Thursday, April 26, 2012

Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101: Vegan Snack Cakes 3 Ways

Ready for class? Today we're going to learn how to take a recipe for Irish Coffee Brownies, and turn it into snack cakes, which can easily be converted into a coffee cake for guests. In full disclosure, I was not planning on making snack cakes. I was attempting to make a blondie, but found that with all the changes, I ended up with a flavor and texture closer to carrot cake. And that, my dear students, is exactly why I love making substitutions in baking. I learn more from making ONE recipe over and over with various substitutions than I do from making TEN recipes each once. Remember my waffle and pancake guide? I made over 24 batches following the same recipe with small changes, and my notes from that testing are still what I refer to any time I want to make substitutions in recipes. But I know that not all of you enjoy the tedious testing period as much as I do, which is why I've been sharing my results here with you.

Okay, let's get started. If you've attended any of our previous classes, you might remember me mentioning that cocoa powder and starch (tapioca, potato, arrowroot) can often be exchanged with similar results in texture. So that's where I opened with this recipe. Beginning with my Irish Coffee Brownies, I made the following substitutions to the ingredient list:

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup whiskey non-dairy milk
1/4 cup warm or hot coffee non-dairy milk
1/4 cup grapeseed oil canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1 cup coconut palm sugar 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup cocoa powder (26 grams) tapioca starch (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

That's it. Five simple changes. I only had canola oil, but it works the same as grapeseed oil. I replaced the whiskey and coffee with milk (any kind works) and replaced the cocoa powder with tapioca starch (by cups, not grams). Why tapioca starch and not one of the others? I never work with cornstarch personally, so I can't vouch for that. Arrowroot is expensive, and readers have told me they end up with gummy results. And why not potato starch? Eh...I just felt like tapioca that day. It was as simple as that. There is a difference between tapioca and potato but it's very slight. I reduced the sugar from 1 cup to 1/2 cup because I wanted to make something healthier, and I was very glad I did that. With 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of raisins, the results were still very sweet, perhaps too sweet even for me.

With these five changes, I found that the cake needed to bake for 25 minutes, rather than the 35 the brownies needed. Their texture was also more like cake, less like brownies. While I'm sure the whiskey, cocoa powder and sugar had a part in this, I credit this mostly to the lack of coffee. I've noticed coffee has a tendency to make baked goods chewier. Not having tested this theory only taking out the coffee, however, it's just a guess!

So here we have Vegan Snack Cake #1. I'll include the recipe here, and then continue on below that to show you how I adapted this recipe to make it starch free.

Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake Print-Friendly Option

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup tapioca starch (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. 
  2. Add the raisins, milk, oil, and psyllium husks to a food processor. Process until the raisins are pureed. 
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, processing completely to ensure the ingredients are all mixed together well. 
  4. Spoon the thick batter into the baking dish and spread evenly. 
  5. Bake for 25 minutes. 
  6. Let cool completely before slicing. 
Makes 16 snack cakes. 

Now back to the lesson...

Okay,  we've got raisins, sugar, and starch in this recipe. Delicious, but not as low-glycemic as I would like it to be. I thought about taking out the raisins and simply replacing those with carrots (I still want to try that, but haven't had a chance yet), and I thought about reducing the sugar, but in the end I decided to try something I haven't done before. I wanted to make the recipe starch free. If I wanted the texture to be similar, I would have used another flour closer to brown rice flour. I could have exchanged the tapioca starch with white rice flour or maybe millet flour, and I'm guessing the texture would have been closer to the original. But I wanted to know what would happen if I used coconut flour. Coconut flour works extremely differently from tapioca starch. Starch makes recipes light and fluffy. Coconut flour makes recipes dense and heavy. So what happens if you replace 1/3 cup of tapioca starch with 1/3 cup of coconut flour? Magic!

I made the following substitutions to my Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake ingredient list:

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks (not powder)
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown rice flour (130 grams)
1/3 cup tapioca starch (40 grams) coconut flour (40 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Here we have three changes. Coconut flour absorbs liquid like crazy! I knew that if I replaced the starch with coconut flour, I would need to add more milk. I also decided to take out the psyllium husks, and see if the coconut flour version would hold together without a binder. If I had left the psyllium husks in, I would have needed to add more milk, probably another 3 tablespoons.  The batter for this cake was significantly thicker than the first recipe I made. In order to spread it evenly, I needed to wet my fingers with water and smooth the batter down.

The results? I loved the flavor, but felt it was a little more dense than I wanted. I decided to lighten it up a bit by using fresh apples instead of raisins. This also had the added benefit of lowering the amount of sugar, since apples contain less sugar than raisins.

For this third batch, I replaced the 1/2 cup of raisins with 1 cup of diced apples (I left the peels on for the fiber). I also increased the baking time to 30 minutes. That's all. Everything else remained the same. This is what I got.

Deliciously sweet snack cakes that reminded me of Little Debbie's Coffee Cakes that I ate as a child. All I had to do after that was add a streusel topping, increase the baking time to 35 minutes, and just to be sure, I tested the recipe out one more time with coconut oil in place of the canola oil. Worked perfectly! From Irish Coffee Brownies to Apple Streusel Coffee Cake Heaven with a stop at Carrotless Carrot Snack Cake Town on the way. You can find the recipe for the Apple Streusel Coffee Cake here.

Want more substitution ideas? Here you go! These suggestions should work for the Carrotless Carrot Cake here or the Apple Streusel Coffee Cake here. And as always, don't kill me if you try something and it doesn't work! These are my ideas based on what has worked for me in the past, but I have not personally tried every one of these substitutions. If you make a variation that you like, it's always helpful for me and others readers if you leave your adapted recipe below. Likewise, if you try something that doesn't work, that's helpful for readers too! We can all learn from each other!

Possible Substitutions:
Raisins or apples: Try 1/2 cup of any dried fruit, such as apricots, dates, or prunes. Or try 1 cup fresh diced fruit, like I did with the apples. Pears would be delicious! I might also try 1 cup grated carrots in the future.
Milk: Any type of milk is fine here. Coconut, almond, soy, rice, etc. If you decide to try using carrots, you could also sub in orange or apple juice here and see how that works.
Canola Oil: Try grapeseed oil, extra light olive oil, or coconut oil. Melted butter or Earth Balance will also work fine.
Psyllium Husks: Try 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds. Flaxseed meal should also work, although you might want to reduce the milk by 1-2 tablespoons.
Organic Cane Sugar: You can use any granulated sugar here, including coconut palm sugar. The flavor will vary depending on the type you use.
Brown Rice Flour: Try white rice, teff, sorghum, millet, quinoa or garbanzo bean flour, or a combination of any of these. (Note: I sub by volume, not weight). I used brown rice flour here because it has the most neutral flavor and texture. Teff or white rice would be my best suggestions for using only one flour. I recommend if you want to use sorghum, millet, quinoa, or garbanzo bean flour, you do a mix because they all have strong flavors and textures that will work better in combination than on their own.
Coconut flour or tapioca starch: Read the above post :)

Phew! I don't know about you, but that seemed like a long lesson to me! I need a study break... If you're not tired out, head over to Wellness Weekends at Diet, Dessert and Dogs for more vegan goodness!

Have a recipe you'd like me to adapt for your dietary needs for a future Experiments in Gluten-Free Baking 101 post? Drop me an e-mail at with your recipe and dietary restrictions, and I'll see what I can come up with!


theravegan said...

I love this! Thank you! I have to make a lot of changes often because my son not only has a gluten intolerance but a potato intolerance. Plus, I try to bake with what I have in the house instead of going out for new things. Sometimes I come up with things that are different then what I expected but typically they are still good.

Anonymous said...

what about masa harina or corn meal? have you used that for baked goods at all? I have an allergy to RICE and Quinoa!! So almost all GF recipes are really hard for me to make work....but this looks SO GOOD!!! and it's egg free!!

Iris said...

Anon, unfortunately I can't do corn right now! I have a couple of recipes in my archives using cornmeal, but I've had to stop using it for myself. But this recipe could easily be made with teff, millet, sorghum, or garbanzon bean flour.

Amber Shea @Almost Vegan said...

I love this post, Iris. I work similarly in my own kitchen, but I've never thought to "document the journey" like this!

Marty said...

I love you! Being gluten-free and vegan, I'm in heaven!

barb said...

What can you substitute for the psylium husks? I can't find them where I live.

Iris said...

Hi Barb,

All the substitution options are listed above. Ground chia seeds will be the best sub for psyllium husks, although flaxseed meal may also work (reduce the liquid by 1-2tablespoons). If you're making the starch free version with coconut flour, you won't need psyllium husks at all. That recipe was posted earlier this week here:

xoxo Iris

Kathleen Conner said...

Wow, what a useful article!
I'm going to save this and read this again to make sure I didn't miss anything. Thanks for doing this--I've never seen anything like this before.
klconn7 (at) yahoo (dot) com

Niks said...

Hey Irin,

Could you please let me know why did you replace the coconut sugar with cane sugar? From what I have learnt, the cane sugar is blank sugar while coconut sugar is a mineralized sugar.

Also, Considering the Vegan challenges you take, I was wondering if you could suggest egg replacement for -

1. Creme Brulee/Panna Cotta/Flan
2. Quiche'

My parents dont eat egg and I want them to taste the wonders of these two food items.


Iris said...

Hi Nikita,

I bake with whatever I have in the pantry, and I happened to have sugar, but no coconut palm sugar. However, in my experience, these types of recipes work really well with any type of granulated sugar, so coconut palm sugar is a great substitute.

I would check out Diet, Dessert and Dogs for a vegan quiche. I know Ricki has some great ones! And as for creme brulee, I've never tried a vegan version, but this recipe looks good:

Niks said...

Awesome Iris. Cant wait for the Quiche recipe. *runs o the creme brulee site*.. lol

Weightloss eBooks said...

hy, What you wrote was very nice, and really helped me, thanks for sharing


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