March 16, 2016

Naturally Green St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

Having a sensitivity to food coloring confuses people sometimes, especially since mine is restricted to blue. What they don't seem to understand is that my body doesn't actually care if it looks blue, just if it contains the pigment Blue 1. You know what else contains Blue 1 besides blue food coloring? Green food coloring. Purple food coloring. A variety of foods that don't fall anywhere on the blue side of the color wheel, also known as my list of reasons I hate everything (because I usually discover these foods contain blue food coloring the hard way).

Reasons I Hate Everything List

  • Store bought marshmallows (even the gingerbread ones)
  • Cranberry ginger ale (ironically bought to make my stomach feel better)
  • Chocolate animal crackers
  • Peach Mango Crystal Lite
  • Reese's Pieces
  • Almost anything berry flavored
There's probably more, but since I've become obsessive about checking the ingredients on foods before I buy them, there's a lot less accidental blue food coloring ingestion, so I'm less angry about it. That's not to say I never slip up (sometimes on purpose, damn you sour gummy worms), but since my system has usually been cleaned out of all blue by that time, it's usually less "I hate everything" and more "well, that was not smart."

But when this time of year rolls around, and everyone decides to dye everything green, the subject starts to come up again. Well I tell someone I can't eat something that has green food coloring, they go, "Why, it's not blue," and I have to go back to the elementary school color wheel to explain how you make something green.
Enter the naturally green cupcakes. I originally made them last year for a friend who wanted "baby friendly" St. Patrick's Day cupcakes for her son's day care. I didn't know what baby friendly cupcakes meant, so I figured I'd just make something low sugar with no artificial ingredients and some hidden healthy stuff. (I topped those original cupcakes with an avocado cream cheese frosting, which made me sad because avocado+cream cheese tasted really good and all I wanted to do was add some garlic and onion to it and spread it on toast. Instead I, very reluctantly, had to add sugar)

I had low expectations for those cupcakes, as they were meant for tiny people who hadn't yet grown all of their teeth, but they were surprisingly tasty. I decided to try and make them again for Christmas, tweaking the recipe up a bit for adults, and topping them with some red velvet frosting. Those were really good, but I decided to make the full recipe in the blender, and the flour got overworked, so they came out a bit on the gummy side (which was also sad, because making them in the blender was so easy!)

So here we've come full circle and I decided to once again, this time with the tweaked recipe and without trying to make everything in the blender. Whattaya think?
Green enough for you? Except for the candy decorations, there is not a drop of food coloring in these bad boys. Have you guessed what makes that possible yet?

The answer is spinach. These cupcakes are loaded up with some green leafy goodness adding color and nutrition without tasting like it. While the cupcakes do have a different flavor than a straight up vanilla cupcake would, nobody can tell you made them with spinach unless you tell them. Plus, they're a lot healthier than a regular cupcake. You've got spinach, you've also got unsweetened applesauce, and there's only one stick of butter for the whole batch. It's practically health food. I've totally eaten these for breakfast and not felt one whit of guilt.

Of course, I've also eaten pie for breakfast and not felt guilty about it, so I may not be the best judge of food related guilt.

These cupcakes are a little more dense and a little more coarse than the ideal cake texture would be. You could skip the frosting and call them muffins, but then you don't get the moral superiority of eating spinach for dessert, and I'm not down with that.
As for the toppings, those are not healthy, but that's the part that makes them cupcakes.

The frosting is a cream cheese frosting, and it wasn't half bad, considering I'm not a huge fan of cream cheese frosting, but it refused to stiffen. I have never made a cream cheese frosting that stiffened properly. I don't know if it's because I purposefully use less powdered sugar than most recipes (most cream cheese frosting recipes are way too sweet.Tooth-achingly so. I don't think I will ever understand), but it never happens for me.

Decorations wise, I went super simple. I separated out the yellow M&Ms from a bag of spring colored ones (spring yellow is paler, but there's more per bag), and placed them on top to look like gold coins. Then I sprinkled some rainbow-colored Nerds around the edges to represent a rainbow. You could totally use rainbow sprinkles instead; that was actually my plan, but I saw the rainbow Nerds in the grocery store and I got excited. XD

I realized afterwards that using neon-colored candies to decorate my naturally colored cupcakes was a bit contradictory, but they're pretty so I don't care. (I actually didn't end up eating any of the decorated ones, so it all worked out in the end)
Spinach Cupcakes
Yield: 18

5 cups packed fresh spinach
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar*
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Cream cheese frosting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the spinach, maple syrup, applesauce, and vinegar to a blender and blend until completely smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add the vanilla.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add about half the flour mixture to the butter, beating on low until just combined. Add half the spinach mixture and continue to mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining flour and spinach mix, and beat on low speed until well combined.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners and fill three quarters of the way with batter. Bake 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

*I have skipped the sugar before with no ill results, besides being not quite sweet enough, so if you prefer to not use refined sugar, you can leave it out.

Recipe by Kim