Maple Ginger Cakes with Brown Butter Caramel – A Vintage Recipe Swap!

Maple Ginger Cakes - a Burwell General Store Recipe Swap!

This is a very special post for this little Dusty Baker.

One year ago, I started this blog.  I had been blogging on another site, which housed a wider range of aspects of the holistic health industry as I pulled out of another bout of Lyme Disease.  I wanted to focus on recipes, and writing, and how baking could connect me to other aspects of my art and to the art itself that is baking.  

Also one year ago, on the other side of the country, Christianna of Burwell General Store and Lindsay of Rosemarried started a recipe swap, comparing their takes on vintage recipes.  That group grew into an incredible community of food bloggers who monthly change at least 3 aspects of a recipe that Christianna sends to us, and then we all post at the same time and exchange blogging love.  I don’t quite remember if I found out about the swap from Lindsay or Toni over at Boulder Locavore – I found and fell in love with their blogs around the same time, in April of last year.  All I know is that I feel very fortunate to be a part of this little group.

These bloggers have become teachers, inspiring me by their personal focus in the food world, their varying levels of culinary expertise and their love for what they do, both in and out of the kitchen.  Through them I get to feel the seasons change all over the world (we have several overseas swappers!), and how that effects what we’re all making and how we’re nourishing our bodies.  I get little glimpses into the lives of passionate, creative and sometimes exhausted people.  All because of our shared love for food.

Burwell Swappers, you rock my world.  Happy Birthday to Christianna, Lindsay, Toni, Chef Dennis, Sabrina, Lora, Mari, Shari, Monique, Pola, Linda, Alli, Barb, Priya, Lana, Shumalia, Claire, Jamie, Jaclyn and Alex (did I miss anyone?!!?).  And welcome to the new swappers Eda, Julia and JoAnn who are contributing this month! Please click on the link at the bottom of this post to check out their contributions, read more about their blogs at the Burwell General Store and, if you’re the tweeting sort, follow our Burwell Swappers list on Twitter.

When sending us the recipe for this month, Christianna asked us to ponder where our lives have traveled this past year, what we’re thankful for and what we want to celebrate with this post.

It’s been an interesting year: at points I’ve had less money than I’ve had in my entire life and questioned my decision to not have a “boss” and to work only freelance.  I took on the responsibility of managing my family business, and continue to learn just what it means to be a boss.  Through this blog I’ve met some incredible people,  been asked to participate in live food events, and developed the voice that brought me to writing for the NYC food blog Bromography and now doing research and writing for Easy Eats, an incredible gluten-free digital magazine that as an eater I am very excited about and am particularly thrilled to be contributing to. I did a few shows, meeting insanely talented, big-hearted people.  I fell in love, then had my heart broken for the first time.  I got a dog!  Projects that I’ve dreamed of creating have come into reality.  I’ve met teachers who are so far above me in the food world, and seem to see some glimmer of potential in what I have to contribute.  I am still relatively healthy after my third bout of Lyme, and my family are all close by and well.  It’s been a weird, hard year, but I have so much to be thankful for.

So in celebrating the anniversary of my blog and the birthday of the Burwell General Store swap, I’m doing a Thanks-GiveAway!  For the month of November, I’ll be hosting discussions, comments, sharing the recipes of others and asking readers to follow the lovely bloggers who are the filling to my macarons.  And in thanks I’ll send a few readers each two copies of some of my favorite gluten-free cookbooks, one to keep for themselves and one to give as a holiday gift to a baker they love.  Along with a few of my favorite things.

For information on the giveaway, CLICK HERE.

Now, this month we were given a Maple Syrup Cake to swap, which overjoyed me as I love baking with maple syrup and go through jugs of the stuff far too often.  After last month’s Millet Coconut Breakfast Pudding  I decided I didn’t want to change too much of this recipe, I just wanted to make a really delicious gluten-free take on these cakes.

My first go-around I adapted the recipe by cutting the white sugar completely, substituting with my gluten-free flour blend and adding some chopped ginger.  I used 3 teaspoons of soda as gluten-free flour sometimes need the extra lift.  And I added some chopped candied ginger along with increased the amount of spices in the cake.  The cakes were so-so.  A bit to baking soda-y and not sweet enough, even for me.  And a little dry.

So the second go around I added back in a bit of the sugar (palm), even more ginger, and some pumpkin, to give a little extra moisture. I also made a quick caramel sauce to serve on top.

The result? Um, yum!! These are incredibly moist little cakes.  The pumpkin isn’t a feature as much as the ginger and spice, but it provides great body.  The texture of the candied ginger suits the soft cake perfectly.  These would be divine as a special breakfast treat, or made in regular cupcake tins and topped with pumpkin or cream cheese frosting.

Going on my list as one of my favorite cakes.  Thanks, again, Burwell Swappers.

Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday Burwell Swappers!


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft
  • 1/3 cup palm sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 1 cup maple syrup (I used one from Vermont, which I love.  Always try to keep it as close to home as possible, and luckily that’s not a problem in New England)
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 1/2 cups gluten-free cake flour with xanthan gum (if using a mix without xanthan gum, add 1 1/4 Tbsp to the flour)
  • 3 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour cake pan of choice.

In a small bowl, combine all dry ingredients up to ginger.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with whisk atatchment (or in bowl with hand mixer), beat butter and sugar until smooth.  Add pumpkin and continue to beat until combined.  Add maple syrup, and beat until smooth.

Alternate the flour and hot water, starting and ending with the dry ingredients, mixing on low, until all are incorporated, occassionally wiping down the sides of bowl.

Stir in the candied ginger.

Pour equally into prepared pans.  My cakes took 24 minutes to bake, a larger cake will take about 35.

For the brown butter caramel:

Brown 2 Tbsp unsalted butter on medium heat until golden.  Whisk in 2 Tbsp maple syrup and 1 Tbsp light brown sugar, and whisk until smooth.  Immediately pour over cakes and serve.

Blackcurrant Cream Cheese Frosting (vegan)

Vegan Blackcurrant "Cream Cheese" Frosting

I love this frosting.  I want to roll around in it.  I want to put it on steak, eggs, green vegetables and toast.  I want to give it a national holiday.

OK, those are all going way to far.  But it’s good.  It’s really good.

Smooth, creamy, pungent with currant, it’s my new favorite thing.

It’s not fluffy and not pipeable.  It makes a mess.  But I love it so much I don’t care.

Slather it on all things sweet, especially if they contain chocolate or heavy spice.

Maybe don’t put it on steak, eggs, green vegetables or toast.  Other than that, go batty.


  • 1 8oz container Tofutti “cream cheese”
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter flavored Earth Balance
  • 2 Tbsp Toffuti “sour cream”
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted, plus more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp blackcurrant jam


  • Beat “cream cheese” and Earth Balance until blended.
  • Add “sour cream” and beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.
  • Add powdered sugar and beat until creamy and slightly fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Add jam and continue to beat to desired consistency.


  • Use strawberry or raspberry jam instead of currant.
  • If you don’t need to go vegan, use regular cream cheese and butter just colder than room temperature.
  • Instead of the sour cream, use milk (soy, almond or cow), or omit completely, depending on the consistency you desire.

One Cocoa Cupcake and Lyme Life Lessons

How To Make One Cocoa Cupcake (gluten-free)

After a loooooong (lovely!) week and a loooooong (lovely! lovely!) Saturday, I found myself hobbling a bit while walking my dog last night, my aching hips and knees a reminder that I crossed a line somewhere in all the awesomeness of hard work and good people, and still have chronic conditions from almost 20 years of Lyme Disease and its related terrors.  I wanted to take a hot, Epson-salted bath.  Or break my legs with a hammer.  I know a few of you out there will recognize that sensation.

So instead of going out dancing way downtown, I cut my night short and parked it inside.  I was shocked to find myself drawn to a Josh Duhamel movie.  This made absolutely NO sense since I’m generally not a “chick-flick” or “rom-com” or any other horribly kitschy-named movie genre fan and don’t think I’ve ever actually seen this dude in a film before.  Why was I drawn to a film that would bring out my innermost, snarkiest criticizer but also bring me some weirdly cheap comfort?  Because I recalled that during my last serious bout of Lyme all my exhausted brain and body could handle were the most mindless shmather (it’s a word, now), movies that were nothing more than visual background noise (realize I’m taking too many liberties with language now… I’ll get to the point). 

One cupcake.  Along with my bad movie I just wanted one cupcake.  Not a bunch of cookies, not a batch of anything to have sitting around.

Just.  One.

So I made one.  Using Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio for sponge cake as a base, I made an incredibly dense, fudgy cupcake, perfect with a dab of the leftover vegan blackcurrant “cream-cheese” frosting haunting me from another recipe (posting soon).  I sloppily mixed weighing and measuring ingredients together and checked the timing on it occasionally while giving myself a good stretch on the floor.

And then I ate it while pondering Duhamel’s left eyebrow.  And mulling over the state of romantic comedies of my age demographic.  And willing myself to just change the channel!

You ever have nights like this?

When you just want one… here ya go.

Oh, and now that I’m rested and medicated, the sun is shining and I’m off to review a few incredible NYC food events… life is back to lovely.

Blackcurrant Cream Cheese Frosting – Vegan!


  • 1 ounce unsalted butter
  • 1 ounce beet sugar
  • 1 ounce beaten egg
  • 1 ounce gluten-free cake flour
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp chocolate extract
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • dash of kosher salt


  • Preheat oven to 350°.  Put a cupcake liner in a tin or ramekin.  
  • Add the salt and cocoa to the flour.
  • In a small bowl, beat butter on medium/high until creamy.
  • Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  • Add egg and beat until pale and fluffy, and slightly expanded in volume.
  • Add extracts and beat to combine.
  • Add flour and mix on low until just combined.
  • Pour into prepared dish and bake for about 18 minutes or toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Chardonnay Blackcurrant Frosting (Vegan)

Vegan Chardonnay Blackcurrant Frosting

I’m not a fan of frosting in general.  Well, the kind you find on basic bakery cakes and cupcakes.  Sorry.  Most of the time I feel like I might as well just be eating a bowl of powdered sugar, and while I have an incorrigible sweet tooth I prefer my sweets dark and somewhat savory.  Like I like my… nevermind.

So when trying to figure out what would best compliment the perfectly airy gluten-free sponge cake I’d made, I should have gone with a traditional creme or lemon curd.  But then the whole dairy-free thing makes it a bit time-consuming and complicated.  I’d been baking a lot the day I made this cake.  And I had a full Sunday NY Times waiting for me.  And my roommate kept urging me into the living room to see what the Giants were up to (they lost, sniff. As did the Bengals, double sniff).  I needed something fast and fluffy.

Enter this frosting.  It’s an incredibly versatile vegan frosting that would be stellar on cupcakes and pipes easily for pretty little decorations.  And it’s incredibly easy, as frosting should be.

I added the Chardonnay and blackcurrant to give some dimension and extra bubbly lift to the frosting, bringing it out of the blase buttercream family.  While they’re each only tiny additions, you can really taste both the Chardonnay and the blackcurrant – each accentuates the other.  And on such a light cake, the fluffy consistency of the frosting was a nice compliment.

This frosting would probably be stellar on something chocolate.  Ooh, or a spice cake!  You can omit the wine and go full currant, or use milk and vanilla instead for a traditional buttercream.

No matter which combination, just make sure to beat for a looooong time to get enough air in.  Whatever you frost can sit comfortably at room temperature, but if it’s a hot summer day be careful of meltage and fridge for a bit before serving.

Oh, and shortly after I took a bazillion pictures of the many things I had made that day, I accidentally erased ALL THE PICTURES ON MY HARD DRIVE! Hence why one of the few surviving ones is the sole representation here.


  • 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored Earth Balance
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted, or more or less to taste
  • 3 Tbsp Ribena blackcurrant concentrate
  • 2 Tbsp cold Chardonnay Wine


  • Beat shortening and Earth Balance on hide speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Add powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  • With mixer still on high, add blackcurrant a tablespoon at a time until incorporated.
  • Add Chardonnay a tablespoon at a time until incorporated.
  • Beat for 7-10 minutes until airy and light, adding more powdered sugar to your desired taste and consistency.

Gluten-Free Sponge Cake

Spongey, eggy and delicious

The other night a buddy of mine texted “got a killer gluten-free sponge cake recipe?”  I did not, and told him so.  To which he replied something very snarky, questioning my Dusty Baker title.  I snarked back.  We’re really mature.

I’m a proud lady, and quite stubborn.  So the next morning I headed into my kitchen and made this.

Pretty in pink.

I can’t take full credit, of course.  I’d made a gluten-free sponge cake before but never recorded it, not being quite content with the flour combination (quinoa made it too bitter, teff too dry for some reason).  So for this I went back to the basics for my flour blend: soft brown rice, arrowroot and tapioca.  Nothing else.

And then I went back to the Cooks Illustrated recipe I’d made glutenously for a friend a few years ago, adapting it only slightly and using the same method.  Perfect.  And incredibly easy.  A flawless cake that when I asked my roommate “could you tell that was gluten-free?” she chirped back, “no, I can never tell with yours that they’re gluten-free”.

I’m never moving.

So here ya go. Gluten-free  Sponge Cake.

Oh, and I topped it with Chardonnay Blackcurrant frosting (recipe posting soon). I’m not a huge fan of frosting in general, but was short on time and this vegan frosting whips up quickly.  But this light cake would benefit more from a custard or lemon curd, so if you have a killer recipe for one, I’d say go bonkers with it instead.

Spongey Cake.



  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter or Earth Balance (butter flavored)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated beet sugar
  • 1 cup gluten-free cake flour (I used my cake flour blend but used only brown rice, which I find less grainy than white rice.  It basically works out to 2/3 cup brown rice flour, 1/6 cup arrowroot, 1/6 cup tapioca starch)
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt


  • Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease two 8″ cake pans and line bottoms with cut parchment.
  • Separate 3 eggs. Place whites in bowl of standing mixer, and add remaining 2 eggs to the yolks in a separate bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix cake flour, xanthan gum, nutmeg and salt.
  • On stovetop, combine almond milk and butter, heat to melt, then add vanilla and remove from heat.  Allow to cool only slightly.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy, about 2 minutes.  Add 6 tablespoons of beet sugar one at a time and continue to soft, moist peaks, about 3-5 minutes (don’t over-mix to stiff, keep them soft and billowy).  Remove to a large bowl.
  • Beat remaining eggs with remaining sugar on high for about 5 minutes, or until pale yellow and creamy.  Add to egg whites (don’t fold yet).
  • Sprinkle flour mixture on top and fold in gently, trying to keep the mixture as light as possible, 8-10 folds.
  • Make a well and pour in milk mixture, continue to fold until egg mixture is combined.  Do not over-mix.
  • Pour evenly into pans and bake for about 22-25 minutes, until slightly firm and springy to the touch.
  • Use a small icing spatula or knife to loosen edges, then cool in pan for 2 minutes.
  • Invert onto cake plate to release, then back onto cooling rack.

These will cool very quickly, giving you just enough time to whip up an icing or a custard.  Because of the delicate nature of the cake, the lighter the accompaniment the better.

Big Apple Cupcakes with NY Cheesecake Frosting – a 9/11 Frosting for the Cause

Big Apple Cupcakes

This weekend is a somber one for our country, and especially for those of my glorious city.  Time is such a fickle thing – at some points seeming so fleeting and delicate, a paper crane crushed in a child’s ecstatic palm.  Yet a dark night can stretch on for what seems like a year, and goals and dreams can seem so inevitably far away.  Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001, and how the world has changed for so many people.

This post is part of Frosting for the Cause, an online baking event that connects bakers from all over the world with womens cancer charities.  365 days a year, a blogger posts a recipe on the site, as well as shares a story of someone they know who has been affected by cancer.  They then make a small monetary donation to a cancer organization and bring the baked goods to a local cancer shelter.

Because my posting date fell on September 11th and I love my city Paula, the wonderful woman who runs the site, allowed me to stretch the rules of the post a bit and focus it around how 9/11 has caused cancer amongst the first responders who had spent much time around Ground Zero in the months and years following the collapse of the towers.

The Cancer…

Hundreds of first responders – firemen, police officers, medics – died on that day.  But since then that community has seen a large increase in serious chronic illnesses, and not all respiratory illnesses, as you might expect.  Many are developing serious cancers – melanoma and lymphoma specifically.  Hundreds have been diagnosed: in fact, first responders who worked at Ground Zero following the collapse are 19% more likely to develop serious cancers within the first 7 years of repeated exposure to the environment of Ground Zero.

The toxic dust that was in the air for months after the collapse is the cause, though the Environmental Protection Agency won’t conclude that the mixture of non-fibrous materials, asbestos, glass, lead, cadmium and other toxins is the link between.  Asbestos is highly carcinogenic, and a report from HP Environmental, a firm from Virginia, found that the asbestos was so pulvarized it was literally just too small to show up on the EPA’s tests.

Debates have gone back and forth, but the reality for first responders and their families is this: they saved lives by rushing people out of buildings, mining them out from under the rubble, and helping to clean up the wreckage.  And they’re paying for it – both with their own money and their lives.

Roy Chelsen

This is Roy Chelsen.  He was a “Viking” of a firefighter, one so strong that he could hold a blasting hose that would usually take two men to control.  Quiet and somber, he did his job well and love his company, Engine Company 28.  “To say he loved it is an understatement” his son Christopher said.

His company rushed to the first tower and started evacuating civilians at 1 World Trade Center.  But a point came when Roy knew that the second tower would begin falling, and he commanded his colleagues to get the last people they could and evacuate.  They made it to under a nearby bridge as bodies started falling, and when the tower collapsed were able to run to safety.

Many firefighters and civilians credit Chelsen with saving their lives – though he was so humble about his affect that day that few knew of this during his life.

Roy died on January 9, 2001.  1/9/11 – an almost bittersweet set of numbers.  He died of multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer that requires bone marrow transplants along with a rigorous regimen for treatment.  He had finally received a match and had a stem cell transplant only a month before he died: doctors believe all those who donated blood in hopes of matching with his saved other lives through their donations, and will continue to do so.

As of now first responders do not get their cancer costs covered by the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, a fund that has allotted more than $7 billion in funds over the last ten years and now is working with about $2.8 billion.  While the Zagroba bill (named for James Zagroba, a police detective who died of 9/11 related illness) was signed into law in January to follow up on and in some cases cover medical bills for those suffering from toxicity related to 9/11, there needs to be overwhelming scientific proof in order to get “cancer” put on the list of applicable illnesses.

John Feal doesn’t need scientific proof to know the connection is there: “I’ve been to 54 funerals. 52 of them were 9-11 cancer,” Feal said recently at town hall meeting held by the 9/11 Compensation Fund.  He heads up the Feal Good Foundation, an advocacy group for first responders, and was instrumental in getting the Zagroba bill signed.

While certain other factors obviously play into how and why someone gets cancer – age, genetics, lifestyle – there is little doubt that working through the toxic rubble of Ground Zero has increased the chances for first responders, and that they should get compensated for it.  They’re getting cancers at young ages, and dying from them quickly.

The Donation…

The FealGood Foundation - Click on the logo to donate and for more information

For my monetary donation for Frosting for the Cause, I am proud to donate to John’s efforts at the Feal Good Foundation.  Since his own injury at Ground Zero – 8,000 pounds of steel fell on his foot, causing a partial amputation and years of therapy – he has been a stalwart in teaching others how to advocate for their own rights.  Those who need the help are mostly blue-collar, hard-working, physical people, and John is the perfect spokesman for them.  He is out there, every day, challenging unjust laws and educating politicians, so that first responders who risked their lives to save others and clean up the literal mess that is Ground Zero don’t continue to suffer alone.

Several friends have mentioned that they’d like to contribute to an organization in honor of those lost on September 11th.  If you’d like to join your little Dusty Baker and Frosting for the Cause in supporting the Feal Good Foundation, CLICK HERE or on the image above to donate.

FDNY Ten House

The Cupcakes…

I consulted John as to where my baked goods should go and he responded: “the 10 House next to GZ would be the perfect gesture. They lost so many people that horrible day.” On September 11 2001, they lost a captain, two lieutenants and 3 firefighters.

From their website:

FDNY spacerThe Officers and Members of FDNY Engine Company 10 and FDNY Ladder Company 10 would like to express our sincere thanks to all those that have supported us and continue to show your appreciation.  Words can not adequately express our feelings of gratitude for the tremendous outpouring of support.
FDNY spacerMaybe you contributed in our efforts to support the families of our lost Brothers or maybe you stopped by just to say Hi!  Maybe you waved or smiled as we drove by on the streets.  We join the thousands of other FDNY Firefighters serving New York City from more than 200 Firehouses in saying we are truly grateful to all.
FDNY spacerIn the words of William Shakespeare, “I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”

I’m a little in love with any firefighter who can quote Shakespeare, frankly.

Thursday I trekked down with 2 dozen Big Apple Cupcakes to the Ten House, which sits literally next to the gaping hole we call Ground Zero.  It was already packed with tourists, many who wanted to see the inside of the fire house, and the man who answered the door looked calm but slightly exhausted amongst the chaos.  I handed him my package, gave a quick little introduction as to what I was doing, pointed out that my info was in the bag, shook his hand, received a warm smile, and went on my way.  It wasn’t my intention to add any more chaos to the scene, just to drop off something sweet.  They were very sweet and humble in their appreciation.  I am thankful they continue to serve my city, open their house to those who want to see it, and offer them my prayers, thanks and love.

Big Apple Cupcakes

The Recipe…

I’m going to warn you, this is not the quickest recipe to make.  And I can’t even promise that it’s the best cupcake I’ve ever made because I didn’t get to taste them – the batter made 24 exactly, and because they contained dairy and gluten I wasn’t going to risk sampling.  But the parts I could taste were rather delicious, and they looked and felt wonderful.  I made the two batches of 12 only slightly different (the second had a bit less fat and calories in the cake) but in most respect the content was the same.

This is a 5-part recipe:

  1. Make the cupcakes
  2. Make the apple pie filling
  3. Make the cheesecake frosting
  4. Make the fondant apples
  5. Assemble the lot

Vanilla Cupcakes

1. Make the Cupcakes:

Though I’d consulted it often when adapting recipes, I had never directly made a recipe from The Joy of Baking before.  These tested recipes are known for being rather simple and straightforward and foolproof! I chose a basic vanilla cupcake thinking it would best compliment the apple pie filling and cheesecake frosting.  I made the first batch according to plan, and simply replaced the butter with Earth Balance and cut the sugar for the second batch.

Click here for the recipe I used, or have fun with your old favorite.  Just make 24 awesome vanilla cupcakes.

Apple Pie Filling

2. Make the Apple Pie Filling:

I made an easy apple pie filling on the stove top – using just a little maple syrup and apple juice, it was incredibly sweet.  Sauteing it for a while and then letting it cool completely made sure it gelled correctly and that the spices had time to settle a bit.

Big Apple Filling:

  • 3 cups chopped peeled apples (I used one Gala and one Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup apple juice

Place the apples in a medium nonstick pan over medium-low heat.  Add the spices and mix well, then add the maple syrup.  Cook until the mixture is bubbly and the apples begin to soften.  Then add the apple juice and sprinkle on the gelatin.  Let the gelatin sit until it is absorbed, then continue to stir the apples as the liquid boils down and the mixture softens completely.  When golden-colored and almost dry, remove from heat and chill until completely cooled.

If you don’t have gelatin on hand (or just prefer not to use it) you can mix a tsp or so of tapioca starch in with some cold apple juice before pouring it over.  It will give you a slightly different texture but will help to pull some of the moisture together.  Or you can just omit completely and use slightly drier apples.

Cheesecake Frosting!

3. Make the Cheesecake Frosting

This frosting is only slightly sweet and laced with cinnamon and nutmeg – too sweet and it would completely overwhelm the cake and pie filling flavors.  It’s super easy to make but does need to be cold in order to pipe clearly and retain its shape.

This was not exactly easy on the warm and humid NYC afternoon during which I was piping away and trekking on the hot subways.  Oh well.

I used a large pastry bag with a large star tip on the end to pipe my frosting.  But if you don’t have a pastry bag set or just hate piping, you can easily just swipe the frosting on with a small spatula.  Or you can cut the corner out of a plastic ziplock bag to pipe it on.


  • 2 packages of plain Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 heaping tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg


  • In the bowl of a standing mixer with the beater attachment (or with a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time, sifting as you go.
  • Once you’ve mixed in all four cups, test the flavor.  If you want it sweeter or with a thicker consistency, add more sugar a 1/4 cup at a time.
  • When at the proper level of sweetness and flavor, add the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Beat to combine.
  • Fill into a large pastry bag and place in refrigerator to chill until ready to frost.

Fondant Apples!

4. Make the Fondant Apples:

I must admit, this was my first time using fondant (gasp!) and boy was it fun.  It brought back to mind my art teaching days, where I made homemade play dough and colored it with my hands.


Instead of making my own fondant, which is an art in its own, I bought some ready-made from Wilton and used my trusty gel colors to get the red and green hues I wanted.

Warning: if you use too much green coloring the majority will end up embedded in your fingernails, making it perfect if you want to audition for Elphaba in Wicked.  Which I don’t particularly but it was fun to think about.

I simply pulled off a good-sized piece of fondant, rolled it flat with a rolling-pin, added about 3 drops of red gel and started working it in with my hands like a happy kindergartener.  I then did the same with the green (Elphaba!).

Working it with the heat of my hands kept it moist so that I could roll the red into balls, shape the bottom with a toothpick and top them with little leaves I had cut out of the green.  Yes, they look like something my kindergarten self could have made – but on top of the cupcakes they made the right impression.

Filling the Cupcakes

5. Assemble the lot!

This is mostly self-explanatory.

I used a tiny espresso spoon to scoop out about a teaspoon size hole in the cupcakes and filled with the cool filling.  Then a swirly piping of frosting and an apple – voila!

Cupcakes ready for hungry firefighters!

Thank you to: Paula at Frosting for the Cause, John at the Feal Good Foundation and the men and women of the FDNY Ten House for allowing me to create this recipe for them.

Thank you for sharing your comments, retweeting this post on twitter, and sharing it with friendsAnd please click on Frosting for the Cause so that site gets the traffic it deserves today too!

I’m also stepping in on Frosting for the Cause on Thursday, September 15th for a blogger who had to back out.  My Pink Ribbon Cookies to Cure Cancer and stories about my walking with the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure will be posted then – please check it out!

For more information on how cancer is affecting first responders, the Feal Good Foundation and Frosting for the Cause, please check out the links below.

Please also check out these tributes I wrote on several people we lost on 9/11 as part of Project 2,996:

American Noir Cupcakes – A Tribute to Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”

THE BIG SLEEP Cupcakes - Dark chocolate, bourbon, smoky cherries and coffee. To die for.

 Agnes Lowzier: Is Harry there?
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, yeah, he’s here.
Agnes Lowzier: Put him on, will you?
Philip Marlowe: He can’t talk to you.
Agnes Lowzier: Why?
Philip Marlowe: Because he’s dead.

A few months ago two people who don’t know each other inspired me in their own ways to create this, the most dangerously delicious of cupcake recipes.

The first was a man I was dating who had a healthy obsession with American noir, both in film and novel form.  He had loaned me Raymond Chandler’s debut novel, The Big Sleep.  Our beloved protagonist, detective Philip Marlowe, drowns himself in whiskey, smokes cigarettes like a champion and downs coffee to keep it all clear.  Blood is shed and it’s Marlowe’s job to wade through the beauties of the underworld to find out where it all began.

Sounds like the makings of a very sultry dessert if you ask me…

…And a gluten-free one, of course.

The second vessel of inspiration was Kelly over at Ingested Read.  A bookworm and baker like yours truly, Kelly creates recipes inspired by whichever book she’s currently devouring.  I’d contributed Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcakes, Hansel and Gretel Grown-Up Gingerbread and Curious George Banana Bread to her site(all gluten-free and delectable).

But it was time for something sexy.

So after a few months on my mind these cupcakes finally made it to the light.  Last week, in the dim glow of my steamy NYC kitchen, barefoot and a bit sticky, I hollowed out dark chocolate cupcakes, filled them with a cold cherry that had been soaking in smoky, bourbon-laced dark blueberry syrup, and topped them with coffee, whiskey and vanilla frosting and a candy cigarette.  Sweet, smoky, dark and with a tiny punch of alcohol.  Cheers to you, Raymond Chandler.

Cherry Filled and Dangerous

The result?  Cut it down the center, and between the dark chocolate layers oozes a blood red cherry.  The frosting is light and fluffy and offers a one-two punch to combat the bourbon kick of the fruit.  All the flavors meld together… let’s just say you may be inspired to go walk in the rain, or sit in a dim bar, or throw on a mink shawl and shimmy down the street in heels.

Notes: I made two chocolate cake recipes – the gluten/dairy free one you see below and a basic chocolate cake from Real Simple.  I soaked my cherries in smoky blueberry syrup from a recipe I recently made for a Burwell General Store Recipe Swap.  If you need your frosting to be dairy-free, I suggest my favorite Fluffy Vegan Frosting with the addition of the coffee in the recipe below.  These cupcakes are best fresh.

The Big Sleep Cupcakes

Ingredients: Cake

  • 2 cups gluten-free cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used safflower)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tsp bourbon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup almond milk thickened with 1 Tbsp soy sour cream or cream cheese or 1 1/2 cup whole cow’s milk
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract (optional)

Ingredients: Cherries

I used the smoky blueberry syrup I created last week.  For a quick alternative, try this:

  • 24 ripe cherries, pitted
  • 2 cups blueberry syrup or 1/2 cup blueberry jam dissolved with 1 cup cranberry juice
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder or paprika
  • 3 Tbsp bourbon or whiskey

Directions: Combine all ingredients and soak for at least 24 hours.

Ingredients: Frosting

  • 1 Tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 Tbsp hot water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1lb box powdered sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp good whiskey or bourbon


  • Line 24 cupcake tins and preheat oven to 350°.
  • Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt.
  • In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer) beat oil, sugar and maple syrup on medium/high until thoroughly combined and smooth.
  • Add eggs one at a time and beat to combine.
  • Beat in vanilla and chocolate extract.
  • Reduce speed to low and aternate the flour and almond milk, starting and ending with dry, until all are just combined.
  • Fill tins 3/4 of the way full and bake for about 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out smooth.  Cool completely.
  • When cool, use a teaspoon to hollow out a space from the top of the cake enough for one cherry.  Fill each cupcake with a cherry and drizzle with a little sauce (this should soak into the cupcake a tiny bit.

To make the frosting: beat the butter on high until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until light.  Add the whiskey, vanilla and coffee and beat to incorporate.

Decorate!  Pipe or use a small icing spatula to glob as much frosting onto the cakes as possible.  Decorate with dark sanding sugar or a candy cigarette.  Enjoy with a cool glass of sweating bourbon.


Carob Cupcakes with Almond Butter Filling

This is what I made last week.

Carob Cupcakes with Almond Butter Filling

This is where I was this weekend.

On Lake Moore in Warwick, MA

This is who I made them for.

My gorgeous friend.

Life is good.

Happy Belated Birthday!

My dear friend suffers from food sensitivities far worse than I am currently dealing with, and I wanted to make her something special in celebration of a reunion with good friends and a birthday of hers that passed too long ago when I wasn’t nearby to celebrate with her.

This is an only slightly adapted version of her Chunky Cake that I made with her a few weeks ago.  I simply upped the ghee content a bit, fussed around with a few measurements and put some creamy almond butter in the middle.

They are FREE OF: sugar, flour, soy, chocolate, caffeine, nuts

Here’s how you can make them!


  • 1 1/2 cup ground flax meal
  • 1 cup carob powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp bourbon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup ghee or clarified butter, melted
  • 1 1/2  cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup smooth almond butter, optional


  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Line 24 muffin cups or heavily grease an 8″ cake pan.
  • In a large bowl, mix ingredients in the order above, adding water gradually at the end, whisking throughout.
  • For filled cupcakes, pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/2 inch, then dot 1 tsp of almond butter in the center.  Cover with more batter until about 2/3 full.
  • Bake cupcakes for 16 minutes and full cake for 40 or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Almond butter filling

Fluffy Vegan Frosting

“I’m the most delicious gluten-and-dairy-free Red Velvet cupcake you’ll ever eat.  And now that I’m topped with light and fluffy vegan frosting, that’s so spreadable and pipeable, you’ll never wanna stop making me.  Kisses.”

– Cupake

I swear the cupcake insisted that I write that – I was completely at its mercy.  Maybe because I ate several of his fellows before changing frosting tips to see if I could pipe letters, which I did with ease.

The cake in this cupcake is truly divine – both moist but light, full of cocoa flavor but not too chocolatey.  Several friends who have no gluten or dairy problems could not tell that they are both, one even suggesting I match it up with a gluten-full cake and blind taste test some people for the fun of it.

Please try it, and tell me what you think.  I dubbed it Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake.  But if you just wanna call it Mmmmm, that’s okay too.  Recently I’ve been calling it “Oh my Dog!”, while it’s still in my mouth.

Now, the only reason I’m reposing this cupcake is because of the frosting issue.  The first I tried was lovely – a sweet vegan “cream cheese” frosting – but it came out more like a glaze, and no amount of whipping or refrigerating gave it a stiff enough consistency for me to pipe or even pile high.

So I tried a Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and BOY-OH was I happy!  Insanely easy and amazingly fluffy, the frosting stayed stiff enough to pipe with several different tips long after I had colored it and bagged it.  Because it’s made with vegan butter and shortening – which are obviously both vegetable-oil based – it whipped easily at any temperature and functioned well.

And the taste!  Like a classic butter-cream it tastes primarily like sugar and vanilla.  But unlike butter-cream it didn’t taste overpoweringly so.  The shortening gave it enough body so that the sugar content was slightly lower.  Don’t get me wrong – this is very sweet.  As someone who struggles with hypoglycemia, I did a decent job at staying away (after one cupcake of course!)  But it’s not going to overwhelm your taste buds nor distract from the cupcake you put it on.  And because of the light and fluffy consistency, it particularly matched the classy cake underneath it and would do as well with a rich chocolate – ooh, or banana!

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

The recipe is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.  Click on the title above for their recipe.

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

Having fun with frosting

The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcakes – Gluten and Dairy free!

Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcakes

These cupcakes are amazing. I just wanted to start with that.  You can’t tell that they’re gluten AND dairy free.  My roommate’s eyes lit up when she took her first bite, and after her third she proclaimed it her favorite of my creations.  Even I am wowed by how good this cupcake is.  I can  confidently say this is the best gluten-free red velvet cupcake recipe.  AND the best dairy-free red velvet cupcake recipe.  There.  I said it.  But I should know.  I’ve eaten about 12 of these little guys.  Including two this morning, before breakfast.

Three things contributed as inspiration for the best gluten-free red velvet cupcake I have ever eaten.

Brainstorming first came when I online-met Kelli of Ingested Read.  I love her new blog, and her recipes are created for a specific book she’s pouring over.  I’m a big fan of this idea, and this blog.  So she opened up her site for guest-posts with Intercaketuality.  Brilliant.  I’m sending her a big high five across the pond.

I knew I wanted to make some sort of red-velvet cake.  In my gluten-free food crawl with a few friends I learned that the three bakeries in the city that boast gluten-free offerings disappointed our taste buds in the red-velvet department.  Either too dry or too moist, none contained that classic cocoa flavor.

A few months ago my cousin Daniella played Little Red Riding Hood in her high school production of Into the Woods and, as I predicted, was stellar, stealing the show.  In this musical version Little Red has a slight obsession with baked goods, eating all the bread and sweets she is supposed to take through the woods to granny.  Daniella herself is very allergic to dairy, so over the years we’ve commiserated at the dessert table as treats were passed around.

So when thinking about a new cake I wanted to work on, these three elements blended perfectly into The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake!

But a few challenges arose when making this both gluten and dairy free.

First, how to replicate cake flour?  According to my interweb research, cake flour is distinctive because (a) it is very finely milled, (b) it contains a low amount of protein which develops gluten and (c) it has a higher amount of starch as a result.  So, how to make a gluten-free version of cake flour, which obviously lacks gluten to begin with?

Several sites including Gluten-Free Bay, WikiHow and Gluten Free Naturally Blog use the same ingredients in the same proportions.

  • 3 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

I don’t really use potato starch, as it’s a nightshade and not good for people with arthritis and digestive issues, so instead I used arrowroot and crossed my fingers.  I also used 2 cups of brown rice flour and 1 of white rice flour, and sifted twice.  This worked wonderfully in the cake.  I’ll have it on hand from now on.

I then had to replace buttermilk with a non-dairy ingredient.  Normally I’d just use almond or soy milk, but as the consistency of buttermilk is a bit thicker and tangy, I had to improvise.  So I used tofutti sour cream and diluted it with unsweetened almond milk, then threw in a tablespoon of white vinegar.  It worked!

I can honestly say that this recipe is better than the two bakery ones we tried.  The cakes are that perfect combination of being both moist and crumbly – they’re not dry at all, so they won’t fall under the pressure of a fork.  The cocoa is definitely present, but in no way do they taste like chocolate.   And I cut back the sugar aspect by a half a cup and substituted with 1/8 a cup of light agave syrup.  I’m not at all a fan of using either of these things, but for experimentation purposes I had to go with it.

Vegan "cream cheese" frosting

For a frosting I whipped up a tofutti / Earth Balance spread from Mama Sophia’s Soul Kitchen.  It’s a very tasty recipe, tangy and sweet without being overpowering nor tasting like soy.  But as you can see in this picture, it’s more like a pretty, thick glaze.  It has a gorgeous sheen, but even when refrigerated overnight it was far too loose for piping.  So I glazed the minis with these and then found an incredibly light and fluffy vegan frosting that I whopped on the big guys.

Fluffy Vegan Frosting

The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake

Notes: Make sure you have all your ingredients are room temperature or slightly warm.  Make sure your oven is properly heated.  Don’t over-mix the dough when you’re stirring in the last batch of dry ingredients.


  • 2 1/2 cups gluten-free cake flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 cup light agave syrup
  • 1 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp. red gel/paste food coloring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 rounded tablespoons Tofutti “sour cream” – at room temp
  • almond or soy milk (directions below)
  • 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp distilled white vinegar, separated
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda.


  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Line 24 cupcake molds (I did an even 12 cupcakes and 24 minis)
  • Add Tofutti cream cheese to a liquid measuring cup and fill to just shy of one cup with almond or soy milk.  Whisk thoroughly with a fork until smooth.  Heat in microwave until warm but not hot.
  • Add 1 Tbsp white vinegar and stir in.
  • In a small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa and salt thoroughly.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix sugar, agave and oil thoroughly on medium speed until thoroughly combined.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.
  • Add vanilla and coloring and mix in.
  • Turn speed down to low.  Add the flour in three additions, alternating with 1/2 of the “buttermilk”.  Make sure to mix thoroughly between additions.
  • Mix baking soda and remaining 2 tsps vinegar until foamy.  Add and beat for 10 seconds or until incorporated.
  • Bake for 14 minutes (small) or 22 minutes (large), rotating pan halfway through.
  • Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes before removing to cool on a rack, or cool completely in pans.
  • Definitely cool completely before frosting.

These can be kept in a refrigerator for 3 days in an airtight container.  Bring them down to room temperature before serving.

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