Adventures in Vegan Baking Part 2: Vegan and Halloween Inspired Pumpkin Coconut Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes Topped with Coconut Flakes and Peep Ghosts

Pumpkin Cupcakes Topped with Coconut Flakes and Peep Ghosts

When I first ventured into vegan baking earlier this year, it was completely by chance. I attended book signing at a local bookstore for the new cookbook Babycakes by famed vegan bakery owner, Erin McKenna. The event originally caught my attention because it was related to 2 of my passions, baking and cupcakes.

Babycakes NYC

Babycakes NYC

As I learned more about the cookbook and Erin’s bakery, I realized just how extraordinary they both were. Erin gave to many people, young and old alike, something that they could not have experienced before. A cupcake. Having grown up with food allergies, many kids like Erin were not able to eat products containing gluten. After many attempts in her New York apartment, Erin created a delicious version of a gluten free and vegan cupcake. And not only has she shared her cupcakes with the world from her unique New York bakery, she also recently released her first cookbook.

The exciting thing about gluten-free and vegan baking, is that it can also carry added health benefits for the rest of us without food allergies as well. I myself am fortunate to not have any food allergies, that I know of anyway. But I was completely intrigued and inspired by the idea of creating a healthier version of a cupcake. Not just to satisfy my own sweet tooth, but in case I ever needed to whip up a gluten-free or vegan treat for family or guests.

Never having been exposed to the world of vegan baking before I carried what I later realized was an unfair assumption about the stuff. That it doesn’t taste as good. Wow, was I wrong. Vegan baked goods can sometimes taste even better then the buttery, non-vegan versions. Especially if you enjoy coconut flavors, since coconut oil is an excellent ingredient for vegan baking both for its flavor and healthy fats.

Healthy Ingredients

Healthy Ingredients

What I did not realize about vegan baking, again never having been exposed to it before, was that it is a much more delicate art than the regular baking I had done in the past. The ingredients can be hard to find, and sometimes ridiculously expensive. The recipes can be frustrating to follow and leave you wondering if you are baking or trying to study the science and chemical equations of the process. But once you come to terms with all those things, the challenges of vegan baking are heavily outweighed by the benefits.

Erin’s book was my original inspiration and it has given me the confidence to strike out on my own and start varying some of my favorite recipes to make them more healthy. Since I am fortunate to lead a life without any allergies, I can still incorporate the occasional dairy into my recipes, but I have been able to cut out fats and/or replace them with healthier ones thanks to my new vegan education. I never knew baked goods without butter and eggs could taste so good, and be a healthier treat.

Decorating with Peeps and Candy Corn, easy and cute!

Decorating with Peeps and Candy Corn, easy and cute!

Click “more” to see the recipe and Vegan baking tips

Vegan Pumpkin Cupcakes

Recipe by Allison Baloglu

Makes approx. 12 cupcakes


  • 1/8 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp potato starch
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 cup all-purpose pastry flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¾ cup evaporated cane juice
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup light coconut milk (can also use soy or rice milk)
  • 1 cup canned, unsweetened pumpkin puree


Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt and set aside. In large bowl whisk together the applesauce and coconut oil. Add the evaporated cane juice and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the potato starch, arrowroot and xanthan gum and whisk together until completely combined. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Begin adding the flour mixture and the coconut milk to the applesauce mixture, alternating until all are combined. Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, fill the cupcake liners ½ to ¾ full with the batter. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the cupcake tray from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Coconut Frosting


  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature (or vegan margarine)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream (omit for vegan recipe and replace with coconut milk and reduce sugar as needed)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp coconut extract
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar


ghostcupcake_250In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sour cream on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and coconut extracts and mix until combined. Slowly, on low speed, add the sugar about ½ cup at a time. After all the sugar has been added, turn the speed up to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to frost. Allow the frosting to stand for a few minutes after removing it from the refrigerator until it is a desirable spreading consistency.

Note: when making the vegan version of this recipe, you may need to adjust the milk and sugar quantities until your frosting has the desired smooth consistency for spreading. It’s texture may vary depending the type of milk and margarine used.

Hint: to decorate your cupcakes with a Halloween flare, top them with sweetened coconut flakes and seasonally inspired Peeps. To die the coconut flakes orange, simply mix a 3 to 1 ratio of yellow to red food die in a small bowl and add the coconut and stir until the flakes are combined.

A Few Tips for Vegan Baking

Here are just a few tips that we have learned along the way when creating vegan baked goods. This is not intended to be an all encompassing list, but rather a short collection of frequently encountered questions when attempting vegan baking. Good luck!

Healthy Ingredients

Healthy Ingredients

Where to Find Ingredients:

  • Whole Foods (They often carry the dry powdered soy milk, which can be hard to find)
  • Local food co-operatives
  • Health food stores
  • Bob’s Red Mill brand carries a multitude of vegan baking needs including carious types of flours such as gluten-free flour, garbanzo and fava bean flour, xanthan gum and aluminum free baking soda. These products are often found everywhere from their website at http://www.bobsredmill.com, your local grocery store chain to health food markets. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing which products the stores by you will have in stock until you make the trip there or call ahead.
  • Online at sites such as Amazon.com

Milk Types: Most milk types can be substituted in equal measure for each other but they often have varying flavors and textures, so your baked good may vary accordingly. (Remember we didn’t say this was easy the first time at it, but the results are worth it!)

  • Coconut Milk, a sweeter and thicker option
  • Soy milk, unsweetened or vanilla
  • Rice milk

Coconut Oil

  • Coconut Oil is sold in many health food stores and is often found in solid form in a glass jar. The texture of the oil before it is melted is similar to shortening.
  • Measurements called for in recipes are often measured when the oil is melted, that is a liquid measure.
  • When coconut oil is cooled in the fridge, it will turn solid again. When left at room temperature, it will turn to liquid.
  • Coconut oil is a healthy fat and good alternative to other fats when cooking or baking. t is often used by athletes because it promotes healthy thyroid and metabolic function and is used as storage for quick energy sources.
  • Coconut is technically a tree nut, so therefore recipes containing coconut cannot be considered nut free.
  • Coconut Oil is available in refined and unrefined, Erin uses the unrefined version. And some of the recent studies showing the health benefits of coconut oil site the unrefined version.
  • It is more expensive than some other oil alternatives, but it is worth the cost, both for its health benefits and its taste. I tried making the cupcakes with grapeseed oil for example, and the taste was not the same.

Egg Substitutes

  • Eggs can be substituted in baking recipes with a variety of ingredients, but you will need to add a binding agent to the recipe such as Xanthan Gum as well.
  • 1 egg= 2 tbsp potato starch
  • 1 egg= 2 tbsp arrowroot powder

Butter Substitutes

  • Butter can be substituted in recipes with various types of shortening, vegan margarine or applesauce; however, you may need to adjust the liquids in your recipe accordingly.
  • Use ½ to 2/3 cup applesauce for a 1cup of butter measurement in a baking recipe. You can try substituting applesauce in equal measure, but the end result may be either to your liking or too moist.
  • When using applesauce or fruit purees as butter substitutes, you may need to also adjust the additional fats in your recipe. The fat content in baking recipes is necessary, it is difficult to cut it out completely. So even though you may substitute applesauce for butter, you may need to also use a healthy fat such as coconut oil in your recipe.

Sugar Substitutes

  • Evaporated cane juice can be a healthy alternative to refined white sugar. While both come from sugar cane, evaporated cane juice is not subjected to the same processing that refined sugar is. Therefore, unlike refined sugar, it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane. It can be substituted in equal measure.
  • Agave nectar is much sweeter than sugar, meaning you can use less in your recipe to achieve the same sweetness (about ¾ cup agave nectar to 1 cup of sugar). It is more syrup like in texture however, so you may not be able to use it as a substitute for every recipe depending on your desired texture for the baked product. You may also need to reduce the liquid in your recipe by ¼ cup when using agave nectar instead of sugar.

As written for Your Smart Kitchen

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