Chai Cupcakes

I consider cooking and baking to be something of an art. Naturally, I am often asked why I got an art degree and what am I doing with it now (or why I’m “not using my degree”). I tell them exactly what happened. In my second-to-last semester of college I essentially discovered my love of cooking and baking. I found it to be a creative outlet in a very practical form (and I am a very practical person. Win-win!). What am I doing with my degree now?

I write, design, and photograph for this blog, for one.

I also experiment with things like… gluten free chai cupcakes.

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Part of being an artist involves being resourceful. Know what is available to you and turn what you have into something beautiful. A sculptor may not have access to the finest marble, but he may have clay, an old cookie jar, and some branches. Instead of bemoaning how he can’t use marble, the artist will turn what he has into something that, in the end, perfectly fits the ingredients of which it is made. One who views the sculpture would never know that what is displayed before them was anything other than the artist’s perfect, initial intention.

But that is never the case, is it? I started off drawing and painting in photorealism. What I created had to look EXACTLY like the original. But one thing that school, and time, taught me is that sometimes it is better to loosen the grip and allow the creative flow to take over. Now when I create, I don’t have exacting expectations of how my project will turn out. I instead take an idea, set it in motion, and see where it leads me.

During my elimination diet several months ago, I did my fair share of whining about my restrictive diet. But eventually I realized that it was far healthier (and tastier) to see this “obstacle” as more of a challenge. I began learning the complexity of gluten-free baking. I’d already become well-seasoned in conventional, low-calorie, and vegan baking, and I decided to use my diet change as an excuse to broaden my culinary horizons, if you will. A new frontier. I picked up my whisk and began to play.

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Very quickly I noticed how tricky gluten free baking could be. I also learned how overly-complicated many gluten-free recipes are. In my quest toward “real food” eating, how could I justify ingredients such as gums and pure starches making permanent residence in my baking pantry? I understand their place, and I have them sitting in my pantry right now, but these ingredients are not cheap, nutritious, or very easily accessible. But for some reason, every gluten free recipe I found seemed to rely on them. Since “gluten-free” is a big part of my current diet vocabulary, it can be understood why I would have such ingredients on hand. And they do come in handy! But then I had a realization. What about those who wish to bake for their gluten free friends and family? Is it fair to expect them to spend $50 on a cart-load of gluten free flours, starches, and gums just to have on hand when their gluten-free guest visits? How can I make gluten free baked goods simple, effective, accessible, and delicious? How can I relieve the anxiety surrounding gluten free baking? How can I make gluten free baking as fun and seemingly effortless as conventional baking?

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Well, I’m not there yet. There is still much to learn, and I’m by no means an expert. But I’m experimenting and discovering along the way what happens when you mix two or three colors, or ingredients, together.

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Chai Cupcakes
Adapted from Alton Brown’s Chiffon Cupcakes

I spent many an hour trying out recipes, adjusting ingredients, baking disasters, eating rogue unfrosted cakes, researching baking science, running out of ingredients, running to the store for more ingredients, trying, failing, trailing, flying (what?), and eventually…success on the fifth attempt. Through it all I found that yes, it is possible to get a moist, delicate yet structured, cupcake, sans gluten, gums, pure starches, or other strange texturizers. But it’s also not necessarily fool-proof or forgiving. After my third try, I finally secured my ideal pastry flour ratio (2:2:1 sorghum/brown rice/flaxseed) and decided that a recipe with whipped egg whites folded in for structure would be ideal.

I made it my personal mission not to give you cupcakes that were good for being gluten free. I didn’t want to show you cupcakes that were too dense, too gummy, too crusty, too cratered, too loose, etc. etc. and try to cover up the mess with frosting and say, “oh well. they’re gluten free.” No. Gluten or no gluten. These are some dang good cupcakes.

  • 5 1/4 ounces gluten free whole grain pastry flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp chai spice mix **
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 6 ounces brown sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

*Gluten Free Pastry Flour—It’s a 2/2/1 ratio of sorghum flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Sorghum Flour)/brown rice flour (Arrowhead Mills)/ground flaxseed (Arrowhead Mills, ground at home), measured by weight.

**6 parts cinnamon, 6 parts cardamom, 2 parts ginger, 1 part cloves, 1 part nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and chai spice mix.

Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks together with 5 ounces of the flour for several minutes until creamy and smooth. Then add the water, coconut oil, and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Then slowly add the flour mixture, beating well as you add in the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl (this is where having both a stand mixer and a hand mixer come in handy), whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar into a frenzy. When foamy, add the last 1 oz of brown sugar and mix until firm peaks form.

Gently fold the egg white foam into the rest of the batter in three parts, being careful not to overmix and destroy the air bubbles in the egg white foam.

Portion out into muffins tins, filling most the way full (since most the structure comes from the egg white foam, they really won’t rise much). Or you could use greased mugs! Your choice.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

For frosting, I tried several different options.

I initially tried this recipe for chai buttercream, but I honestly found it too heavy and cloyingly sweet for such a subtle cupcake.

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Personally, I found that I preferred a simple whipped cream adornment with just a sprinkle of leftover chai spice on top. It seems to harken more the idea of a chai latte, don’t you think?

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets. See you again next week!

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4 Thoughts on “Chai Cupcakes

  1. I’m so happy to see another gluten-free baker participating in 12 weeks of Christmas! Your cupcakes look amazing, and I like your gf blend. I’m experimenting with coconut flour – somewhat successfully with pancakes and biscuits, limited success with pie crust. The gf blend I ordinarily use is equal measures of sorghum, tapioca, and white rice, but I’m definitely going to mix up a batch of your’s, too.

  2. What a nice idea. I love chai and I love cupcakes..why not together?! Lovely photos!

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