08:49 PM CDT
Shar says ...
Do you have a recipe for cupcakes that uses Stevia instead of sugar?
04/24/2009 6:01:42 PM CDT
Cheryl says ...
Oh gosh, I agree! Why use white flour when there's absolutely no nutrition in it? not only that, the taste usually isn't so great. There are SO many great mixes and books out there. and flax and/or chia seeds work just as well as egg replacer in some recipes, and are much better for you, too. might I recommend you check out Susan O'briens book, GF vegan, or Carol Fenseter's Cooking free? They are very experienced and have truly wonderful recipes.
04/24/2009 8:09:48 PM CDT
Christine says ...
My middle and oldest daughters are vegan. They love the cookbook "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World!" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. We have found each recipe to be fun, practical, and not too pricey. Who doesn't love cupcakes!
04/26/2009 1:22:42 PM CDT
J.Leone says ...
Hello, thank you for your very helpful article.I love the blog and all of the very helpful advice. Thank you everyone! Do you have a gluten free recipe for devils food chocolate cake and brownies? It seems we are always asked to bake these for school fundraisers . The school fair is this Sunday May 3 and they are asking parents to donate cakes for the annual cakewalk fundraiser. Thank you very much in advance for your very kind assistance.
04/26/2009 9:15:39 PM CDT
sugara says ...
To S. J. Krup, Thanks for your comment. I am personally not a fan of GF mixes that contain bean flours... they don't taste good to me. We all really loved these cupcakes and made them in our test kitchen. They were a big hit! I bet they would be great with brown rice flour, too.
04/27/2009 5:06:36 PM CDT
sugara says ...
For Shar, I have never baked with Stevia, so I don't have any recipes to share with you, but I know there are some great cookbooks and online recipes for using it. Thanks for your comment.
04/27/2009 5:09:42 PM CDT
Barbara says ...
We have an Automatic Ice Cream Maker and this recipe is for that machine. However, I need to figure out how to make it casein and gluten free. Any ideas? Thanks! Chocolate Ice Cream 3.9 oz. instant chocolate pudding & pie filling mix 1 1/2 cups of whole milk 2 cups heavy whipping cream 1/2 cup sugar 1 Tablespoon of Vanilla Extract
04/28/2009 8:22:14 AM CDT
melanie says ...
Thanks for your recipe - my daughter is egg, dairy and gluten -free, as well as pineappleand banana free. I would love a good recipe for chicken fingers. The commercially prepared batter is always too spicey. I have made it with crushed cornflakes, lawry's seasoning and dipped chicken strips in a combination of rice milk, geletin and honey and cooked in olive oil but it is very inconsistant asto whether I can get the batter to stick. So need a better binder. have also tried egg replacer. Also atip - my daughter did a science fair project to replace eggs in a cookie mix - 7 batches - different tastes and consistency for each but liked most - so people might want to experiment. We used Pamela's mix, added 1 cup gluten-free, dairy free tropical chocoloate chips from sunsource. we always substitue rice milk 1:1 for milk. Egg substitutes as follows: Any one of the following = 1 egg 1/4 cup silken tofu 1/4 cup canned pumpkin 1/4 cup apple sauce energy or orgran egg replacer mixed basically according to direction but with warm water and less water than called for - beat really well like you would an egg-white. The silken tofu works great in the gluten free pantry brownie mix. Thanks
04/28/2009 10:03:40 AM CDT
stephanie says ...
Whole foods is the BEST!!!! ive been trying to loose weight and Whole foods is the only place i will go to get my fresh fruits and vegtables. im a single mum and every bit of money counts. When i lived in tampa, fl i went every weekend. Now i live in mass and i go to the one up here. a little out of the way but its worth it. One thing the store up here does not have that the one in florida did was a wine section. And the cheese section was alot bigger too. Also, the section with all the bath and body products was much bigger. They even had a section with books. Overall im soooo pleased. I would change it for anything!!!
04/28/2009 12:47:38 PM CDT
dandy says ...
sounds like a lovely recipe. i agree with you alana on the rice flour. i like the brown rice flour. thank you for the recipe!
04/28/2009 3:05:32 PM CDT
donna says ...
I have been doing gluten free for my son . What I find is that things tend to be more crumbly and dry. Also,it is more difficult to get organic ingredients. Any ideas?
04/29/2009 6:53:00 AM CDT
Sandi Peaslee says ...
About the reuseable grocery bags. The only way I found to always have them is to keep them in the car. I have had to train myself to remember to bring them in to the store with me. I force myself to walk back outside to the car if I forget to bring them in. That has gotten me much better about remembering to take them out of the car when I go in to shop! When I empty them out at home I leave them on the counter under my purse. Then, the next time I'm going out to drive somewhere I put them back in the car. This routine has worked well for me and is now becoming automatic.
04/29/2009 9:34:07 PM CDT