Happy First day of Spring!! (Honestly, it feels kind of like summer here in Illinois.) Flowers are blooming, Easter is around the corner, and my mind has been turning from warm and hearty comfort food to light, fluffy and fresh baked goods. In this case, mini-cupcakes fit the bill: adorably sweet little morsels of smooth, carroty, spicy goodness.
Since I have friends who eat gluten free, and I take most dietary choices as a personal challenge to feed people good food the way they choose to eat, I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free baking. Starting from scratch is a little daunting—all kinds of flours, and my kitchen is already overflowing with ingredients; and who knows the next time I’ll have time to experiment with different types of flours? (OK, probably sooner than most people . . . but still.)
I have loved the Hodgson Mill Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix since the first time I tried it. It’s convenient to just buy one box for one cake, it’s really reliable, and it’s always delicious—soft and tender and sweet, and it might even fool people if you don’t disclose its gluten-free roots. But I’ve also wanted to expand my gluten-free repertoire. Right now, that means carrot cake, since it’s one of my favorites. I like how simple it is to get a couple jars of pureed carrots from the baby food aisle because it makes the final product so smooth and creamy (and because it spares my knuckles from grating carrots . . . sheesh). I think you’re going to love the final product just like I do.
So, to begin: Gather everything up, and start by creaming the butter with a mixer until light and fluffy. This way you know the butter is nice and soft and ready to mix easily into the dry ingredients.
Then, add the rest of the ingredients. Just dump it all in. Beat together, gently at first, until the dry mix is incorporated; then beat on medium for 2 minutes.
I have to say, I was surprised by the instruction to beat the mixture for 2 minutes. (The usual instructions for cake recipes or mixes say to mix just until blended, so the batter doesn’t get tough.) The batter also seemed much thicker than typical cake batter using wheat flour. Has anyone else found this to be the case?
I asked Diana in Hodgson Mill’s customer service department (800-347-0105 or CustomerService@HodgsonMill.com) about this and she said that the gluten-free mix has to be beaten longer because the extra mixing activates the binding agents (in this case, xanthan gum), in the mix. (I can vouch for this, because I accidentally made one batch where I didn’t beat for two minutes, and the cupcakes turned out very heavy, dense, and custardy – not bad, exactly, but definitely different. I prefer the cake-y texture the extra whipping gets you.)
You have to add binding agents into gluten-free baking since gluten, which is naturally found in wheat flours, usually does that job for you. Diana reassured me that, since it’s gluten free, there’s no danger of the cake going all tough and leathery on me. I could blend it ‘til the cows come home and it’ll still be great. (I’m beginning to feel that gluten-free baking is like being in an alternate universe.)
Two minutes later, once I had the batter mixed, I decided on mini-cupcakes. The box has instructions for cake, and cupcakes; but none for mini-cupcakes . . . I thought I’d take the risk. What can I say? I live on the edge.
I’m also a sucker for cute.
In addition to good looks, these cupcakes are delicious. If nobody told me–and if I hadn’t made them—I don’t know if I would have guessed they were gluten free. And the frosting is a very simple but fantastic complement; smooth, creamy and tangy . . . really nice. The only difficulty was keeping myself from grabbing one of these little beauties every time I walked by them on the counter.
I topped these mini-cupcakes with a nice dollop of frosting, then gently pressed on a whole pecan, and then sprinkled the visible icing with as much shaved dried coconut as would stick. If you’re into more texture, raisins or chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) would be great stirred into the batter. I left them out because I love how creamy and smooth these are thanks to the pureed carrots and buttermilk.
I hope you enjoy, and have a lovely first day of Spring!
Gluten Free Carrot Cake Mini-Cupcakes
(Adapted slightly from Hodgson Mill’s Gluten-Free Carrot Cake)
½ cup butter, softened
1 box (15 oz.) Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix
1/3 cup buttermilk (may substitute yogurt)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup pureed carrots baby food (2 4-ounce jars)
¼ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional, for either inside cake or as decoration)
Heat oven to 350º F. Grease cupcake pans, or line with cupcake liners.
In a bowl, beat butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add cake mix, buttermilk, pureed carrots, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and eggs and mix on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. With a spoon, stir in nuts (if using). Spoon into liners (or if making cake, spread in pan.) Smooth out the top of the cupcakes with a spatula or spoon dipped in cold water, because any divots or swirls in the batter will remain on the finished product.
Bake mini cupcakes for 18-22 minutes, or standard cupcakes for 20-24 minutes. Insert a toothpick into center of a cake and make sure it comes out clean before removing cupcakes from oven. Cool completely, approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, then frost.
Notes: Recipe makes 24 mini-cupcakes, 12 standard cupcakes, or two 8- or 9-inch cakes. Keeps 2-3 days in sealed container in a cool, dry place. If you prefer to make a full-sized cake, you can do so by using 2 8- or 9-inch cake pans (greased on the bottoms only), and baking for 36-41 min. for 8-inch pan or 33-38 min. for 9-inch pan.
Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz.cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 to 3 teaspoons milk
¼ cup coconut (optional)
In a bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and 1 teaspoon milk until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until smooth and spreadable. If frosting is too thick, beat in more milk, a few drops at a time. Stir in coconut if desired, or sprinkle on iced cupcakes while icing is wet for decoration.