Tuesday, 3 May 2011


For my children's birthdays, and also at other times as well, I like to bake treats that are healthier and not loaded with tons of refined sugar and processed ingredients.  I have this fantastic book called Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano that I picked up a few years ago.  I have never been disappointed with any of the recipes I've tried.  Agave is a natural sweetener that is healthier to use in baking and cooking than refined sugar.  It's made from the agave plant (the same plant that gives us tequila, it's the plant that just keeps on giving!) and has a honey-like consistency. 

I like the recipes in this book because not only do they use agave instead of sugar, they also call for more wholesome ingredients including fruits and vegetables, and use different types of healthier flours instead of processed white flour.  There are lots of vegan and gluten free recipes too, if you're so inclined.

For T's first birthday I made this amazing dark chocolate cake (pg 47) that was made with zucchini, and I layered it with dark chocolate ganache (pg 108) and iced it with vanilla buttercream frosting (pg 106).  It was so yummy!

For F's birthday I opted to do cupcakes, and decided to make 3 different varieties from the book:  Fudgy chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, Hopsie's cupcakes (made with carrots and zucchini), and Spiced pumpkin apple cupcakes, both iced with cream cheese frosting.

They were all amazing.  Here are the recipes.

Fudgy Chocolate Cupcakes (pg 49) - gluten free and low fat
Makes 12 cupcakes

1/4 cup unsalted butter or nonhydrogenated butter substitute
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup light agave nectar
1 1/4 cups quinoa flour (quinoa is high in protein and fiber)
1/2 tsp each baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt or unsweetened soy yogurt

Preheat oven to 375.  Line cupcake pan with liners. 
Place butter and water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and agave nectar.  Let cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture, egg yolks, vanilla, and yogurt to the flour and mix well.  In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, approximately 2mins.  Gently fold into the batter.
Spoon into prepared cupcake pan and bake for 15-20mins, until toothpick comes out clean.  Frost with buttercream frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (pg 106) - gluten free
Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp light agave nectar
1 cup nonfat dry milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp whole milk
pinch of sea salt

Cream the butter with an electric mixer until light in colour.  Slowly add the agave and beat until fluffy, about 1-2mins.  Gradually add the dry milk and beat again.  Add the vanilla extract and the milk, one tablespoon at a time, until completely blended.  Add the salt, turn the mixer to high speed, and beat about 2mins, or until very fluffy.  Store in the fridge for up to 3wks.

Hopsie's Cupcakes (pg 58)
Makes 12 cupcakes

2 cups packed finely grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
1 cup packed finely grated carrots (about 5 or 6 medium carrots)
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups sprouted spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup light agave nectar
2/3 cup canola oil (I used melted butter instead)
2 large eggs
1/2 cups walnuts, chopped plus extra for garnish (optional, I omitted these)
1/3 cup currants or raisins (optional, again I left them out)

Place zucchini and carrots in a strainer.  Sprinkle with the salt and mix well.  Let drain for 15-20mins, until most of the moisture is released.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Line cupcake pan.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer beat together the agave nectar the canola oil (butter).  Add the eggs and beat well.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat until well combined.  Squeeze out any remaining moisture from the drained zucchini and carrots.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the zucchini, carrots, walnuts, and currents/raisins (if using), and spoon the batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 20-25mins, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool and frost with cream cheese frosting.

Spiced Pumpkin Apple Cupcakes (pg 59)
Makes 12 cupcakes

3/4 cup canned organic pumpkin
2 large eggs
3/4 cup amber agave nectar
1/2 cup canola oil (I used melted butter)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups sprouted spelt flour, regular whole grain spelt flour, or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of sea salt
2 apples (any variety), peeled and chopped into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350.  Line cupcake pan.
In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin, eggs, agave, canola oil (butter), vanilla, and lemon juice until well blended.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Stir in the apples.  Spoon into prepared pan and bake for 25-30mins, until toothpick comes out clean.  Frost with cream cheese frosting when cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting (pg 110) - gluten free
Makes 2 cups

6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz cream cheese, low-fat Neufchatel cheese or a combination of both
3/4 cup light agave nectar
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 lemon

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the agave, vanilla, and lemon juice.  Beat well until smooth and fluffy.

I also made these yummy treats as well.  They're a healthier take on rice crispy squares, and are great for an everyday snack too!

Crispy Brown Rice and Cashew Treats (pg 36)
*This is my own variation*

1 cup light agave nectar
6 tbsp cashew and almond nut butter
pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp vanilla extract
8 cups (one 10oz box) unsweetened crispy brown rice cereal
1 cup cashews, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup each pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds

*The original recipe omits the seeds and includes unsulfured apricots.  You could probably do any combination of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds that you like*

Lightly oil a 9x13 inch glass baking pan with canola oil or butter.
In a large bowl, combine the agave, nut butter, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Mix until well blended.  Add the cereal, cashews, and seeds and mix well.  Firmly press the mixture into the prepared pan and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 2 or more hours, or until firm.  Cut into squares to serve.


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