Baking better cupcakes

Felicia shares how to bake guilt-free cupcakes.



Heykoop makes her own version of designer cupcakes. | Photo courtesy: Bethany Cissel

Felicia Heykoop, Writer

Heykoop makes her own version of designer cupcakes. | Photo courtesy: Bethany Cissel

One of those absolutely inexplicable trends occurring in food culture today is the designer cupcake. I’ve sampled a few, and I admit I love Sprinkles’ red velvet cupcake, but after finding out my preferred serving size of half a cupcake still has 13 grams of fat, I can no longer bring myself to eat them. My ultimate complaint is that the ratio of frosting to cake is excessive, and the amount of sugar leaves me feeling sick. These cupcakes cost way too much to be providing me with calories as empty as Death Valley.

I believe that people looking for a beautiful, delicious individual-sized cake deserve sustenance — and not the kind that gives you a sugar cramp. My cupcakes have a tempered sweetness and minimal amount of frosting and toppings, the perfect balance of wanting more but not regretting what you already ate. Thus, following my mantra: eat well and joyfully.

I don’t think any of my creations have gone as fast in my house of calorie-conscious women as these cupcakes did. The cake has the lovely tangy-sweet flavor of plain yogurt, the frosting has zing and the pistachios add an occasional salty crunch. My favorite part, however, is the practically flawless texture these cakes have. Dense, moist and slightly sticky, they don’t fall apart easily and cut like actual cake. I owe the genius of this recipe to nothing less than sheer science and luck.

The Recipe


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine milk, oil and vanilla extract in a small bowl.
  3. In another medium bowl, beat the yogurt and sugar. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, until just blended. This is common in cake recipes, assuring batter that is not over-mixed while also avoiding clumps.
  4. Disperse the batter among the lined muffin cups. I like to put the batter in a large Zip-loc bag and snip a corner so I can control the mess. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Remove cakes from pan to cool on a wire rack immediately.


  1. With two forks placed back to back in your hand, or with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy.
  2. If you have a zester, zest two lemons onto a plate. Cut the lemons in half, then score each half with a plus mark and squeeze into a bowl. Mix ¼ cup of the lemon juice in with the butter and sugar until smooth then add the zested rind. Mix until the zest is well dispersed.
  3. Shell and coarsely chop the pistachios. Spread the frosting in a manageable layer (note: you probably won’t need all of it) on the cakes once they are completely cooled and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

A note about coconut oil: without the plain yogurt, the cupcakes would take on the coconut flavor — but that is not desired for these cakes. The coconut oil contributes to the beautiful texture. Don’t get scared off by the nutrition label. Coconut oil is good for hair and skin and has been shown to help increase metabolism when eaten. To mix easily, microwave for 30 seconds, or until the oil liquefies, and pour into measuring cup instead of scooping it out. If you run out of recipes to insert the stuff, start using it as lotion for your skin and leave-in conditioner. California winters can be harsh on the skin, so give yourself a little love post-cupcakes.

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