Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Blogging Saved the Day: Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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!
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  1. That rocks so hard that you made her cupcakes.

    I fully agree -- my favourite part of going to shul isn't the service. It's the taking afterward.

    And I haven't gotten to eat honeysuckle nectar since I was 8 and my old school's playground was lined with the bushes. We talk about it every spring. I really miss collecting all the blossoms so we could sit down to a big honeysuckle meal.

  2. 1. When I was a child we used to hang out at the Honeysuckle covered fence during recess and pluck the flowers to suck while we ran around playing tag or jumping rope or climbing the jungle gym. It is hard for me to conceive of anyone not having a similar experience. :D

    2. I feel the same about allergies like Celiac and exploring the baking world. I have 2 friends who are gluten free and I am always exploring gluten free baking recipes for the one that lives close by. And I always keep gluten free pancake/waffle mix on hand because she likes to make waffle dates.

    3. I was just talking to my friend Camilla (of The Leadpaint Cookbook) about hosting a cupcake party at some point this year where everyone brings a cupcake that is unique in some way. I do believe I will make these. Thank you!

  3. what a beautiful thing to do for a child with food allergies! food is such a great unifier, & not being able to partake can be horribly isolating for anyone (let alone a child). you rock, plain & simple!

    & the cupcakes look delicious! :)

  4. It is truly all about the food!

    This recipe is so timely for me. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time with 2 wonderful women. One is vegan, the other gluten free. I think I'll go for it and give them a try.

  5. Beautiful post. The Greek community in Australia is very well known for its food and sharing. However allergies etc are ignored because of ignorance. Thank you for bringing this disease to the attention it needs. What a gorgeous gesture for a child. I will definitely add this to my recipe box.

  6. @Mel: if you're ever in this neck of the woods, I will find you a honeysuckle bush. :)
    @Audrey: can I come to your cupcake party? :)
    @Kate: aww, thanks!!
    @Slowmamma and Athena: if you give this a go, let me know how it turns out for you!

  7. Ok, I got all teary eyed when I read how happy you made that little girl. What a sweet thing to do. I supsect that is something that she will always remember. Good work!

  8. I love the idea of you showing up with cupcakes just for her. That's lovely, Justine.

    My mother-in-law is a celiac, and except for one slipup on my part which must not be mentioned, it's really educated me to the fact that a lot of people have to be so careful about eating gluten (because if they do, really bad things happen).

    These look yummy.

  9. you are so wonderful! the love you showed that little girl will stay with her forever!

  10. What a sweet thing to do for a little girl. One of the kindest ways to welcome people to the church is through hospitality, and I can't think of any nicer way to show it.

  11. You're so super awesome and I have no idea what it is about vegan desserts but I just can't get enough of them.

  12. How kind of you to bring her some special cupcakes. Simple acts like that really show another person that they're valuable. As always...your post made my heart smile!


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