A “finished” chicken coop….And a fat-free carrot spice cupcake recipe

Oh my.  What a day.  Hubby and I were determined to get the chicken coop inhabitable THIS WEEKEND and we did it.  We spent all day yesterday and today (11 hours today alone) busting ass to get it “finished.”  We nearly killed ourselves (and each other) in the process, but we did it.  We still have a few things to do on it, mostly exterior, like putting up some boards at the corners and along the seams to weatherproof it.  But the important thing is the girls are in it tonight.  Hubby and I are officially empty-nesters and the girls have graduated to the real world of sleeping outside.

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I plan to paint a few more things on the interior and put in a lot more shavings, but here’s how their new digs look on the inside:

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While I was painting the interior trim today, before the perch was installed, I was thinking what a cool clubhouse this thing would make.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through my chickens.  And since it seems the only thing Hubby and I have done or thought about for the past 3 weeks or so is this coop, it is time to think about something else.  Like these super-duper carrot cupcakes I made for my friend last night.  Tomorrow is her birthday, and since it is my tradition at work to make cupcakes for everyone’s birthday, I felt compelled to make cupcakes for her.  The only hitch was finding a fat-free cupcake recipe, which actually wasn’t difficult at all, unless you count having to decide which recipe to use.  I used the first one I came across, in case you were wondering.  Call me lazy or call me efficient, but I did not have a lot of time to spend looking for a recipe, and this one turned out to be a winner.

I did a major adaptation to the frosting.  The original frosting recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Maybe I was just being skeptical, but it sounded a little messy to me.  I had already decided that I was going to add some egg whites to the cupcakes to add a little extra lift during baking to lighten them up, and I had several egg whites all frozen together in one big blob in the freezer.  I just whipped them all up and in the process had an epiphany:  I didn’t need all the egg whites in the cupcakes, so why not use the remaining egg whites in the frosting?  I could heat the syrup and add it to the egg whites, which would cook them and make them safe to eat.  It would sort of be like maple marshmallow frosting….this sounded pretty good to me at the time.  Fast forward several minutes:  I heated the maple syrup in the microwave and it boiled over.  Slight mess, but not enough to make me curse like a sailor.  I wasn’t quite ready to add the syrup to the egg whites, so it sat in the microwave for a minute or two before I was ready to use it.  Loss of heat…see where I’m going with this?  By the time I added the lessened amount (due to the boil over) of syrup to the egg whites, they had cooled off enough that I wasn’t sure that A) I had enough syrup or B) that it was hot enough to cook the egg whites and make them safe to eat.  What the hell to do now?  Never fear, I always have a back-up plan:  after adding a little powdered sugar and cream of tartar, I decided to treat it like meringue!  And they turned out beautifully:

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Fat-free carrot spice cupcakes  (adapted from HappyLivingVegan on Yummly.com).  Makes 12 cupcakes.

A word of caution:  I don’t know exactly how many egg whites I used, since they were all frozen into one big blob, so I’m using approximate numbers here.  Also, since I was “wingin’ it” while making this frosting meringue…you know what I’m going to say: these measurements are approximate.  Well, except for the cream of tartar.  I actually measured that one out.  So use this recipe at your own risk.  If you can get the meringue mixture to look stiff and glossy, it should turn out okay.  The cupcake recipe is exact, except for the egg whites.  But the original recipe didn’t call for egg whites, so you can even leave them out entirely if you want. 

Prepare the meringue first.  You will need:

3-4 egg whites

2 tablespoons warm maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup powdered sugar

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Add remaining ingredients and continue beating on high speed until the mixture becomes stiff and glossy.  This will take several minutes.  The mixture should be able to hold its shape when you pull the beaters out of it–if it collapses on itself, keep beating.  If after several minutes the mixture still is not stiffening up, add a little more sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating for a few minutes between additions.  This was a total experiment and it turned out for me, so I hope it turns out for you.  Another note:  because the original icing recipe called for cinnamon, I added cinnamon to the meringue.  I did not like it, so I left it out of this recipe.  I felt like there was enough in the cupcakes to get the cinnamon point across to my taste buds.

Once the meringue mixture is stiff and glossy, spoon it into a quart zippered plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator while you prepare and bake the cupcakes. (Yes, this is a bit messy–if you have an extra set of hands around, ask them to help you; otherwise, be prepared to get a little sticky.)

Prepare the cupcakes:

2 egg whites

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup white flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 medium-sized grated carrot (about 3/4 cup)

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whip the egg whites using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.  Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.  Mix together the syrup, carrot, applesauce, vanilla, and salt.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Fold in egg whites.  Divide the mixture among the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cupcakes are almost done, but not completely done in the middle.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven.  Take the meringue mixture out of the fridge, snip the bottom corner off one side of the plastic bag and pipe the meringue mixture onto the cupcakes.  Put the cupcakes back in the oven and bake for another 7-8 minutes, checking after 5 minutes that the meringue isn’t burning.  Once you begin to see a light browning of the meringue, turn off the oven, leave the cupcakes in the oven, and prop open the door with a wooden spoon.  Check on the cupcakes after about 10 minutes.  If the meringue has a nice light brown color to it, and the cupcakes are completely cooked (check with a toothpick) remove them from the oven.  I left mine in for about half an hour while I did other things and they were just fine.  Depending on how well your oven retains heat, your timing may be different.

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