The Skinny Test Kitchen – Cupcake Edition

By Lisa Rhea

Skinny Cupcakes

Trials and tribulations in “skinny” cupcake baking.

Easter is upon us and what better time to bake cupcakes! While I’m always up for making healthy food and enjoy playing with recipes in the kitchen, I will admit, I tend to be against making low calorie versions of dessert, because frankly, why mess with a good thing? Most of the time, I’d rather work the real deal into my daily eating in moderation.

But I know “skinny” dessert recipes are all the rage, and there are some gems out there, so I figured I’d start trying a few here and there and reporting back to you my results. And you can be sure to get a true, unbiased review of the recipes – because being the foodie that I am, I refuse to eat sub-par food regardless of how few calories it has.

So I took on cupcakes. I tried two vanilla cupcake versions and two chocolate cupcake versions – varying in “healthiness” and tried my hand at the different frosting variations. Big disappointments, to say the least. Of the four, only one recipe, which is more for a muffin than a cupcake, held its weight.

I still remember what real cupcakes taste like and the only thing I can imagine is that these cooks raving about the recipes must not. Cake – it’s in the name – it should taste like cake. I think the worst part was the frosting. I appreciate a recipe that attempts to avoid sugar or fake sugar, but frankly, they taste like it. So here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Triple Chocolate Chunk Muffins

By far the best of the recipes I tried, these are made with oatmeal, greek yogurt and applesauce as the main ingredients.

The Good 
Triple Chocolate Chunk Muffins
These chocolate muffins are loaded with nutrients and taste remarkably good for how healthy they are. Although they are the clear winners of the recipes I tried, I would say they still taste more healthy than decadent, but they’re a great option for a chocolate treat when you’re toeing the line on keeping your calories down.

One of the best things about this recipe – it’s all mixed together in the blender at once – by far the easiest of the recipes I tried. I do not recommend using muffin liners, because even though I sprayed them with cooking spray, they still stuck to the sides, and I don’t like fighting the wrapper for my muffin. And I definitely found that I needed to bake them a little longer than the 12-15 minutes – more like 18 minutes total.

At only 95 calories a pop and with no flour or oil, they are a great option when you’re on a diet. But would I serve the to company? Probably not. Note that they are made with artificial sweetener and would be great for diabetics, sans the extra chocolate chips. Again, not as much a dessert as I would say a daily, guiltless treat.

Skinny Vanilla Cupcakes

Looks can be deceiving – the “healthy” frosting ruined a perfectly decent cupcake.

A Tie For Second
Vanilla Cupcakes and Low-Calorie Vanilla Cupcakes
These recipes are very similar, and taste very similar, although one uses quite a bit more sugar than the other. I would certainly opt for the first recipe, but not the frosting. I didn’t have honey in the house, so I substituted a six packets of Stevia.

I was happy with the flavor of the cupcake – not at all a typical cupcake but still good and a bit more like angle food cake or a sponge cake. But the frosting. Oh dear. I should have known by the simple ingredients – fat free cream cheese and a ripe banana. Even the cute Whopper egg I put on top couldn’t salvage that. I will say, though, after being in the fridge overnight, they did make a good breakfast treat, but to call them a cupcake is a travesty.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting

Not to be mistaken with a real cupcake, these could be a decent treat for the dark chocolate lover.

The second recipe used more sugar, but didn’t taste any different, in my opinion. I was unable to try the frosting recipe, which looked pretty good, because I couldn’t find canned coconut milk in my grocery store. Instead, I put a dark chocolate frosting recipe to the test. I substituted real powdered sugar for the honey or agave, again since I did not have any, but found it to be terribly unsweet. I love dark chocolate, but this was a little too bland. Double the sugar, making it a one-to-one sugar to cocoa powder and now we’re in the tolerable range.

While I once again would not consider this a delicious cupcake, for the dark chocolate lover, it was a good treat with the strawberry on top. Light, fluffy with that satisfying taste of chocolate. So, if you’re just looking for a way to get your chocolate fix, these could be an option. With the coconut frosting, it may be a better cupcake, but I think it would still taste a bit on the healthy side, and the texture is completely different than a standard cupcake.

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

It’s almost sad how good these look and how bad they taste.

The Ugly
Skinny Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
You can’t go wrong with chocolate cupcakes – right? Wrong. You can. You can go very wrong. And this recipe does just that – goes very wrong. Not only are these cupcakes dry and relatively tasteless, the frosting recipe that accompanies it, as I explained above, lacks any sweetness. For the amount of sugar you’re actually consuming – definitely not worth the calories. And a disgrace to the title of cupcake. Even with the sweeter frosting adaptation, they are still tasteless.

It’s hard for me to understand who makes these and considers them delicious. And why, why you would even waste your time? But the good news is that I wasted my time, so you don’t have to. And it’s probably a good thing that most of these were losers, because having four dozen cupcakes in the house when you’re in your third trimester is just a bad, bad idea.

Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cupcakes

They may not be “skinny” but they’re definitely tasty!

The Real Deal
Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cupcakes
So after making all these sub-par cupcakes, and tossing them in the trash, I decided I had to give a “real” recipe a whirl, because I wanted some Easter cupcakes for goodness sakes! I found this recipe, which is by no means “skinny” but still a healthier run at cupcakes. And they’re delicious. Even better, they’re easy to make.

I didn’t take the time to strain the yogurt for the frosting, so instead I just made my own recipe – powdered sugar, a couple tablespoons almond milk, one tablespoon coconut oil and a teaspoon vanilla. And a little food coloring and some jelly beans to give it the Easter spirit.

Despite the real sugar and oil, these cupcakes come in under 250 calories and to me, were completely worth it. Much like it’s not worth being completely miserable to be thin, it’s not worth eating sad imitation cupcakes. To me, these cupcakes were a good balance and representative of The Skinny and the Thick of it fit life. After all, you should be able to have your cake and eat it too.

My advice, take a look over the recipes above. Get an idea of which ingredients are in the winners and which ingredient combinations are in the losers, so next time you’re considering whipping up some low-cal dessert that the magazine raves about, you can have a better reference point. Life is far too short for shoddy tasting dessert.

Do you have a “skinny” recipe that the world needs to know about? Share it with us!


2 thoughts on “The Skinny Test Kitchen – Cupcake Edition

  1. Amy says:

    I’m sorry the chocolate cupcakes didn’t turn out for you! If they were too bitter, then there was probably too much cocoa powder in both the batter and the frosting. I’ve found that when I scoop it directly from the canister, I end up with 1.5 times as much as when I lightly spoon and level to measure (like with flour). That would probably be why they didn’t turn out. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful Easter!


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