Food fads come and go, but there's no denying that the cupcake has stood the test of time. These miniature cakes are more popular than ever, thanks to the designer cupcake bakeries that have cropped up in cities all over the country. The famous Magnolia bakery in New York City may have started this dessert revolution. With appearances on the television shows "Sex and the City" and "Saturday Night Live," the busy bakery got some great exposure and became the trendy spot to treat yourself in New York. Cupcakeries in Los Angeles, Calif., Atlanta, Ga., Washington, D.C. and many other American cities have since popped up, and business is booming. Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., bakes as many as 5,000 cupcakes a day [source: NPR].
While these glorious treats can pack on the pounds, they don't have to; there are plenty of simple ways to make delicious cupcakes that are less dangerous to your waistline. It can be as easy as cutting back on or leaving off frosting, using a sugar substitute in place of the real thing, swapping some or all of the eggs for egg whites or egg substitute and using low- or nonfat dairy products. You can also sneak in secret ingredients that replace oil and butter: Applesauce, pumpkin, zucchini and even jarred baby food can work wonders, and believe it or not, diet soda also has makes an appearance in a slimmed-down cupcake. But perhaps the easiest way to keep fat and calories in check is to bake cupcakes in mini muffin pans -- instant portion control.
So, let's get started. Here are 10 lightened cupcake recipes you can try at home.
10: Carrot Cake
Carrot cake is one of those things that sounds healthy but is really a diet disaster. A big portion of traditional carrot cake, made with tons of oil and butter and topped with decadent cream cheese frosting, can pack as much as 1,400 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat. But if you go easy on the icing, omit the pecans that are usually sprinkled on top and use applesauce and egg and sugar substitutes, you can trim things down to about 200 calories a serving.
To lighten this carrot cake recipe, make the following changes:
- Use mini muffin pans.
- Swap two of the four eggs for egg substitute (such as Better'n Eggs or Egg Beaters).
- Replace half the sugar with a sugar substitute blend (such as Splenda for Baking or Whey Low).
- Use applesauce for 3/4 cup of the oil.
- Don't pile on the frosting, and leave off the nuts.
9: Red Velvet
Red velvet cake is a classic American dessert. To help make this traditional meal-ender a little friendlier to your waistline, give the following changes to your favorite red velvet cake batter a try:
- Replace the eggs with egg substitute.
- Use low- or fat-free buttermilk.
- Switch half the sugar with a sugar substitute blend.
- Top the cupcakes with powdered sugar instead of frosting.
- Bake in mini muffin pans.
Adding citrus zest to your baked goods (and any other food, really) gives them a big boost of flavor without adding calories or fat.
Baking cupcakes that won't stay on your hips forever is all about replacing high-fat and calorie-laden ingredients with low-fat, low-cal alternatives. In this recipe, applesauce replaces much of the fat in a traditional cake batter. To lighten this baked good even more:
- Use a brown sugar substitute blend in place of the brown sugar.
- Replace the egg with egg substitute.
- Omit the nuts and raisins.
Substituting fruit for the majority of the sugar -- and also using sugar substitute -- in a recipe is a great way to keep baked goods low in calories while still getting that sweet kick you crave. In this cake, crushed pineapple is used to add a nice tropical flavor, and there is no additional sugar in the batter. The only modification you need to make to this dessert is to bake it in muffin cups (regular or mini) rather than a cake pan. You can also omit the almonds if you want, but their crunch gives these cupcakes a nice texture.
Canned pumpkin is another excellent replacement for fat in baked goods. It's packed with fiber and vitamins A and C, and it works amazingly well in cupcakes, especially with chocolate. Just be sure to get plain pumpkin purée and not canned pumpkin pie filling. For an incredibly easy cupcake fix -- only two ingredients -- add a 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée to a box of vanilla cake mix. There's no added sugar or fat to these cakes, and they're dead-simple to make. Just stir, bake and eat!
5: Lemon Ricotta
If you have a hankering for cheesecake but don't want to kill your diet, lemon ricotta cupcakes could be your savior. They have cheesecake's creamy texture with just a fraction of the fat and calories, and these cupcakes are so light and delicious, you won't miss a heavy frosting on top. Here's how to adapt this recipe:
- Replace the cream cheese with part skim ricotta cheese.
- Swap one of the eggs with egg substitute.
- Switch half the sugar for sugar substitute blend.
If your recipe calls for buttermilk, this is an easy substitution: Combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar plus enough milk to make 1 cup. Let it stand for five minutes. The mixture will curdle a bit, like true buttermilk.
Zucchini bread is a tried-and-true way for Moms to sneak veggies into their kids' diets, and the same batter used for the loaves can be baked in muffin pans as cupcakes. Even though this recipe calls for prunes and whole wheat flour, these treats bake up moist and light -- and with healthful nutrition boost. If you want, you could lower the calorie count of the batter by using sugar substitute blend in place of the sugar. These cakes taste best when served warm.
3: Diet Soda
You won't win any nutrition awards with cupcakes made from only cake mix and diet soda, but if you're looking to cut fat and calories, it'll definitely do the trick. We don't know who dreamed up this strange concoction, but it really works. Combine one box of any flavor cake mix with a 12-ounce can of diet soda and voilà -- totally easy, low-cal cupcakes. A particularly yummy combo is diet cream soda and orange cake mix, but there endless flavor possibilities. And for the Weight Watchers participants out there, these cupcakes will cost you only one point!
2: Angel Food
Angel food cake has a lot of sugar, but it's fat- and cholesterol-free -- and two out of three isn't bad. Working with egg whites does take some additional effort, but these airy treats are worth the extra time. If you want to lighten this recipe even more, you could replace some of the sugar with sugar substitute blend, but your cupcakes won't be as light and fluffy as those using real sugar. Another tip is to use paper liners in your muffin pan; without them, your cakes will stick like glue to the pan, wrecking the pillowy mounds you worked so hard to perfect.
Before stirring chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit into batter, toss them in a pinch or two of flour. The batter clings to the flour, which keeps your mix-ins from sinking to the bottom of the baking dish.
You can tinker around with other cupcake flavors, and while they all have merit, there's no beating chocolate when you want to sate your sweet tooth. Even though this recipe uses only cocoa powder for its flavor hit, it's a lot lower in fat than traditional chocolate cupcakes while still being a rich, satisfying treat. You could decrease the calorie count even more by using sugar substitute blend for half the sugar, but we think it's pretty good as is.