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Chocolate Almond-Spiced Cupcakes (vegan and gluten free)

By Jodi Humphrey

I can work an entire day without talking to anyone in the museum development office. Thus is the lonely life of a two-person team when your boss is out of the office for four months recovery from major surgery. *sigh* You can only imagine my delight when the membership office announced the first-ever Development Valentine’s Bake-Off. This is the kind of thing that can break up a typically mundane (and silent) day with socializing and sweet treats.

What to bake? What to bake?

Not too long ago I discovered a new-to-me blog featuring vegan recipes. I tend to troll the Interwebs for vegan dessert options due to my nephews’ food allergies (dairy, eggs, and nuts). One of the first recipes I saw and liked was a spiced chocolate cupcake served up for Thanksgiving. It sounded delicious so I filed it into the back of my mind for a special occasion. The bake-off seemed like a good time to try the vegan cupcake recipe with a few tweaks to make it gluten free so I could also indulge.

Lab coat or Apron?

Having to bake gluten free makes the science of baking a little more complicated, but it is something for which I feel I am beginning to better understand. There are a few issues, typically moisture and the “stick-to-it-ness”, encountered when baking gluten free. The moisture issue is also encountered in vegan baking, and this recipe seemed to have that covered with its use of oil and milk alternative. I also added in the equivalent of 2 eggs using egg replacer. (FYI: Applesauce and veggie-based shortening are also good for moisture.)

I didn’t want the cupcakes to fall apart so I opted to use a baking mix (I have used Pamela’s or Whole Food’s 365), which is a combination of alternative flours and guar or xanthium gum. The gum is what helps makes things stick together. When the batter is mixed together it had a thick, gooey consistency so apparently the gum was working.

The Recipe*


(recipe yields 12)

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 ¼ cups gluten-free baking mix
  • ¼ and 1/8 cups sweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/4C almond oil
  • ¾ C sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • Equivalent 2 eggs using egg replacer


  • ¼ C vegan margarine (Earthbalance)
  • ¼ C vegan cream cheese (Tofutti)
  • 21/2 tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ – 1 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Red food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

*When baking with allergies in mind be sure to double check all ingredients to guarantee they are free of allergens. For this recipe I could especially check the vanilla extract (no imitations) and baking powder.



  • In a small pot/saucepan pour the almond milk and add the cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then turn off and let the cinnamon steep for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick with a spoon once the milk is about room temperature.
  • Preheat oven 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners. In a large bowl combine all the liquids, including the egg replacer. Whisk together. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Slowing combine the dry ingredients into the bowl with the liquids. Whisk until well combined. The batter will be thick and gooey. Ladle in the batter into the cupcake liners going up about 3/4 of the way.
  • Bake for about 18 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.


  • Combine the margarine, cream cheese, and puree together using a hand mixer. Slowing begin to pour in the confectioner’s sugar and continue to blend together with mixer until all of the sugar has been added. Add in cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and mix until well combined.
  • If using the food coloring add to icing and blend until desired color achieved.
  • Refrigerate until ready to ice the cupcakes. If using an icing bag don’t let the icing get too cold.
  • Decorate and enjoy.

And the winner is…not me…well, kind-of

Okay. I didn’t win the office bake-off. The majority of the office preferred the Elvis-inspired chocolate-peanut butter-banana cupcakes (I got the recipe in hopes of converting it!!!) and the frozen cheesecake sandwiches- both of which sound amazing. Several people did pop by my office to let me know they were pleasantly surprised how good something vegan AND gluten free could taste. These oddly unintentional back-handed compliments seem to come hand-in-hand with this kind-of baking, but I appreciate my co-workers letting me know they enjoyed them.

My loss didn’t entirely defeat me. I knew my true judge would be the oldest of my nephews, who loves sugar as most four year olds do, but rarely gets to indulge in sweet treats. When I arrived, cupcakes in hand, he immediately began asking his mother if he could have one before dinner. After repeatedly being told “no” he perched himself in front of the cupcakes and began to talk on and on about how excited he was that he had a special cupcake that he could it. The whole scene was pretty stinking adorable. The following day when we were over to watch the boys I asked him what he thought of the cupcakes. He responded by asking me if I would make him more cupcakes soon. I think that means this recipe gets all the approval it needs.



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March 2012
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