Have Your (Cup)cake, and Eat It Too!

I’m not really a cupcake person. I’ll eat one occasionally, but if someone asked me to make cupcakes I would much rather suggest a small cake. With all these cupcake shows airing on all different networks over the years, they’ve become nothing but a trend that anyone can throw together.

Strawberry cupcake with strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. 2013.

Strawberry cupcake with strawberry Swiss   meringue buttercream. 2013.

I make an exception for red velvet, however. Red velvet cake is typically not a pile of ingredients that can all be thrown in one bowl and mixed together, so concentration and attention to detail (plus quite a bit of cleanup) is important. But all the work is worth it; there’s no other cake that’s quite like the elegant, mildly cocoa-flavored red velvet.

Now, I also believe that if a person is looking for a light and “healthy” dessert, there are a lot of options out there that utilize fresh fruits, bittersweet chocolate, and natural fruit juices in place of sugar. I am against low fat or low sugar cake recipes because these usually lead to a baked good with low taste. If you’re going to eat a cupcake anyway, eat a cupcake. A real one.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had plenty of requests for sugar-free cookies, fat-free brownies, or low-fat varieties of cupcakes. Sometimes I would truly be too busy to fill the order, and sometimes I’d turn these requests away and politely explain that I just didn’t really do “diet” recipes. This week though my best friend asked if I could come up with a healthier version of a red velvet cupcake for her mom’s birthday. I don’t know whether it was because she’s a good friend, she wanted red velvet, or I’m just too bored at home, but I agreed.

First, I had to find a good recipe. Normally I use my own, but because I’m definitely a novice at healthier substitutions and I just don’t have the luxury of making test batch after test batch, I decided to borrow one (full credit is given at the bottom of this post).

cupcake1This recipe uses unsweetened applesauce as another sweetener to cut back on the sugar, and also will create a more dense cake without the need for a large amount of fat.

Start by whisking the sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil together well in a mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine the cocoa powder, flour, and salt.

cupcake2Next, add 3/4 cup of a fat-free egg substitute gradually to the wet ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined.


 cupcake3Add the vanilla and once ounce of red food coloring. Whisk until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is evenly colored. Then, use a mixer and alternate adding the dry ingredients and fat-free buttermilk* to the mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

*To make your own, place one Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, and fill to 1 cup with fat-free milk.

In a separate bowl, stir vinegar and baking soda together and allow to fizz. Fold into the batter.



Fill cupcake liners about three-quarters full. If any batter drips on the cupcake tin you’ll want to go back and wipe it off before baking – it’s no fun to have to pry hot cupcakes out of a tin covered in baked-on batter! Bake these at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the middle of one comes out with a few crumbs on it.

While these are baking, make the cream cheese frosting. I’m convinced that there’s just no way to make frosting diet-friendly, but I did replace regular cream cheese with light (1/3 fat) and used half the amount of sugar that I normally would. If you’re looking to pipe your frosting so it’s towering over your cupcakes I don’t recommend using less than a pound of sugar – your frosting won’t hold and will slide right off the cake – but if you’re just wanting a small amount on each cupcake like I was, somewhat loose frosting with half the sugar is fine.


CCBC1Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat it until it’s very light and fluffy. Add the softened unsalted butter and beat them together. Scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally to ensure that the butter and cream cheese is thoroughly combined.


CCBC2Add the vanilla and mix well.


CCBC3 Finally, add at least eight ounces of confectioner’s sugar to the mixture and combine. Once the frosting is thoroughly mixed and smooth, it’s time to frost the cooled cupcakes!


cupcake6Use a large piping bag with a large plain round tip (or any tip you’d like) to pipe a moderate amount of frosting on each cupcake (We’re trying to be low-fat here, remember. If you slather on a pound of frosting per cupcake, I’m pretty sure all of the health benefits are lost).

cupcake7So far so good, but I always try to add some extra little touches to cupcakes. Simple fondant cutouts of flowers or other designs are my usual go-to, but I had some extra red melts on hand that I thought would add a nice pop to the red velvet. I let the melted candy set on a sheet of acetate, and then broke it into shards to place on the tops of the cupcakes.

cupcake8They taste almost as good as they look. While healthier cupcakes may not ever make my list of favorites, I do give a lot of credit to people who try to stick to their diets instead of having an all-out splurge!



Recipe by Maddie Ruud: http://maddieruud.hubpages.com/hub/Lowfat-Cupcakes

  • 1 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup fat free egg substitute
  • 2 Tbsp red food coloring
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup fat free buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 tsp white vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cupcake tin with 12 paper cupcake liners.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together oil, sugar, and applesauce until well combined. Add the egg substitute to the mixture gradually, and mix well.

Stir in the food coloring and vanilla.

Using a mixer, alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the mixture, starting and ending with dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda and vinegar and let fizz. Fold it into the batter.

Fill cupcake liners three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out with a few crumbs.



  • 8 oz light cream cheese
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups cconfectioner’s sugar (Use up to 4 cups for stiffer frosting)

Beat cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer until light and fluffy.

Add the butter, and combine thoroughly.

Mix in the vanilla extract.

Add the sugar, mixing slowly to combine. Once the frosting is well combined and smooth, transfer to a piping bag.



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