Chocolate-Stevia Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
Since so many people are trying to cut down on sugar nowadays (great idea!), I’ve been playing with stevia lately. Not the “raw” white powder — which I’m not a fan of since it’s more than 50% dextrose/cheap corn sugar by weight — but stevia in its more natural forms, from fresh leaves to dried green leaves to stevia extract. I’m finding that I prefer the extract in terms of flavor and also ease of use: it dissolves easily in liquid, it’s a lot less visible than the powdered green leaves (although that greenness can come in handy if you’re making frosted cupcakes for St. Paddy’s Day!), and the flavor of the extract seems to be smoother than the flavor of the fresh or dried leaves. Also, some manufacturers make stevia extracts that are combined with other extracts, like vanilla or orange or peppermint. Quite a useful 2-in-1 deal!
The tricky thing about using stevia rather than natural sweeteners, though, is that it’s difficult to judge how much you’ll need. Too much, and you wind up with faintly bitter cupcakes. Not enough, and your dessert isn’t quite sweet enough. I find that the best way to hit the literal sweet spot is to taste the batter. (This means you’ll be eating raw eggs, so you want to buy “real” eggs. By that I mean really-from-an-actual-farm eggs. The best way to find those is to hit up your local farmer’s market or join a farmshare/cowshare. Check Local Harvest and Eat Wild for more details on how to find those opportunities. Real eggs also whip faster and stronger and will lend your baked goods a sturdy structure. That’s all the more essential if you’re a gluten-free baker, since the structure normally provided by the gluten isn’t there. Real eggs make a more-than-adequate stand-in.)
When you taste the batter, you want it to be just sweet enough. Resist the urge to add a teensy bit more! You’ll overdo it and the batter will turn bitter. Another handy tip: stevia-sweetened baked goods mysteriously get a little sweeter when refrigerated, so if the cakes are not quite sweet enough, pop them in the fridge. In fact, if you’re going to frost these ahead of time, you’ll need to refrigerate them anyway for the sake of the mascarpone.
Chocolate-Stevia Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting Makes 12 cupcakes.
For the cupcakes:
3/4 cup almond flour, preferably freshly ground in a coffee/spice grinder (freshly ground flour creates a lighter, fluffier texture)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour, preferably raw buckwheat as opposed to the toasted “kasha” variety (the raw buckwheat has a much lighter taste)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably non-Dutched*
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Dash of sea salt if you’re using unsalted butter
1 1/4 sticks (10 T.) butter, preferably from grass-fed cows, at room temperature
4 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1 1/4 cups whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
Vanilla stevia extract OR stevia extract + 1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the frosting:
Mascarpone cheese (see last week’s post for more info on mascarpone)
Vanilla stevia extract OR maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a muffin tin with cups. I find that parchment-paper muffin cups are ideal — they nearly fall off of the cakes and you won’t lose nary a crumb. Standard cups, on the other hand, will rip away half of your cupcake. Look for If You Care parchment-paper cups.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder (which is also technically a flour; anything dry and ground up is a flour), baking soda and powder, and the salt if you’re using unsalted butter. In a large bowl, cream the butter for at least 2 minutes. You’ll note that butter made with pastured milk and cream is much softer than conventional butter — you can practically cream it straight out of the fridge. That’s because pastured animal products have much less saturated fat, and the saturated fat is what stiffens when chilled. Much, much nicer to work with, plus it tastes a lot better and offers a lot more nutritional benefits. Kerrygold is my favorite butter.
Beat in eggs one at a time. Add half of the milk and beat again, then add half of the flour mixture and beat well. Repeat with remaining milk and flour. Squirt in one dropper full of the stevia extract and beat again. I used NuNaturals vanilla stevia, and when I say “1 dropper,” I mean one dropper of the two-ounce-sized bottle. That’s about 3/4 teaspoon. Taste the batter for sweetness. You might need to add another half-dropper-full or even full dropper of the extract. It’s better to slightly undershoot than risk going bitter by overshooting — you can always add more extract or even maple syrup after the cakes are baked.
Scoop batter into waiting cups and bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting by stirring a dash of stevia extract or maple syrup into the mascarpone. (I’m not specifying exactly how much since it’s best to just frost as many cupcakes as you’ll be eating that day. Stash away any leftover cupcakes and whip up a fresh batch of frosting for them when you serve them. Also, the overall amount of frosting you use is up to you.) Keep chilled.
After cakes have come out of the oven and are completely cooled, frost them with the sweetened mascarpone. You can also sprinkle on grated chocolate/chocolate curls if you like as a garnish, or top with fresh berries.
* If you want to make vanilla cupcakes, swap out the cocoa powder for coconut flour.