’Tis the season for pumpkin.
As we enter November, everyone loves finding new recipes that use pumpkin. And when the recipes are gluten-free, that makes a whole lotta people happy.
A friend of mine asked me to make cupcakes to bring to a bridal shower. This friend has health issues that necessitate her to be on a gluten-free diet and she asked that I make the cupcakes gluten free, and she specifically requested pumpkin. I came up with this recipe, and they were a hit.
I took the basic combination of ingredients for pumpkin cake and altered the recipe to make it less sweet than most cakes and, of course, gluten free. Actually, I should probably say “low gluten” instead because I substituted all-purpose flour with spelt flour. Spelt is a low-gluten wheat variant, so most people with wheat sensitivities can tolerate spelt, but those with full-blown Celiac Disease usually cannot.
I also wanted to make it lower in sugar, so I cut back on the amount called for in most pumpkin cake recipes. And because I substituted brown sugar for white, it made it a little fluffier and more flavorful.
Now here’s where I had to make a decision between a whole-food/holistic diet versus a weight loss diet. In the first category lies the basic tenet that you should eat foods in their whole forms—i.e., all its edible parts. In the case of dairy, that means with full fat. When fat is removed from dairy, the enzymes which make it digestible are also removed, making it a bigger issue for lactose-intolerant people than full-fat dairy would be.
BUT everyone is concerned about their weight, cholesterol, etc. My friend was concerned about bringing the cupcakes to the shower in the first place because the bride is overweight. She asked me if I could make them even lower in sugar than the samples I brought her. I told her that if I took out any more sugar, they would taste like nothing. Then she asked me if I could keep the frosting off, and I explained that cupcakes without frosting are muffins and hardly party fare. At first, I offered to try and experiment with alternate sweeteners (honey, applesauce, maple syrup, maple crystals) but I was faced with a time crunch. Experimenting like that—substituting ingredients that are vastly different than the original—often takes multiple tries to get right. I didn’t have the luxury of time in which to do that.
So, to compensate, I made the decision to use low-fat cream cheese for the frosting. My teachers at the Natural Gourmet Institute would tsk-tsk me, I’m sure. But I think they would also agree that we have to compromise sometimes—they themselves taught me that we can’t be “good” one hundred percent of the time. All we can do is do our best as often as possible. So, here’s my recipe for a gluten-free, low-sugar, low-fat (not vegan) but really delicous (no, really!) Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
Yield: 20 cupcakes
3 cups spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 to 2 cups brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 (15-oz. can) pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
½ cup desiccated (unsweetened) coconut
¾ cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8-oz.) packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 20 paper muffin cups into muffin tins.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each one before adding the next. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and beat until well blended. (The mixture will look curdled but that’s okay.)
4. At low speed, add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the pumpkin mixture. Increase speed and beat until well blended. Fold in the coconut and walnuts.
5. Place about ¼ cup of the batter into each paper cup. (Pour water into any empty muffin wells, about ¼ of the way up, to prevent them from scorching.)
6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks and let cool completely. Meanwhile make the frosting.
7. Beat the butter until white and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese and then the vanilla. Begin adding the sugar a little at a time; alternate beating at low speed (when first adding the sugar) and high speed (to blend it in well). Stop adding when you’ve reached the consistency you want. Continue beating until completely smooth.
8. When cupcakes have cooled, spread or pipe on the frosting. Decorate as desired.