This weekend my little munchkin turned 1 year old!! I know the first birthday is famous for giving babies cake with lots of icing to smash and smear all over themselves, but I just couldn’t do it. I have been trying very hard to only expose her to healthy foods, and I just couldn’t see any reason to give her sugar packed cake and icing at such a young age. Instead, I set out on a quest for a cupcake recipe that I could serve to my guests and also feel ok about giving to the munchkin. I came across several recipes for low sugar carrot cake made with some whole wheat flour, but what intrigued me most was a recipe for chocolate cupcakes that had a blend of all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat germ, plus a mixture of blueberries and spinach. Yes, you read that correctly – spinach in chocolate cupcakes!
The original recipe was from a cookbook by The Sneaky Chef, who, from what I can gather from her website and the blogs that reference her recipes, is all about hiding fruits and vegetable in foods that children already like. As a general rule I am not in favor of the idea that you need to hide healthy foods in less healthy ones to get children to like them, but that being said I couldn’t think of any downside to adding some extra vitamins and nutrients in something we’d eat anyway as long as it’s not a replacement for eating fruits and veggies in their more obvious forms. Plus, the carrot cake recipes seemed to really need icing, but with chocolate cake a dusting of powdered sugar was all that was needed!
It took me 2 tries to get these right – the first batch came out very dry, in part because they were overcooked (see my note about the toothpick test below) and in part because I think making dessert with wheat germ might be a LITTLE ambitious, at least for my palate! I eliminated the wheat germ from the second batch, made some modifications for simplicity, and increased the ratio of blueberries to spinach to add a little more natural sweetness.
In the end, I actually found them to be very tasty! They would be even better with icing, but I was happy to eat them as is with a cup of tea or milk. The munchkin wasn’t a huge fan, but then again this was her first experience with chocolate and she tends to be very skeptical of new foods. Which meant we didn’t quite get the smashed cake photo anyway, but if she’s going to be picky at least it applies to dessert, too!
Here is the final recipe:
Chocolate Cupcakes with Spinach & Blueberries
Adapted from RecipeZaar
1 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach
1 8 oz bag frozen blueberries (you can also use fresh if you prefer)
1/3 cup white flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour (or 1/3 whole wheat + 1/3 wheat germ)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (half a stick) butter
1/3 cup + 1/3 cup chocolate chips, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
powdered sugar (optional)
1. Make “Sneaky Chef Purple Puree” (spinach/blueberry mixture) by cooking the spinach and blueberries until soft. I microwaved them in a 1-quart pyrex measuring cup for 6-8 minutes, but you could also put them in a pan and gently cook (covered). Puree the cooked spinach and blueberries (do not drain!) until completely smooth – I used an immersion blender, but you could also transfer to a food processor or blender. This makes 2 cups, which is double the amount that you need for one recipe. I froze the other cup in a freezer bag to use another time. You could also use half the amounts of the spinach and blueberries, but for me it was easier to just use the entire package of each. You can make the puree in advance and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to make the cupcakes.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F and prep a 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or liners.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt). You don’t have to be exact about the flour ratio – I took a 1-cup measuring cup and filled more than half way with whole wheat flour and then the rest of the way with all-purpose. The original recipe calls for a third of the blend to be wheat germ if you’re looking for extra nutrients, but I think this compromises the texture.
4. In a large bowl, melt the butter and 1/3 cup chocolate chips together. I used a glass bowl in the microwave, but you could do this over barely simmering water on the stove.
5. Add the rest of the wet ingredients (1 cup spinach/blueberry puree, egg, vanilla, and sugar) to the butter/chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
7. Stir in remaining 1/3 cup chocolate chips. This is optional, but I think really adds richness and moisture to the finished product, especially if you’re not using icing.
8. Divide batter between 12 muffin cups. The batter is very thick, so I used a small ice cream scoop for this task.
9. Bake at 350°F for 23 to 25 minutes for the cupcakes – no longer. They will bounce back when finished, but the toothpick test does not really work – it will have crumbs on it even when the cupcakes are done, and the chocolate chips can make them look raw!
10. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar or add icing if you’d like.