In my church, coffee hour is a big deal. It's not that we don't come for the service. It's just that the fellowship is every bit as important as what happens in the sanctuary. We talk about the sermon, our kids, surgeries and illnesses, social justice efforts, new jobs, good books. But one of the things I really like about coffee hour is that adults don't just chat with other adults; we also talk with the children, who come and go from the fenced in playground. This past week, for example, I learned how to "eat" honeysuckle nectar from a ten year old, who was completely shocked that I'd never done it before. (It was absolutely delicious, in case you've never tried it either, and I now need to find a way to replicate that flavor in baked goods.)
I'm a firm believer that some of the best conversations happen when you break bread with someone, and because my fellow UUs agree, there are always treats at coffee hour: kids and adults alike orbit tables filled with home-baked muffins and scones and cookies, and fruit and cheese and crackers. People linger after services, and for good reason.
Recently, one of the little girls in the fellowship was diagnosed with a host of food allergies: to gluten, to wheat, to flax, to eggs, to peanuts, and to dairy. Needless to say, she's been very sad at coffee hour (and at church in general), and wouldn't talk with anyone about her allergies. Come to think of it, she hadn't been talking much with anyone at all ... she'd mostly been burying her head in her mother's lap. I decided that I needed to put my baking talents to good use, and so I asked if I could make her some treats. She nodded shyly, eyes wide, flashing me a half smile.
When I showed up with chocolate cupcakes this past week in a special container with her name on it, you would have thought I'd given her the moon. I assured her that there were other people out there who had the same sensitivities she had (in fact, I had some great blogs for her to read), and that it was possible to make some really tasty treats ... that this was a chance for her to learn how to be an expert baker. She agreed, picking up a cupcake with a wide-mouthed grin, and taking a big lick of frosting.
As someone without any food sensitivities myself, honestly, I probably would not have delved into the world of alternative ingredients had it not been for the blogsophere. Elana and Karina educated me about gluten sensitivities. Lots of others helped me to learn about the ins and outs of vegan baking (though these are adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero's excellent Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). And strangely enough, it was through food blogs that I learned about the ALI blogging community, which continues to be an incredible source of support for me, even after my successful pregnancy. I've been thinking about Mel's post this week about the "small blog," and how much I love the fact that blogging--even the small blogs about mundane things like food--has helped people to connect with each other and do something good. This is "enough." It's not about having a gazillion followers, but making some small difference in the world, just by adding our voices and our perspectives to the conversation. And who knows what the ripple effects might be?
(Of course, this is making me even sadder that I'm not going to be able to swing a trip to BlogHer'11. Wah.)
Here's the recipe for the cupcakes. It's usually recommended to use xanthan gum with gluten free flours, but I can't bring myself to buy a $10 box of the stuff to use only a tiny bit ... so I did without it, and it seemed to work fine both times I tried it. The secret of these cupcakes is to use really high quality vanilla and high quality cocoa powder (I use a fair trade variety), because that's the taste that comes through!
Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
1 c. soy milk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. fava bean and garbanzo flour
1/4 c. potato starch
2 T. arrowroot
(or substitute the above three with 1 c. Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free all purpose baking flour)
3/4 t. xanthan gum (optional)
1/3 c. good quality cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or regular
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK). Be careful not to overmix; you'll find that if you do, your cupcakes will sink in the middle after baking!
Pour into liners, filling 3/4 of the way. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Frosting
1/2 c. nonhydrogenated shortening (Spectrum organic)
1/2 c. nonhydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance Vegan)
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. plain soy milk or soy creamer
1/4 c. or more of cocoa powder
Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.
You can add cocoa powder to the frosting to make it chocolatey ... add until you like the taste.
Make them for someone you love!