Food

Crazed for Cupcakes

Safe ways to indulge in these baked party favourites

 

The trick to enjoying cupcakes is knowing what you're eating, and, more importantly, not fooling yourself (as is so very tempting to do). We've done some of the work for you, weeding through recipes and bakeries, in order to find out how you can have your cupcake and eat it too.

Think back to the glory days of kindergarten, when a rough day included building a castle out of blocks and every week was somebody's birthday—complete with a smiling mom who appeared at the door with a tray of fresh-baked cupcakes for the entire class. The fluffy, buttery icing. The spongy, soft cake. The rainbow sprinkles. Perfection in a pleated paper cup.

Cupcakes have been a kid's best friend since the late 18th century, when the treat was named both for the amount of ingredients used to make it (a cupful of flour, a cup of butter, a cup of sugar) and for the teacups they were baked in. Not surprisingly, sweet-toothes have recently rediscovered cupcakes—and gussied them up to very adult standards. Cupcakes have become a veritable craze. "Not just in Canada," says Lori Kliman, owner of the celebrated Cupcakes store in Vancouver (cupcakesonline.com). "All over the world." Kliman claims the trend makes perfect sense. "You can't walk down the street with a piece of cake," she says. "Plus, cupcakes make it easier to control your portions."

As we all know, portion control is key in establishing a healthy weight-loss plan. So it should be a snap to enjoy a cupcake every now and then, right? The "average" cupcake has 250 calories, with frosting. The problem is ... what's average? An angel food cupcake is about 70 calories without frosting. A chocolate cupcake has about 300 calories. But what if the frosting is butter cream instead of cream? Or what if your cupcake is double-sized. You can be looking at up to 700 calories for a tiny, afternoon treat.

The trick here is knowing what you're eating, and, more importantly, not fooling yourself (as is so very tempting to do). We've done some of the work for you, weeding through recipes and bakeries, in order to find out how you can have your cupcake and eat it too:

Know Your Dough
One way to know what kind of cupcake you're eating is to read the back of the package. If you're choosing between a bakery cupcake that's the size of your head and a pre-packaged cupcake, the pre-packaged item might be a better choice, simply because you can verify what's in it. Hostess Cupcakes (the standard chocolate number with a cream centre) come in at 180 calories a piece, with only 50 of those calories from fat. Another idea? Ask the baker for a breakdown of ingredients.

Mini-size me
One of the newest fads in the cupcake craze are mini cupcakes, which let you get a taste of the sweet without going overboard. Upscale bakeries like Kliman's Cupcakes offer them. Or you can make your own.

Cut the butter cream
Surprisingly, a majority of the calories comes from frosting, which can disguise no-no ingredients like sour cream, cream cheese, and our old favourites butter (in fancy cupcakes) and lard (in mass-produced cupcakes). The cake itself can be low fat and low cal—and surprisingly yummy when you add the right spices and dried fruits to sweeten the mix. 

Dare to Decorate
Why not take that extra two minutes to dust confectioner's sugar on top of a frosting-free cupcake? (Use star-shaped cookie cutters as a stencil design.) Or brush the cupcake a tiny bit of egg white, and then sprinkle it with a few red hot candies or old-fashioned coloured sugar? Another trick is to decorate your cake with one spoonful of non-fat whipped topping, then drizzle with fresh blueberries or raspberries. The more you make a treat look like a treat, the more you make it feel like a treat. Plus, if you have kids, you can decorate together, putting your kids on the path to same healthy lifestyle you're on yourself.

Here are some ideas below to get you started in a delicious way!