Cassava Flour and Gluten-Free Baking: A Love Affair

This post is about relationships. Yes, it is also about gluten-free baking and delicious peanut butter cupcakes 10gluten-free baking, and gluten-free cupcakes so tender, moist, and flavorful that they will make you cry, but it is most definitely about relationships. What is cooking, baking, and eating, after all, if not about relationships? We have relationships with the ingredients we favor in our cooking, and relationships with the foods we choose to cook, and relationships with people for whom we prepare food and with whom we share food. We even have relationships with our kitchens and the tools we use to produce the foods we cook, bake, and serve (who doesn’t have a favorite kitchen gadget – that steady, reliable go-to device for which one loves to find uses – my favorite is my immersion blender: a brilliant, versatile invention if ever one existed).  As of the past few months, I have developed quite a personal, loving relationship with cassava flour. As I’ve moved more toward grain-free, gluten-free eating, for health purposes (a personal decision I would never presume to recommend to everyone in general), I’ve been paying more attention to the nutritional values of the flours I choose to use.

For months now, cassava flour (the dried and ground cassava root, not to be confused with tapioca starch, which is the processed starch extracted from the cassava root) has been asking for my attention. I’ve largely ignored its pleas for inclusion among the flours in my kitchen. True, it is a grain-free flour, which means it fits nicely into my movement toward my reduced, but not strictly, grain-free baking and eating. The problem, however, is that cassava flour is a gluten-free, grain-free flour that is very high in carbohydrates. Moreover, it has only 2 g protein per 100 grams. Compare this protein content other grain-free, gluten-free flours such as mesquite and buckwheat flours, both of which contain about 13 – 14 g of protein per 100 grams. Cassava flour is high in fiber, and contains some micro-nutrients, but it’s not exactly the most nutritious of grain-free flours.

I finally decided to give cassava flour a try, after reading time and again that it in most cases, in baked goods other than yeast breads, it’s a 1:1 replacement for wheat flour. This characteristic of cassava flour drew me to it, despite its dubious nutritional qualities. The truth is that when I bake desserts such as pies and cakes, I want the desserts to have the quality of crumb, moistness, and tenderness of those baked with wheat flour. If I’m eating a dessert, beyond making sure that all the ingredients I use are wholesome, I’m not that concerned with the health properties of the flours. Cassava flour, if it really can be used as a 1:1 replacement for wheat flour, seems perfect for creating excellent gluten-free desserts. Given the habit of blending gluten-free flours for recipes, I have yet to try cassava flour as a single flour in a recipe, but it works perfectly when blended into other gluten-free flours.

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Cassava flour, as the case turns out, works excellently in gluten-free baking. I’m becoming quite familiar with cassava flour as I’ve begun to use it in just about everything I bake, whether grain-free, gluten-free, or just gluten-free. Used in pies,cakes or cupcakes, cassava shines its brightest. I bake pies, cakes and cupcakes quite often, actually. I tend to show my affection for people (more relationship involving food and cooking!) and my favorite people happen to like dessert foods. Even though I strive to use grain-free ingredients as often as possible, I almost always use superfine brown rice flour in the desserts I bake. The cakes and cupcakes I’ve baked using a blend of brown rice flour, cassava flour, and tapioca starch have the most wheat-like texture of any cakes or cupcakes I’ve baked since my Celiac diagnosis. The quality of work cassava performs in my baking has sealed its position as a favorite on my list of preferred gluten-free flours.

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Now, the cupcakes that star in this post are the result of relationships, too. I make a point to see our grandsons once a week, and more often if I can manage (they live a little drive away from us). Seeing our grandsons means seeing our daughter, to whom I passed on my Celiac gene. I rarely make a trip to their house without taking with me a baked treat. I want the boys to always associate their Gigi with treats! I often get requests for specific flavors, and I do what I can to fulfill the requests. Just this month, I received a request for gluten-free peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. I did need to give the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes some thought. I set to work on formulating a recipe for gluten-free peanut butter and jelly cupcakes, but while selecting a jelly on the jelly aisle in the grocery store, I spotted the jars of beautiful amber-colored honey. Suddenly peanut butter and honey cupcakes sounded more delicious than peanut butter and jelly cupcakes; I opted to make peanut butter and honey cupcakes instead.

Instead of peanut butter, I used PB2 cocoa peanut powder that we keep in the house for Phillip’s protein smoothies. I wanted a light and fluffy texture, and the PB2 worked perfectly to achieve that result.

Considering the texture of the raw, unprocessed honey I planned to use as the cupcake filling, I worried that it would seep into the cupcake, disappear as a filling, and ruin the texture of the cake portion of the cupcake. I always keep El Rey ICOA white chocolate on hand (see here why you should avoid grocery store so-called white chocolate), so I decided to use the white chocolate with the honey, with a bit of heavy cream,  to make the honey filling.

The peanut butter and honey cupcakes, turned out amazingly delicious, with a texture nearly identical to cupcakes made with wheat flour. I added salt to the butter cream frosting with which I frosted the peanut butter cupcakes, which created a sweet -salty yummy-ness in the frosting that perfectly compliments the flavor of the cake.

My base recipe for cupcakes makes a dozen. It would really make a couple more than a dozen, but I’ve been using the Paper Chef lotus cup cupcake liners to give the cupcakes more room to rise beyond the top of the muffin cups in the muffin pans. This way we get some tall gluten-free cupcakes! Additionally, the cupcakes look extra special, presented in lotus cup liners.

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Note: You will notice that this recipe, like the other recipes about which I’ve blogged in the past year or so, contains no xanthan or guar gums. The gums are really unnecessary for a quality gluten-free baked product. I use tapioca starch, which is a thickener and stabilizer, with excellent gelling and binding properties; it adds body to the foods in which it appears. Moreover,it survives long cooking times without breaking down, and it withstands the freezing process so foods that contain tapioca starch can be easily frozen without losing their quality.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Honey Cupcakes

Peanut Butter Cupcakes:

1/2 cup softened butter
200g organic cane-dried sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 tbls aluminum-free baking powder
50g Authentic Foods superfine brown rice flour
50g Cassava flour
50g PB2 peanut powder with cocoa
50g tapioca starch

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a bowl, mix together all dry ingredients.
-Using a mixer or a food processor, cream the softened butter and the sugar
together until light and fluffy.
-Add the eggs one at a time and beat after each addition (Adding the eggs one at a
time allows the emulsifying role of the lecithin in the egg yolk to really mix
with the butter; if you add the eggs all at once, they mostly mix with each other.)
-After all the eggs are well blended into the butter / sugar mixture, bland in half
the dry mixture; mix well.
-Add half the milk and mix well (Adding the milk alternately with the flour ensures
that the dry ingredients will be well-moisturized.)
-Add the second half of the dry ingredients; mix well.
-Add the second half of the milk; mix well.
-Spoon the cupcake batter into twelve paper-lined muffin cups.

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-Bake in 350 degree oven for fifteen – twenty minutes, or until a toothpick
inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, with only a crumb or two of
cake sticking to it.
-Cool the cupcakes in the muffin pan for ten minutes, then remove and cool
completely on a wire rack.

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Honey – White Chocolate Filling

About two tbls melted El Rey ICOA white chocolate, chopped
6 – 8 tbls honey
A few drops of heavy whipping cream

-In a microwave proof dish, zap the white chocolate 15 seconds at a time, stirring
between zapping, until the white chocolate is NEARLY but not quite totally melted.
-Stir the white chocolate until the heat from the melted portion melts the
remaining unmelted pieces.
-Add the honey to the white chocolate, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture
reaches the flavor of honey you prefer.
-Add the cream to the mixture, literally one drop at a time, stirring after each
addition, until the mixture achieves the level of creaminess you prefer. *DO NOT
ADD THE CREAM TO THE WHITE CHOCOLATE BEFORE ADDING THE HONEY; otherwise, the white chocolate will seize.
-Set aside the filling while you prepare the cupcakes for filling.

Peanut Butter Almond Buttercream Frosting

1 cup Butter, softened at room temperature for several hours
3 1/2 – 4 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
1/2 cup PB 2 cocoa peanut powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Pure almond extract
4 – 5 tbls Milk
Gluten-free chocolate sprinkles

-With a hand mixer or food processor, cream the butter by itself for a few minutes.
-Add the 1/2 cup of PB2 peanut powder, the almond extract, and salt. Blend together
on low, to keep the sugar from flying everywhere.
-Add two tbls of cream and the rest of the sugar; blend well.
-Add the last two tbls of cream, and a little more if necessary to achieve piping
consistency. Blend well.

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To Assemble:

-Using a knife or a cupcake corer, remove the center from each cupcake. Place the
center aside, to cap the filling before the cupcakes are frosted.

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peanut butter cupcakes 1
-Using a small spoon, fill the center of each cupcake with the white chocolate-honey filling.

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-Place a cored piece of a cupcake on top of the filling in each cupcake; press down
to flatten.

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-Place a large star decorating tip in a parchment or plastic decorating bag. Spoon
the frosting into the bag.
-Cover the surface of each cupcake with piped stars; sprinkle the surface of each
with chocolate sprinkles.

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