Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cake

When I started this site, I set out to make dishes that were not just “good….for being gluten-free/vegan/sugar-free,” but also good in their own right. However clear this mission was, it was never so imperative as it was on Friday night, when I set out to bake a cake that was to be auctioned off for charity among a group of church members I would have to face again. The perfectionist in me (or should I say the perfectionist that I am) could never live with someone having purchased a mediocre cake. Which meant I spent a little bit longer than usual conceptualizing, writing, and ultimately executing this recipe, my show-offiest of cake recipes to date.

By the time the final layer was set — the coconut-pecan mixture lightly pressed on top — I had spent a good portion of my night and the next morning baking. I baked off a small cupcake-sized amount to taste-test, which confirmed that it was worth the extra effort. I decided it was.

That said, the lucky winner of this oh-so painstakingly created cake ended up being none other than my mom. Something about the “gluten-free,” “vegan,” “sugar-free” description just didn’t get the crowd too eager with their bids. Which is just as well, because really, nothing excites me more than shaking people of their notions that this type of eating is synonymous with deprivation. So when I started doling out slices to the diabetic at one table, the newfound celiac at another, I was delighted to watch their expressions shift from aprehension to pleasant surprise. I began to imagine this cake as not just a cake, but as a glimpse into a delicious world of possibilities, even  without the gluten, sugar, dairy or eggs.

Of course, this is a special occassion type of production, as it is a bit of an ordeal to make. This is the kind of dessert you look to when you want to be a show-off (and show your friends that you’re not missing out in the dessert world). But that doesn’t mean a modified version can’t be tackled on a smaller scale. German chocolate cupcakes, anyone?

The cake itself is quite moist; the frosting light and fluffly. It doesn’t have the exact makeup of a traditional German chocolate cake (not like you haven’t probably figured that out already), but the spirit is most definitely there.

Serves: 10-15

Chocolate Cake:

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat flour

6 tablespoons coconut flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (non-alkalized)

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 tablespoons Ener-G egg replacer

2 1/4 cups light agave nectar

3/4 cup coconut oil (liquified)

1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups light coconut milk

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

Agave-Sweetened, Vegan “Buttercream”

1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

5 tablespoons Spectrum Organic Shortening

6 tablespoons agave nectar

3 tablespoons liquified coconut oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 tablespoons coconut flour

5 tablespoons cocoa powder

Toasted Pecan-Coconut Mixture:

1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

4 tablespoons agave nectar, divided

2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted

Directions:

1. For Cake: Lightly grease three 8-inch, round cake pans with some melted coconut oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and egg replacer until combined. Set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together coconut oil, agave and vanilla extract until smooth. Slowly, on low speed, add in dry ingredients until incorporated. Beat in coconut milk and applesauce until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Pour equal amount of batter into each pre-greased pan, using a spatula to spread evenly and smooth out the top. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for about 1/2 hour. Gently flip to remove from pan and allow to cool completely on rack.

2. For frosting: Beat together first 5 ingredients with electric mixer fitted with a wire beater on high speed until smooth. Add in remaining ingredients and beat until incorporated. Refrigerate to set for about an hour, or until a bit more firm but still spreadable.

3. For coconut-pecan mixture: toss coconut and pecan with melted buttery spread and 2 tablespoons of agave. Lay flat on a baking sheet and bake in preheated, 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Let cool to crisp, then toss with remaining agave.

4. To assemble: Place bottom layer of cake on a large plate or tray. Spread about 1/3 of frosting (doens’t need to be a very thick layer) evenly over top. Sprinkle with coconut-pecan mixture, leaving some frosting showing so that the next layer will stick. Repeat with the second layer. To top: spread with remaining frosting just enought coconut and pecan so that the top is evenly covered, pressing down lightly into the top. If frosting seems a little loose, return cake to refrigerator so that the frosting can reset, about 30 minutes (it shouldn’t melt after this).

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Sweet Potato Scones

I love scones. I think they’re among my favorite indulgences, as they’re one of the less sweet desserts out there, but also a very viable breakfast option. I also think I like just about anything that goes well with a cup of coffee, and I’ve never met a scone that didn’t.

It took me three tries to make these. They turned out well the first time, actually. But I stupidly measured the oil over my bowl, and as it went pouring over and into my flour mixture. From there I knew I was dooomed to guess exactly how much oil had actually made it in. My first guess (and second batch of scones) came out quite oily. The third was just right — and to my mom’s delight, as I think she is already quite over me dirtying up her kitchen and waving baked goods under her nose every weekend.

While I used agave in these, I was very gentle with it — only 1/4 cup. Therefore, these scones are not too sweet. Just how I like them. You’ll have to excuse my choppy writing, but I’ve had residual headaches ever since my migraine on Friday night and putting together a sentence is a little much for me at the moment. I think it’s time for winter to be over!

Sweet Potato Scones:

2 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup liquified coconut oil, plus more for brushing

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup agave nectar

zest of one orange (optional)

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in oil, sweet potato, agave, vanilla and orange zest until combined into a workable dough. Fold in cranberries.

3. Form dough into a large ball and place on floured counter. Roll into an 8×8″ disk using dusted rolling pin, smoothing out edges with hands. Make slices in dough, cutting into quarters and then eighths (alternately, roll into two smaller disks for 16 small scones). Gently remove to parchment-lined or silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining oil.

4. Bake scones in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tops are golden. Let cool before serving.

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Toasted Coconut Macaroons

Hey, everyone. I feel like it’s been forever, though in reality it’s not even been a week since my last post. There have been so many developments and changes in my life, I don’t know where to start! As far as news goes, I did manage to get a job that I really love. The bad news is that it might take us out of New York… But, more on that later; we’re still working out some of the details. Although I should clarify that I’m not necessarily looking at it as “bad” news — it’s more of a bittersweet feeling. A bright future; a bright city to leave behind.

Well, as you might imagine, I’ve been a bit busier in the past week than I was when I was unemployed. Remember my whole rant about being a “night owl/morning person” a few weeks back? Well, I’m no longer either. I both go to bed early and hate waking up to an alarm clock in the mornings. Other than that, though, (and again, I will provide more details in the months ahead), I have the opportunity to do something I’ve only dreamed was possible: feeling wholly fulfilled in my career. The downside (aside from my alarm clock in the morning) is that all of my energy goes into doing well at work, and I have little left over when I get home to cook anything, let alone write posts.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about recipes all the time, though. I actually made these coocnut macaroons last week. My mom has implored me not to make them again because she liked them “too much” (oh, yeah, I’m living with my parents temporarily, too. But more on that later as well. Don’t worry; all is well with the hubs! …I told you there were a lot of changes going on!) I wanted to make a lower-carb, grain-free recipe for awhile and this one certainly fits that description (plus, they’re vegan, obviously). Although these are not low in fat, if you make them into small clusters as I did, you won’t have to feel too guilty about enjoying one or two (if you have the willpower to resist going for more).

Coconut Macaroons:

1 ½ cups shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 tablespoon arrowroot powder/flour

2 tablespoons coconut flour

¼ cup light coconut milk

½ cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until combined and sticky. Form into small mounds using a rounded tablespoon measure and lay flat on a parchment-lined baking sheet (if mixture is too dry and falls apart, add a bit more coconut milk. If it’s too wet add a bit more coconut).

2. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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Chestnut Pancakes

I have a dilemma. It’s one that has plagued me all my life, or at least since I was old enough to appreciate the joy that a simple cup of coffee and a few moments of quiet and solitude in the morning can bring. Here’s the dilemma: I’m a morning person. Of course, this is not a dilemma on its own. Considering, however, that I’m also something of a night owl, this creates a bit of an inner turmoil. Add the fact that I am one of those people who just can’t function on less than 8 hours of sleep a night, and you see how I might struggle to reconcile my incompatible preferences.

I love the morning because of the solitude, the smell of coffee brewing, watching Woodley (most decidedly not a morning dog) continue to dream as he flinches and flaps his paws in his deep state of sleep. I love getting a head start on my emails, the morning headlines, the daily news shows. I love that I have a whole day left ahead of me once I’ve done all of these things.

I love the nighttime for many of the same reasons. After a hectic day, I can slow back down to catch up on emails, to return to my news shows (among other shows, mostly of the type found on Bravo). I love that Gennaro — a definite night owl — and I can sit and unwind to our favorite shows, after the dog is walked, the dishes done, the bills paid. And even those nights when we don’t have our shows, and I don’t have so many emails, and when I’m not lost in a good book, I somehow feel like I’m missing out on something if I go to bed too early. I’m like the kid who resists her nap for fear of missing out on all the fun while she’s asleep.

My need for 8 hours of sleep usually makes the night-owl side of me, by default, the winner. If I’m up too late, which I usually am, it’s hard for me to wake up early in the morning.  I’ve been lucky enough to be in school for the last seven years of my life, so I learned not to schedule any early morning classes. Though when I did have the rare unavoidably early class to attend, and forced myself to go to bed early and get a good night sleep, I learned that I had a special place in my heart for mornings as well.

Every once-in-awhile, just for the fun of it, I do wake up early on the weekends. If anything, it’s just to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some morning baking. Pancakes, of course, are the perfect compliment to these lazy, early Saturdays. Last Saturday (New Year’s Day, in fact), was one of those, and I decided to forgo my usual weekend breakfast fare for something really special and unique. My mom sent me back to New York after Christmas with a package of chestnut flour, challenging me to find something to make with it. This delirious-smelling flour is something of an enigma. It’s like coconut flour in its ability to absorb massive amounts of liquid — so much so that you keep adding more and more until you have a batter that bears some modicum of familiarity. Which is what I did, of course. I added more and more liquid to what was intended to be an all-chestnut flour batter until I finally thought it at least resembled a pancake batter, then discovered, to my dismay, that this rendered my “pancakes” unreconizable gooey blobs once in the pan. So I tried again, this time using the chestnut flour as a compliment to a brown rice flour-based batter. Much better.

The moisture of chestnut flour makes this version slightly less “cakey” than most pancakes. But they’re too good (in my opinion) in their own right not to share at all, at the risk of offending those pancake purists who have one thing in mind and won’t accept any variations. They’re especially good drizzled with some cinnamon-laced agave nectar. Now that I have this recipe down, I have a new thing to add to my list of things I love about the mornings. Then again, pancakes make a wonderful late-night snack as well…

Yield: about 15 pancakes

Chestnut Pancakes:

½ cup chestnut flour (mine came from here)

1 cup brown rice flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for brushing pan

Directions:

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and flaxseed meal. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Brush a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, until hot (to test: drop a teaspoon of batter onto the skillet and see if it sizzles). Drop scant 1/4 cups of batter onto hot skillet, a few inches apart, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown on the bottom and bubbly on top. Slip and cook second side for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove pancakes to a plate.

3. Repeat step 2 as necessary with remaining batter.

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Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

Having many unanswered questions in my life these days (like, when will I get a job? for example), anything that’s certain is a good thing. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of right now, it’s this: in my next life, I want to be Gwyneth Paltrow.

I mean, is there anything that woman hasn’t accomplished? Oscar-winning actress? Check. Wife of a rock star? Check.  Estee Lauder endorsement? Check. Hands-on mom? Check. Great singer? Check. Perfect body? Check.

I could go on, but it’s already getting old, right? Not to mention a bit sickening. Which is why, when Gwyneth started her perfect little lifestyle website, GOOP, a few years ago, it should have come as no surprise. Clearly whatever cosmic laws dictate that one cannot be good — or perfect, for that matter — at everything have mercifully evaded Ms. Paltrow.

All this is just about enough for me to want hate the woman, if I didn’t also think that if we ever met, we would be best friends forever (I would also totally settle to be the fifth wheel on a second season of Spain: On The Road Again). This theory was just about confirmed when I was reviewing some of GOOP’s past Thanksgiving recipes, and stumbled upon a recipe for pumpkin ice cream pie that had me drooling over my keyboard.

Turns out, it wasn’t too difficult for me to get to work on a gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan version of her pie. I already had a great crust recipe that I’d recently used for my key lime cheesecake — I merely swapped out the lime zest for some cinnamon. And thanks to Turtle Mountain‘s awesome Purely Decadent Vanilla Ice Cream, I also had a great base for the pumpkin ice cream filling. While this pie is not exactly diet food, the low-glycemic agave and almond and brown rice flour crust provide a nice antedote to the carb-loaded, usually fattening Thanksgiving day fare.

And just for the record, I am actually certain of many things these days. Like: I have a wonderful husband, dog and family — all of whom I am very, very thankful for this holiday season.

Serves: 8-10

A word of warning: this pie is best when made the day you’re going to eat it. While the crust could probably withstand a generous make-ahead schedule, the filling will get icy if left frozen for too long. My suggestion: either make the filling and freeze exactly three hours before you plan on serving it, or, if making well in advance, let thaw for a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. If you use the coconut-based Purely Decadent ice cream, and soy-free buttery spread,  this is a great soy-free, vegan alternative to pumpkin pie.

Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Almond Meal

1/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pumpkin Ice Cream Filling:

1 pint Purely Decadent Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (coconut milk-based), slightly softened

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Prepare crust: add all crust ingredients to food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade and process until crust resembles the texture of damp sand. Turn out into a 9″ pie dish. Using the bottom of your measuring cup, press evenly into the bottom and along the edges of the dish (mixture is crumbly, so edges won’t look perfect — do the best you can). Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 (I needed about 25) minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

3. Prepare filling: using an electric hand or stand mixer, beat together ingredients for filling until smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust. Cover and freeze for 3 hours, or until filling has set (press gently on the center to make sure it’s not still really soft). Serve immediately.

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Key Lime Cheesecake

When I was younger, I was the girl who listened to exclusively broadway musicals, who didn’t have cable, and who read books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights at the age of 10. So, when a friend invited me to a Bare Naked Ladies concert with her (yes, I still managed to have at least some friends), I was surprised to find out that, not only were these “ladies” not at all naked, but that they were actually men.

I guess you could call this recipe the Bare Naked Ladies of key lime cheesecakes. Not only did I not use key limes (just the normal, everyday variety), but I also didn’t use any cheese. Or cheese substitute. And Gennaro was a little thrown off by my initial cheesecake description because he said the texture is somewhere between a key lime pie and a cheesecake. But what was I going to call this, Regular Lime Cheesecake-Like Tofu Thing? Key lime cheesecake was much more simple.

In my last post I mentioned my never-ending (and never accomplished) to-do list. In addition to that, I could have mentioned snaping photos at the Union Square Greenmarket, which wouldn’t exactly be fair, because it has become more of a hobby ( an escape from the to-dos in my life) than anything else. Some of my prints are available on smugmug (I also provided a link in my sidebar). I went to a local art supply store yesterday, which, incidentally, was filled with NYU art students and made me realize that in my next life, I want to be an artist. Anyways, I found out that you can purchase some pretty cheap 8×10″ mattes that fit 5×7 photos. Once my prints were matted, I slipped them into some clear, 8.5×11.25″ clear slips and sealed them (also available at art supply stores or paper supply stores). Before I knew it, I had some professional-looking photos, and that was it for my Christmas shopping. It’s feeling like a homemade gift kind of year…

So, a final word on my Bare Naked Cheesecake. I’ve been working on a cheescake-ish dish for awhile. I discovered the recipe for the perfect crust, and have been tinkering with the filling ever since, which is where things have gotten tricky. You see, my crust calls for 1/2 cup of almond meal, and another 1/4 cup of Earth Balance. That’s 3/4 of a cup of fat-filled ingredients. They may be mostly good fats, but they’re calories nonetheless, which is why it was my goal to stay as low-fat as possible for the filling. While coconut oil and processed dairy-free cream cheese may have made excellent additions here, I went with agar flakes, which provide a firm texture without any added fat or calories. So while this might not taste or feel exactly like a “real” cheesecake (though I think the crust is as close a gluten-free, sugar-free substitute as you can get…) you can rest knowing it’s much, much better for you as well.

I’m also off agave (again) after this dessert, and I tried to go easy on it as it was. You could definitely up the sweetness if you wish, but as a serving suggestion, I recommend making the recupe as-is and drizzing some agave on the top to serve, for those who want it.

The Perfect Cheesecake Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Almond Meal (or similar brand)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread (cold; tightly packed)

2 tablespoons agave nectar

zest of one lime

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add all ingredients to a food processor fitted with a sharp, steel blade. Process until the crust is the texture of damp sand. Turn out into a 9″ nonstick springform pan (you may need to pre-grease if not non-stick). Press evenly into the bottom of pan and slightly up the sides of the pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until browned evenly along the edges. Let cool.

Lime Filling:

I used mango in the filling to add bulk and to enhance the tropical flavor. My mango was barely ripe, so it did not do much to change the texture or sweetness of the dish. The riper the mango you use, the more sweet and dark your cheesecake will likely turn out, and the more the mango flavor will come out (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

1/2 cup water

9 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice (requires about 2-3 limes, depending on size and juciness)

1 tablespoon agar-agar flakes

1 16-oz. package firm tofu

1 cup not-too-ripe mango, diced

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup agave nectar

zest of 1 lime

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, bring water, lime juice and agar flakes to a boil. Whisk until agar is dissolved. Reduce to a simmer and, using fingers, crumble tofu into saucepan. Stir to combine and heat until tofu is heated through.

2. Pour ingredients from saucepan into a food processor fitted with a sharp, steel blade or a high-speed blender. Process until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process again until smooth. Pour mixture over pre-baked crust and place in refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or up to 8 hours (the longer, the better, to enhance the flavor) before serving.

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Cucumber Margaritas

I’ve been making an effort, over the last few years, to limit the amount of medicine I put into my body. It seems that with every doctor’s appointment, there’s a new presciption to be filled, a new ailment to treat. So when my muscle spasm medication ran out last month, I decided not to fill it. Instead, I would treat my chronic neck and back problems naturally. I’ve been stretching every day, doing yoga, breaking out the heating pad, even splurging on the occassional chair massage. But I was in especially a lot of pain last week. Instead of caving and seeking out some more meds, I stayed true to my determination to do things naturally. The last tool in my all-“natural” arsenal? You guessed it: tequila.

So, I really have no idea if tequila helps with muscle spasms. But I do know that stress is partially responsible for muscle spasms, and that most doctors and even online message boards will tell you that relaxation is key to treating these types of problems with your back. And I know that if I’m looking to relax a little bit, tequila can’t hurt, right? With the additional anti-inflamatory properties of cucumber, I think I’m well on my way here to the answer to all of my problems…(ok, I know that calling a cocktail “the answer to all of my problems” here is a little problematic. That part was a bit tongue-in-cheek. And, truth be told, I’m not sure it helped all that much, but it sure tasted yummy!)

Anyways, the hubs and I enjoyed a Friday night in watching some playoff baseball and sipping on margaritas (can we tell who’s the big Giants fan in the house? I only hopped on the bandwagon because my Tigers aren’t in it this year). I love cucumber in drinks, whether it’s cucumber water, my morning juice, or even a margarita. For this drink, I tried to make a margarita without Triple Sec, which is a very sugary alcohol (and truthfully, just another thing that would be sitting in my freezer forever. It would take a lot of margaritas to go through a whole bottle of Triple Sec). The margarita flavor is still there, with the cooling, refreshing addition of cucumber to balance out the sweet and sour flavors in the drink. This is a great drink to make for a crowd. Make sure you use a good, 100% agave tequila.

Cucumber Margaritas:

Makes: 1 margarita (you can make up to 4 servings in a large blender)

1/3 cup good tequila

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons agave nectar

7 1/4″ slices cucumber, peeled

1 large handful ice

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a blender and serve immediately.

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Pumpkin Mousse Frosting

So, the other day I made my chocolate-banana cupcakes with sour cream frosting. I left about half of the cupcakes unfrosted in a ziplock bag for Gennaro to snack on throughout the week. In the meantime, I was working on a candida-friendly pumpkin mousse. I had some chilling in the fridge, and I was anxious to “test it,” (i.e. eat at least half of it). I opened the fridge for a peek at my mousse’s progress, and as I lifted the lid slightly, my eyes caught the cupcakes. Then they shifted back to the mousse. Cupcakes. Mousse. Mousse. Cupcakes.

I think you know where this is going. Now, this last-minute change-of-plans was not strictly my recipe ADD at work. There were actually very practical reasons for me to pair these two treats, one being the appropriate seasonal colors. Orange and black in October is always a welcome combination. The other reason also had to do with color. My dear husband, fan extraordinaire of the San Francisco Giants, is currently enjoying his first year of postseason baseball since 2003. The Giants’ colors? Orange and black.

Of course, this frosting doesn’t have to top off a chocolate-flavored cupcake. Gingerbread cupcakes with pumpkin frosting, anyone? Banana cupcakes would also would be good (banana sans the chocolate, that is). Heck, even pumpkin-on-pumpkin is a good option. But if you’re looking for a gluten-free, agave-sweetened, vegan cupcake recipe to go with this frosting, I can tell you that the chocolate-banana cupcakes with pumpkin frosting combo is pretty darn delicious. And yes, you can eat this “frosting” as a plain mousse, but what fun would that be? (Actually, I did eat a lot of this mousse by itself, and I have to say it was quite good).

Pumpkin Mousse Frosting:

I used some pumpkin pie-esque spices in the mousse, which made for a unique but yummy combination with the cupcakes. If you would like a more mild accompaniment, omit the spices. I made this mousse with yacon to make this a good option for an anti-candida diet, but you can definitely use agave, which would be a fine alternative. While I used coconut butter here, coconut oil would most likely work as well (I’ve used it before in mousses with good results — just make sure you let it chill sufficiently).

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 12-oz. package Mori-Nu extra firm silken tofu

1/3 cup coconut butter

1 1/2 teaspoons NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

1/4 cup yacon syrup or agave nectar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)

Directions:

Blend all ingredients well in blender or food processor. Chill in a covered container in refrigerator for 2-3 hours before using.

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Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake

It wasn’t a particular recipe or picture or memory or craving that inspired me to attempt a gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free version of an olive oil cake. It was an unstocked pantry that brought this all about a few weeks ago. Still slow to build up to the pre-honeymoon stock of baking items, I was craving an upside-down cake and all I had was olive oil. Well, the upside-down cake was sort of a flop. But that’s O.K. What ensued was a two-week exploratory course in all things “olive oil cake.”

And that’s when the obsession started.

First, there was the olive oil cake Tastespotting search, which yielded this recipe, then this recipe, and finally this one (which leads me to an interesting question: if doing the same tastespotting search, which of the olive oil cake pictures would you have clicked on?). Of course, none of the offerings were gluten-free or vegan, let alone sugar-free. But I search for inspiration; rarely is an actual recipe the goal. Then there came the test runs. Some crumbly, others much too dense. Had it been any other recipe, I may have given up. But I couldn’t shake the olive oil cake idea. And so I let myself one last chance at redemption. This time, with rosemary. I think you can guess the rest of the story…

Now, a few things about this recipe. There comes a time during the baking process where compromise is necessary. While I was originally determined to bake this with stevia, agave nectar yielded far superior results here. So while I had to relinquish the stevia idea, please find comfort in the fact that I have a very promising cheesecake recipe — made entirely with stevia — in the works. Also, while I originally intended to use only the gluten-free all purpose flour here, I ran out. That’s when I decided to sub-in some almond flour, which turned out so awesome that I didn’t bother trying it again using the original plan (I think it enhances the flavor and texture of the cake). Finally, this cake is not too sweet at all. Instead, I tried to let the lemon and rosemary flavors do the singing, the agave offering a harmonious accompaniment to the real stars (sorry about the metaphors, The Simpsons “art camp” episode is starting to rub off on me).

Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake:

I went a little easy with the rosemary here. I think you could definitely add a bit more if you’d like. Make sure to use a really good olive oil. Extra virgin yields the best flavor.

1 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whisked with 1/4 cup warm water until frothy

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup light coconut milk whisked with 1 teaspoon lemon juice (let sit for 10 minutes)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon minced rosemary, plus 1 sprig for topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum. Set aside.

3. In a mixer, beat together agave and olive oil. Add egg replacer-water mix, coconut milk-lemon mixture, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest. Turn mixer speed to slow and slowly add dry ingredients until batter just comes together. Fold in minced rosemary.

4. Pour batter into a pre-greased or parchment-lined 4.5×8.5-inch loaf pan (1.5 qt.). Pull leaves off rosemary sprig and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Run knife around cake to loosen and turn out from loaf pan. Let cool for another 15-20 minutes before slicing.

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Banana Pudding

Gennaro’s birthday was last Wednesday and I struggled to come up with anything to make that would rival the 3-course Nobu knock-off meal I made last year — one which took exactly two days of prep, planning, and research and one full day of cooking. Somehow — as fun as that all may sound, I know — I lacked the energy or enthusiasm to attempt a repeat performance this year. Still, I wanted to do something special.

One of the perks of being a New York resident is being in the city long enough to try a place multiple times and really seek out the the best dish at any particular restaurant. Or the best, most delicious baked good at a bakery. Before becoming an official resident, and like most visitors of New York, I made a point to see what all the Magnolia Bakery hype was about, back when cupcakes were a hip and trendy thing (are they still? I’m not hip enough to know…) And truthfully? I didn’t understand the hype. The cupcakes were good, no doubt, but they were overly sweet and not that light, and certainly not at all unique or noteworthy. But, we’re all human, and the lack of cupcake spectacularity (is that a word?) didn’t stop us from going back. Multiple times. Obviously, this was all before I realized that pretty much everything that Magnolia had to offer was way off-limits for my poor, agonized digestive tract. Slowly we came to learn a little-known secret: the cupcakes are not the best thing Magnolia has to offer. The real deal there is the banana pudding, which quickly became our new favorite guilty pleasure.

And so you have it: another birthday, another New York favorite knocked-off in my kitchen. Too bad I didn’t know that the secret to this banana pudding was to let it sit overnight, because the night-of pudding was somewhat flavorless and underwhelming. Oh well, I thought. I’ll try that one again some other time. I packaged up the rest of the pudding left it at that. The next morning, something prompted me to have some of the pudding leftovers for breakfast (yep, that’s how I roll). And boy, did one night make a difference. Rich, banana-y, and slightly addicting, I had to consciously cut myself off so I could save the rest for Gennaro.

So, moral of the story? If you decide to make this, you have to promise to let it sit overnight. Otherwise — much like my reaction to Magnolia’s infamous cupcakes — you won’t understand the hype. And, because I wasn’t going to let a little thing like gluten intolerance rain on my banana pudding parade, I added my recipe for homemade vanilla wafers (gluten, dairy and sugar-free, of course) below. I used millet flour for the cookie recipe. I have to say, it came out nicely, but I did notice a slightly grainy, bitter aftertaste with the millet flour. Has anyone had this problem before? It was no issue once mixed with the pudding, and virtually disappeared when totally cooled, but the lack of explanation after a diligent Google search left me a bit puzzled as to why that may have happened.

Oh, and of course, after declaring myself agave-free as of late, I decided to use agave in this recipe. I guess I’ll have to eat my words. Or my pudding.

Pudding:

2 packages extra firm Mori-Nu Silken Tofu (room temperature)

1/4 cup coconut oil, liquified

1/3 cup agave nectar

4 medium bananas, not too ripe (try to find some that are a perfect yellow), divided

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Cookies:

Makes about a dozen

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour (or make your own, thanks to this tip from Lexie’s Kitchen)

1 cup millet flour

1/4 tsp. xanthan gum

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tp. baking powder

1/3 cup Spectrum Organic shortening

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Make cookies: Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, salt, xanthan gum and baking powder. In a separate medium bowl, using an electric hand mixer, cream together agave, shortening and vanilla. Add dry to wet ingredients and use hand mixer to mix until incorporated. Make tablespoon-sized balls of cookies and roll into spheres. Lay onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten with hands. Bake in preheated oven for 14-16 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Let cool. Repeat if necessary.

2. Make pudding: Add all ingredients for pudding, but only 2 of the 4 bananas, into a blender and blend on high until smooth. Taste for sweetness and adjust according to taste. Set aside.

3. Assemble pudding: When cookies have cooled, crumble 3-4 of them onto the bottom of a 1.5 to 2 qt. glass bowl (exact size isn’t too important). Using the remaining 2 bananas, cut slices (about 1/2 a bananas worth) of banana over the cookie crumbles so that the slices lay evenly over the cookies. Pour 1/3 of the pudding mixture over the sliced bananas. Repeat 2x. Line the outside edge of the top of the pudding with remaining banana slices. Cover and refridgerate overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

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