I have joined the cupcake craze. Except that I don't want the calories, carbs and fat that come with these yummy delights.
So I shrunk my cupcakes — not their size, but their fattening ingredients.
After all, people say you can do anything with a cupcake. Fill them. Leave them plain. Decorate them. So why not make them healthy?
I came up with this recipe for red velvet cupcakes, which remain satisfyingly large, yet have just 98 calories and under than 3 grams of fat each. Compare that to the standard cupcake, which can crash in with 513 calories and 26 grams of fat.
Red velvet cake has been around for decades. It started as the signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. The cake had always captured my heart. But for dieting it plays hard to get. I wanted to come up with an adaption that would capture the richness of its namesake (minus the butter, sugar and white flour).
Red velvet cake is a very mild chocolate cake, but it is chocolate cake nonetheless. And yes, it is red. Unsweetened cocoa powder and natural red food coloring round out the tradition in this recipe. As for healthing it up... I did that with some simple but tasty substitutions you can try with just about any baked good. Here are the key changes:
— Whole-wheat pastry flour and flaxseed meal
Both are used to replace nutritionally bankrupt white flour. Whole-wheat pastry flour lends a light, fluffy texture to the cake. Add flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds) and you've got a cupcake high in omega 3's, protein and both insoluble and soluble fiber. Flaxseed meal is a dieter's dream, as it helps you feel full. Look for it in the natural or bulk sections of the grocer, as well as in the baking aisle.
— Stevia and agave syrup
Both replace the sugar, while cutting calories. Stevia is an herb known for its natural (and intense) sweetness with zero calories. It bakes beautifully. Agave is a honey-like sweetener that is sweeter than sugar, so you don't need to use much. And make sure you buy raw agave, some are highly processed.
Red velvet cake traditionally is served with a cream cheese frosting, and I haven't veered from tradition. After your cakes have cooled, you'll frost them with a mixture of sugar-free vanilla pudding and low-fat cream cheese (this takes mere seconds to whip together). The frosting has a nice sweet flavor and hardly any calories. Trust me, for anyone in your family who prefers their desserts as decadent as they come, they won't be disappointed!
Oh, and while you're making these yummy red velvet cupcakes, it's OK if I catch you licking the bowl or with a finger in your mouth. This isn't your grandmother's red velvet cake.
— Add 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder and 1 packet of stevia sweetener to the frosting for chocolate frosting. It will only add 1 calorie per cupcake.
— Spraying the paper liners with nonstick spray keeps very low-fat cupcakes, such as these, from sticking to the paper.
— Don't have enough time? These cupcakes also can be "baked" in the microwave. Place paper muffin liners in four 6-ounce microwave-safe custard cups. Spray the papers and custard cups lightly with cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the paper liners. Microwave on 50 percent power (medium) for 1 minute and 20 seconds to 4 minutes, or until the tops feel just firm when lightly touched. The cupcakes will puff up high while cooking, then deflate when the microwave stops. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the custard cups right away and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. Note than microwaves can vary widely in cooking power. We provide a range for the cooking time; be sure to watch carefully as you cook.
RED VELVET CUPCAKES
Start to finish: 25 minutes
5 packets natural Stevia sweetener (powder)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red food coloring
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons prepared vanilla sugar-free, fat-free pudding (such as Jell-O)
2 tablespoons fat-free cream cheese, softened
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 4 large (2 1/2-inch) muffin cups with paper liners. Lightly coat the liners with cooking spray.
Separate the egg yolks and whites, discarding 1 of the yolks. Place the remaining egg yolk in a medium bowl. Place the 2 egg whites in another medium bowl.
To the whites, add 2 packets of the Stevia, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of the food coloring. Mix and set aside.
Add the remaining 3 packets Stevia, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon food coloring to the egg yolk. Whisk the yolk mixture for 3 minutes. Add buttermilk and agave. Whisk until combined.
In a small bowl whisk together flour, flaxseed meal, cocoa powder and salt. Add to yolk-buttermilk mixture and beat on low just until combined.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture on medium to high until stiff peaks form. Working in 3 batches, fold the egg whites into the buttermilk mixture, being careful not to deflate the whites.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cups. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and cool.
Meanwhile, to prepare the frosting in a small bowl combine the pudding and cream cheese. Mix until smooth. Spread or pipe evenly over each cupcake.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 98 calories; 3 g fat (24 percent of total calories, 1 g saturated); 54 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber; 187 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rocco DiSpirito is author of the "Now Eat This!" and "Now Eat This! Diet" cookbooks.