Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing

I'm back after a two-week hiatus! I've just started a new part-time job and am still juggling my old part-time job (as well as my full-time+ job as a stay-at-home mommy). All of that has led to not as much cooking experimentation. We've been eating some old favorites and emptying out the freezer--after all, it's almost blueberry season here, and I need to make room!

As some of you might remember, I went to my cousin's wedding two weeks ago. I felt pretty good about how my gustatory experiences panned out: I think all the food I ate was safe, and I managed to eat more than just the salad (though I'm definitely going to take Sally's advice next time and take salad add-ins for a more substantial dish!).

I couldn't eat the dessert at the wedding, of course. They served cupcakes that you ice yourself. Apparently, the caterer thought allowing guests to ice their own cupcakes was a terrible idea. My opinion is that you can do what you want at your own wedding and that it's no better or worse of an idea than the current trend in wedding appetizers: the mashed potato bar. Think ice cream sundae meets mashed potatoes, chives, and bacon. There were even sundae-style dishes. Suspecting lurking gluten, I skipped it.

Missing out on ice-your-own-cupcake fun wasn't a terrible hardship. I've never been much of a dessert person when I eat out. Not that I don't love dessert. I once attempted to fast for Lent (don't ask me why) only to fail when I encountered a chocolate chip cookie for the first time in months at Bohemia Bagel in Prague. But I have found that my waistline and my general well-being both appreciate it when I consume very moderate amounts of high-sugar desserts. I'm much more likely to eat a small piece of dark chocolate or a few spoonfuls of ice cream partnered with squishy Medjool date than a whole piece of cheesecake.

Enter mini-cupcakes. I bought two mini-cupcake pans last summer when I was experimenting with gluten-free cake recipes and didn't want to have to eat a whole piece of cake just to try out the recipe. I'd get to try a few bites of a new recipe and not have to feel like I was splurging. So all summer, I made cupcakes, tried them out, and then took them to picnics to share with my friends.

This is the beauty of the cupcake. Think about it: when you make a whole cake, there are no "tastings." You bake the cake, you ice the cake, you refrigerate the cake until serving time. With cupcakes, you bake the cupcakes, you ice the cupcakes, and if one or two get eaten between then and the party, no one's the wiser.

I tried a few of Brendan's recipes at Something in Season before he decided to stop blogging: the caradmom-date cake and the ginger cake with dark chocolate glaze stand out. I wish he still maintained his archive so that I could link to them. I hadn't tried a chocolate cake, though.

Having a solid chocolate cake recipe in your repertoire is key. The flourless chocolate cake--a blessing to us gluten-free folks--is not what I'm talking about here. Don't get me wrong, the flourless cake is heavenly--smooth, decadent, and super-chocolaty. But it's also expensive, relying on lots of eggs, butter, and good-quality melted chocolate, and fancier than what I have in mind.

I'm talking about an old-fashioned, layer cake type of recipe. With that, you can always make a great birthday cake. Before going gluten-free, I used the thrifty Moosewood chocolate cake with no eggs or butter (it uses oil and is leavened by a reaction between baking soda and vinegar--remember those volcano demonstrations in elementary school science?).

Making a gluten-free version turned out to be easy. I started with the Moosewood, threw in a pinch of Brendan's ginger cake and some cinnamon, and voila! Chocolate cake, or rather, mini cupcakes. I iced them with an old-fashioned caramel icing that my grandmother taught me how to make. The only substantial change I made to her icing was to add sea salt for a salted caramel taste. Yum!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Icing
This recipe will make 1 8-in cake, 12 cupcakes, or 24 mini cupcakes (plus a ramekin of batter for the cupcakes).

1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. xanthum gum
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
a generous pinch of cinnamon
2 eggs
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. pureed prunes
1 tsp. vanilla
10 tbsp. brewed coffee (or water)

As simple as it gets. Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients. Mix them together. Spoon into your prepared pan of choice. Bake at 350 for 15 min. (mini cupcakes), 20-25 min. (cupcakes), or 30-35 min. (8-in cake), until a knife comes out smooth.

Salted Caramel Icing

1 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. milk (any kind)
1/4-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4-2 c. powdered sugar

Mix the sugar, butter, milk, and salt in a heavy pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 min. Add the vanilla. Cool the mixture to room temperature and beat in the powdered sugar a bit at a time with your mixer. (The cooler the caramel when you add the powdered sugar, the less you'll have to add to get it to a spreadable consistancy. Alternatively, you can mix in the powdered sugar and refrigerate it--the icing will stiffen as it sits.) Ice your cupcakes and refrigerate!


Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Salted caramel icing--YUM! I have to try this. I have really missed caramel.

Carrie said...

This sounds SOOOO good! I love the sweet/salty combo for the icing!!