vegan gluten-free cupcakes are pretty good, it turns out

Gluten-free baking is a bit of a challenge, I’m not going to lie.  You have to buy a lot of different kinds of flours to blend together and then add a gum (like xantham or guar, not Wrigley’s) to take the place of traditional wheat flour.  And these other flours and gums are not cheap.  It makes sense, since wheat is subsidized in this country, but still.  You better believe I will use every last tablespoon of these flours even after Lent is over…  But I digress.

A few weeks ago when I knew I was giving up wheat I decided to order a few gluten-free baking cookbooks I had been eyeing on Amazon.  One of them was from a very well-respected gluten-free vegan bakery in NYC.  Vegan bakery?  Say what?  Seems kind of counter-intuitive, right?  Even though I never got around to visiting this bakery when I lived in New York (a wrong I intend to right on my next visit) I always heard great things so decided to test it out.

And you know what?  The results were pretty darn good.  I even had a few coworkers say they were the best cupcakes they ever had.

Even though the cookbook provided dairy-free frosting recipes I opted to thaw out some leftover strawberry mascarpone frosting from an earlier baking experiment that is decidedly not vegan but you can frost however you see fit.

Vanilla Cupcakes (from “Babycakes” cookbook by Erin McKenna)

  • 2 cups garbanzo-fava bean flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • ½ cup arrowroot (I substituted tapioca flour and it worked just fine)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/3 cups agave nectar
  • ¾ cup homemade applesauce or store-bough unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, potato starch, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt.  Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, vanilla, and lemon zest to the dry ingredients and combine.  Stir in the hot water and mix until the batter is smooth.

Pour 1/3 cup batter into each prepared cup, almost filling it.  Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the tins 180 degrees after 15 minutes.  The finished cupcakes will be golden brown and will bounce back when pressure is applied gently to the center.

Let the cupcakes stand in the tins for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.  Using a frosting knife, gently spread 1 tablespoon vanilla frosting over each cupcake.  Store the cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting (NOT vegan, clearly)

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ strawberries, cleaned and pureed in food processor or blender

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat butter and mascarpone cheese until smooth.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy.  Stir in pureed strawberries with a spatula.

strawberry pies forever

There’s going to be a moratorium on strawberries in my house soon.  Not because I don’t love them (I do) but because I have eaten a lot of them recently.  A LOT.   

Today it’ll be my grandma’s strawberry pie and every pie starts with a crust.

This pie is an easy one because the only baking required is for the crust.  Of course, you could buy one of those pre-made crusts but I’m a big fan of doing as much as possible from scratch and when it’s so easy, why not?

The rest of the pie is done on the stovetop.  You boil some sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup and pinch of salt until it’s thick and clear and then remove from heat and add a packet of strawberry Jell-o.  (I’m not gonna lie: the almost neon color of the Jell-o sort of freaked me out, but the part of me that felt nostalgic for all the Jell-o I ate in my youth overrode the freaked-out part.  You could use clear gelatin to avoid the color additive and I may try that next time.) 

Then you stir in strawberries and pour the mixture in the pre-baked pie crust.  Let it cool in the fridge for a few hours and eat.  Easy as you-know-what.

Strawberry Pie

  • ¾ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Small package of strawberry Jell-o
  • 1 quart (4 cups) hulled and cleaned strawberries

Boil sugar, cornstartch, salt, water, and light corn syrup in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until thick and clear.

Remove from heat and add the small package of strawberry Jell-o.  Cool.

Fold in strawberries and put mixture in baked piecrust.  Chill to set, approximately two hours.  Top with whipped cream if desired.

Basic Flour Pie Crust

  • 1 ½ cups flour, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • ¼ cup (approximately) cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry knife, two knives scissor-style, or food processor with dough blade.  When mixture resembles peas, add water slowly and blend with fork.  Shape dough into a ball and roll out to size slightly larger than pie plate.  Place dough in pie plate and pierce with fork. 

Bake 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

how about cupcakes???

I had kind of a rough day at work a few weeks ago– it happens.  My cube-mate/friend/very-talented-artist painted this lovely picture for me to cheer me up.  And it worked!  It still makes me smile when I look over at it in the glare of the fluorescent office lights.  You need stuff like that.  Not only does it make me happy, but it inspired me to recreate it in real life!

 Who doesn’t like cupcakes?  I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t.  They’re cute, fun, pretty, taste great– what’s not to like?  I have made them in many iterations over the years but never strawberry-flavored, and since I picked a whole bunch of the lovely little berries last weekend I figured now is the time.

I did a bunch of research for a recipe before making them and wound up shooting from the hip with an adaptation of a strawberry cake recipe I found from Martha Stewart.  Her recipe was unfrosted and suggested baking the strawberries into the top of the cake but I wanted to mix them into the batter instead.

I decided that a cream cheese frosting might be nice on them, but then thought I’d shake it up a bit with mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese.  I think it was a wise decision.

Voila!  You would have thought that my friend painted the picture after I made the above, right?  Nope.  Other way around.  Good thing I have a small flowered plate!

Strawberry Cupcakes (adapted from Strawberry Cake recipe found at

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup finely chopped cleaned strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place muffin cups in 12-cup muffin tin.  Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.  Fold strawberries into batter with a spatula.  Spoon batter evenly into muffin cups.

Bake cupcakes for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack.  If desired, frost with strawberry mascarpone frosting (recipe below).

Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ strawberries, cleaned and pureed in food processor or blender

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat butter and mascarpone cheese until smooth.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy.  Stir in pureed strawberries with a spatula.

strawberry shortcake, updated

It’s officially strawberry season here in Wisconsin and I couldn’t be happier because a) I love strawberries, and b) this also means it’s officially summer.  ‘Bout time.

To celebrate the beginning of strawberry season I decided to try a recipe I had torn out of a magazine years ago and have always been curious about but had been hesitant to try.  The reason for the hesitation is because it involves cornmeal, basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.  And this is supposed to be a dessert?  What??

 But I’m adventurous, so I thought what the heck.  Plus, I have a basil plant that is just begging to be trimmed back.  Done.

Look how pretty the snips of basil are in the cake batter.  And you can see the yellow cornmeal flecks.  Lovely.

While the cake is in the oven puree the star ingredient with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar.


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bit into the finished product but I knew it was going to be good because it smelled wonderful while it was baking.  It reminded me of a more grown-up version of the strawberry shortcake my mom used to make when I was a kid.  It was sweet, but not overly-sweet, and slightly savory which gave it a nice dimension.  The perfect early summer dessert.

Olive Oil-Basil Cornmeal Cake with Strawberry Sauce (from Country Home magazine)

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Grease and flour one 8×2-inch round cake pan; set aside.  In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, milk, and olive oil.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture and snipped basil until combined (do not overmix).  Pour batter into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle top with coarse sugar.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan by inverting on a wire rack.  Invert again and cool thoroughly, sugar side up, on wire rack.

To serve, cut cake into wedges.  Serve with strawberry sauce (see recipe below).  Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Strawberry Sauce

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a blender or food processor combine all ingredients.  Cover and blend or process until smooth.  If desired, stir in 1 tablespoon additional balsamic vinegar to taste.  Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.  Stir before serving.

simple summer salad

I figured it was high time I featured something green on the blog and with summer upon us and lots of picnics and barbecues ahead of us this here recipe is one you need to have in your arsenal.  People who don’t even like salads like this salad.  Small children who normally run away from vegetables and that neighbor of yours who eats a steady diet of fast food and not much else like this salad.  You get the point.

The ingredients are simple and few: spinach, strawberries, and dried cherries (or cranberries).  I like to add pecans or walnuts for a little crunch, but it is just as good without them.  And it’s even better with candied pecans or walnuts.  Trust me on this one.

A tangy and sweet poppy-seed dressing that is equally easy to make pairs nicely with it.

Bring this one to your next party– it can be thrown together in no time and is a total crowd pleaser, I promise.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

  • 8 oz bag of spinach, rinsed and dried
  • ½ cup strawberries, rinsed, stem caps removed and sliced
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts, optional
  • Poppy seed dressing (see recipe below)

Place spinach in large salad bowl and top with strawberries, dried cherries or cranberries, and nuts.  Add desired amount of poppy-seed dressing (note that recipe yields enough for several salads) and toss to coat.

Poppy Seed Dressing

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Whisk all ingredients together in small mixing bowl.  (Stores nicely in refrigerator for future use.)