Vegan Cupcakes That Can Fool April

I'll make this snappy because I don't want to keep you from what I predict will be a life-changing experience.

Vegan chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes. (Kim O'Donnel)

What if I told you it was possible to bake the most outrageous chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes cloaked in a chocolate ganache frosting -- but without a drop of dairy, a smidge of eggs or a spoonful of sugar. That means that the most outrageous chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes in the world are also: a) cholesterol-free and b) diabetic friendly (the sweetener on duty is the low-glycemic agave nectar).

If you're feeling a disconnect, I feel you. It is bizarre that rich, chocolate and tender crumb can be uttered in the same sentence as virtuous -- and vegan-undetectable. In fact, I daresay that these cupcakes would make the ultimate April Fool's Day (next Tuesday, April 1) treat -- you literally could fool the pants off all your pals and watch their mouths drop when you reveal the secret.

The mistress behind this cupcake wizardry is Ania Catalano, author of the new "Baking With Agave Nectar," a creative collection of agave-centric recipes, many of which are vegan, gluten-free or both. (Her banana bread is also a winner.)

With any work of perfection, there's always a caveat; in this case, it's the long list of ingredients that include silken tofu, soy milk, agave nectar, cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate and peanut butter. The recipe, however, is straightforward and reliable; I recommend making the peanut butter filling the night before so it's one less thing to worry about on batter day.

And now I leave you, so you can go see for yourselves that a cupcake can both super-fabulous and virtuous. It's the most delicious prank you'll ever play -- and they'll love you for it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse-filled Cupcakes
From "Baking With Agave Nectar" by Ania Catalano

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (Catalano also suggests sprouted spelt flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups agave nectar
1 cup soy milk
1/2 cup firm silken tofu
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

12 ounces lite firm silken tofu
1/2 cup light agave nectar
1 cup unsweetened creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Make filling first: Blend tofu in a food processor until very smooth and creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add agave nectar and blend again. Add peanut butter, vanilla and salt and blend thoroughly until very light and smooth. Refrigerate for at least one hour to firm up before filling cupcakes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with 18 paper liners. Fill any empty cups halfway with water to prevent scorching.

To make cupcakes, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder in a large bowl. In a food processor, blend canola oil, agave nectar, soy milk, tofu, vanilla and vinegar, scraping down the bowl often.

Blend until very smooth, with no chunks of tofu visible, about 2-3 minutes. Combine wet ingredients with dry. Stir well and spoon into prepared pans, leaving some room at top of each cup.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cupcake comes out clean. (In my oven, they took about 25 minutes.) Remove cupcakes from pan and place on cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To assemble cupcakes, you will need a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain smooth tip (you can make your own pastry bag with a Zip loc bag but will still need a tip, available at cookware stores.). Fill bag with peanut butter mousse and insert tip halfway into top of each cupcake. Squeeze filling inside each cupcake until it starts to expand.

Make the frosting:
Vegan Chocolate Ganache Frosting


8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup light agave nectar
3/4 cup nondairy creamer (soy creamer is preferable to CoffeeMate which contains corn syrup solids)
1 tablespoon nonhydrogenated butter substitute (such as Earth Balance)
1 tablespoon vanilla


Combine chocolate, agave nectar and creamer in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in butter substitute and vanilla. To spread easily, ganache should be slightly warm, and the consistency of hot fudge.

Spread ganache evenly over tops of cupcakes. (If frosting is too firm, heat in microwave for a few seconds to soften up.)

Store cupcakes in refrigerator until ready to serve.

(KOD note: You can half this recipe and have plenty of frosting for all cupcakes. Make a full batch only if you think you've got other baking projects in the wings.)

Makes 18 cupcakes.
Garnish: chopped peanuts.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 27, 2008; 11:44 AM ET Baking , Chocolate , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Hi Kim! These cupcakes sound amazing, and a good use for the big bag 'o whole wheat flour I accidentally bought the other day. One question--what differentiates silken tofu? My boyfriend is veggie so I do a lot of tricks with tofu, but I've never used the silken kind before. Where does one buy it? Thanks!

Posted by: Sara | March 28, 2008 6:59 AM

thanks to you for delivering a much needed alternative!! Can I order some?

Posted by: amc | March 28, 2008 7:00 AM

If I may, silken tofu is available at Whole Foods in the dairy case, it's called that because it is of a smoother texture-it has a pudding or custard like consistency, and contains more moisture than traditional tofu, although it comes in firm or soft varieties. I must say, those cupcakes look very enticing to the eye, but the test is in the taste-and what about the agave nectar? Is that available at WF as well?

Posted by: spring rain | March 28, 2008 7:13 AM

Thanks spring rain! Silken tofu is also sold in aseptic packages in nonrefrigerated aisles. Because it's sold in 12-ounce blocks, it's easy to use for this recipe (you need that much for the filling). It's so handy because it purees easily and has a "silken" texture which makes it great for baking.
and yes, the test of course is in the taste -- and I must say, my merry band of tasters and I were duly impressed.
The agave nectar you can find at WF; I've seen it at Trader Joe's, too. In this area, you can find it at places like My Organic Market (MOMs) and Roots.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 28, 2008 7:26 AM

These are going to be very expensive to make.

Posted by: Fran | March 28, 2008 7:34 AM

Come again? How do you arrive at that conclusion, Fran? Other than the agave nectar and silken tofu, I have all the rest of the ingredients in my kitchen-I don't know about the agave, but silken tofu is not expensive.

Thanks Kim, I may have to try my hand at these, since my curiosity has been piqued about the taste!

Posted by: spring rain | March 28, 2008 7:53 AM

Kim, Would you be able to post the dietary composition of these, please? (E.G. calories/fat/sugar content) - as a diabetic, I am super excited about this!

Posted by: caca | March 28, 2008 8:01 AM

The agave is expensive -- about six bucks for a 24 ounce bottle, and you'll use all of it for this recipe. As I mentioned, the frosting amounts can be halved, so you'll have some leftover. For the baker who has none of these ingredients on hand, I suppose it will be a pricey experiment, but I think it's worth trying just once. I had never worked with soy creamer before and couldn't get over how smooth the frosting was, even after it cooled. Didn't get grainy at all.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 28, 2008 8:01 AM

Caca, was talking to someone about this very idea yesterday. I don't have specifics on the nutritional value or calorie count -- as I don't have that kind of software at my disposal. If anyone does, I'd be grateful to get these numbers run.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 28, 2008 8:03 AM

Kim, does this chef have a shop in nyc we I can buy them, don't have time to bake

Posted by: Karen | March 28, 2008 8:04 AM

Any filling alternatives for those of us allergic to peanuts?

Posted by: allergic | March 28, 2008 8:07 AM

How would substituting whole wheat flour for the whole wheat pastry flour affect the recipe?

Posted by: Rose | March 28, 2008 8:55 AM

Looks like agave nectar is sold on amazon. Their nutitional label says 60 cal per TBSP & 16 g carbs. White sugar was 46 cal per TBSP and 12 g carbs. Several websites say to sub 3/4 c agave for 1 c white sugar (plus reduce liquids) so there is some calorie benefit.

Posted by: FLBaker | March 28, 2008 9:02 AM

These cupcakes sound amazing. I just purchased a vegan cupcake book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and made the Tiramisu recipe. They were delicious! I am excited to see vegan recipes in The Post. Keep it up! And for good vegan baking, visit the Sticky Fingers Bakery near Columbia Heights in DC.

Posted by: kristaJ | March 28, 2008 9:30 AM

Diabetics need to be aware that agave "nectar" or syrup is still sugar. In fact all the information I was able to find about it being "diabetic-friendly" seems to come from the manufacturers and distributors of the product. I haven't been able to find any mention of the product at all on any websites devoted to diabetes as a disease (e.g., if this is such a great product, you would think diabetics would be all over it. Can you provide any websites with information from a diabetes-specific or medical point of view, rather than one simply promoting the product?

Posted by: John B. | March 28, 2008 9:32 AM

Can rice or other flour be substitued for the whole wheat flour to make these gluten-free as well?

Posted by: Susan | March 28, 2008 9:43 AM

John B., the reason it's considered diabetes-friendly is that it has a low glycemic index. Wikipedia gives this source:

Thanks for posting this, Kim. I use agave a lot to make smoothies, but I've never baked with it. I will have to check out that cookbook.

Posted by: julia | March 28, 2008 9:57 AM

MOM's has a product called birch sugar made from birch trees. it is in the aisle with vitamins in the Alexandria MOMs. It is incredibly low on the glycemic index and can be used 1:1 for regular sugar. It tastes great, too. You might check it out, Kim.

Posted by: sugar alternative | March 28, 2008 10:15 AM

For John B. (and others) from "The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle": "Use only low-glycemic sweeteners wherever possible . . . . Good low-glycemic sweeteners include 100% pure floral honey . . . , pure fructose, barley malt syrup, and agave nectar [which is] a low-glycemic sweetener that has 16 g of carbohydrate per teaspoon and about the same number of calories per teaspoon as sugar, but it's much better for you if you have diabetes, because it is very high in natural fructose" (p. 56)

Posted by: Judy | March 28, 2008 10:30 AM

Just go to Sticky Fingers! Their vegan cupcakes are really good (I say this as a meat-eater), and you don't have to buy a bunch of expensive mystery ingredients.

Posted by: Enid | March 28, 2008 10:45 AM

Kim, as a diabetic vegan I think you've just about convinced me to buy this cookbook. I haven't used agave nectar before because I'm a little skeptical about how useful the glycemic index is for type 1 diabetes, and it's so expensive. But I think it's time for an experiment.

And John B., I can vouch for that Mendosa site. Despite the bad design, he does a great job explaining things and always provides reliable sources. And I think is one of the poorest Web sites for anything other than a very basic overview of diabetes.

Posted by: mollyjade | March 28, 2008 10:53 AM

Thanks, Kim! I didn't know about this cookbook before. I have all this stuff already (what self-respecting vegan wouldn't?) and think I have some cupcakes in my future....

By the way, there is a nice subtly-flavored agave nectar cupcake recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Leftover agave is nice on English muffins and mixed into hot tea, etc.

Also, to the earlier poster, there will be a difference if you use plain WW flour rather than WW PASTRY, which will give it a more tender cake-like crumb.

Posted by: Vienna, VA | March 28, 2008 10:54 AM

At you can enter any food or recipe and get complete nutritional data information and charts, even a label just like foods have in stores.

Posted by: dB | March 28, 2008 11:10 AM

John B, you're right -- there's no American Diabetic Association approval anywhere but I would also agree with mollyjade that its Web site is like going into a black hole. We do know that agave nectar has a low GI -- between 19 and 39 -- and that is lower than honey, maple syrup and table sugar. In Australia, an organization called the Glycemic Index Symbol Program, which is paired up with University of Sydney, Diabetes Australia and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, has developed a labeling program for supermarket items that are low on the GI scale -- under 55. A brand of agave nectar, Sweet Cactus Farms, has received such a label. I do not propose that diabetics abandon all previously held notions and go crazy in agave, but to consider it in consultation with your doc or nutritionist. After all, it's made without chemicals -- something we can't say about aspartame or sucralose.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 28, 2008 11:17 AM

Sounds amazing -- one question: is the non-dairy creamer supposed to be powdered or liquid? thanks!

Posted by: lizd | March 28, 2008 11:18 AM

I can't eat apples/apple products. Any suggestions for an apple cider vinegar substitute? Thanks.

Posted by: Jamie | March 28, 2008 11:29 AM

Jamie: rice vinegar.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 28, 2008 11:31 AM

Kim, you should mention the high price of agave nectar--when I saw the amounts I almost fell over. These cupcakes might as well be bakery-bought for what they'll end up costing. Can you substitute sugar? (BTW, I did find light agave for only $3 a bottle at Ocean State Job Lot for those of you in the CT-RI area, but you'd still need two bottles for this recipe.)

Posted by: Lisa | March 28, 2008 11:32 AM

Lisa, look for the birch sugar mentioned above. Much cheaper and just like sugar.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 28, 2008 11:36 AM

Posted by: Anonymous | March 28, 2008 11:38 AM

You have to try the chocolate cake recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (Compassionate No mystery ingredients. Contains sugar and white vinegar of all things. I made cupcakes and they reminded me of Tastykakes. Absolutely delicious. I wrote about her and her book on The HSUS Web site here

Posted by: Karen | March 28, 2008 12:16 PM

couldn't you substitute soy nut butter for the pb? I do this all the time because allergic to the peanuts myself, and it fools even my pb loving husband.

Posted by: VA | March 28, 2008 1:01 PM

Kim - remember that the flour is a complex carb which translates to...sugar! So while it's certainly going to be more diabetic-friendly and than say, bagels with high sugar fruit jam, a reminder to the readers that diabetics still need to watch everything with the carbs

Posted by: NCC | March 28, 2008 1:51 PM

My mouth is watering and I can't wait to try this recipe...I would highlight that using pastry flour as opposed to just plain whole wheat flour is important to achieve a tender result.

Also, for those with peanut issues, almond or cashew butter could be substituted.

And for those like me who need an immediate fix, have a funny bone!

The book is on my mental check-it-out list for sure -- thanks!

Posted by: Shanni O'Brien | March 28, 2008 2:12 PM

Agave nectar isn't as hard to find as you might think, though it is pricey. At least some of the grocery chains around here are starting to sell it. I picked up a bottle at a Harris Teeter in Arlington recently - I think it was about $4.

Posted by: Jenny | March 28, 2008 3:30 PM

I firmly don't believe in eating ANYTHING that has ever been alive, including plants. Do you have any recipes where I can substitute dirt and sand?

Posted by: Plants Feel Pain Too | March 28, 2008 4:45 PM

It's misleading and possibly unsafe to suggest that agave nectar is "diabetic friendly" because it has a low glycemic index. Agave nectar is basically straight fructose syrup. It doesn't raise blood *glucose* levels much, but it still raises blood fructose levels dramatically -- which isn't good for you.

Posted by: MdM.D. | March 28, 2008 5:20 PM

helpful reference debunking the hype about agave nectar:,1,7478086.story

Posted by: MdM.D. | March 28, 2008 5:25 PM

Kim, these sound wonderful but I know they'd be expensive for me 'cause I'd have to buy every thing, including some tools. Maybe someone could sell them at a farmer's market?

I did go out today and buy a Cuisinart hand held blender so I could make the broccoli soup from yesterday's blog. It's simmering as I type. Add the blender and leaks to the growing list of things you're adding to my very small kitchen.

Posted by: GAFF | March 28, 2008 6:20 PM

lizd- I'm pretty sure the non-dairy creamer should be liquid. It looks like it's doing what milk/cream would do in a non-vegan frosting recipe. I'd use something like Silk soy creamer, which I know they stock in the refrigerated section at Giant.

Posted by: sasha | March 28, 2008 6:27 PM

OK. I've just had one of these beauties and from the amount of pleasure that I got out of it, I would happily pay $6 to those scoundrel Agave Nectar farmers!! Plus- this recipe is for 18 cupcakes, that's what? 30c. worth per cake. Stop complaining, people.

Q. for Plants Feel Pain Too: can you make sand and dirt nutritious?

Posted by: tpee | March 28, 2008 6:42 PM

Susan - I'm not sure but usually gluten free flours do not do well in vegan baking as the gluten is needed to replace the eggs in most recipes. You might have luck with some of the flour mixes though I'm not sure which ones. If you're up for some searching I would recommend the blog below for some ideas -

Posted by: Curious | March 28, 2008 11:03 PM

Nutritional info from adding calories of ingredients per cupcake:
Without filling or frosting:

With filling without frosting:

With filling and frosting:

Posted by: Cinci | March 28, 2008 11:47 PM

My mouth is watering...I just emailed my Mom this article / recipe asking her to April Fool Me!

Posted by: Quentin | March 29, 2008 8:04 AM

Cinci, did you get these results by entering ingredients into a nutritional database? Which one did you use?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 29, 2008 9:27 AM

Thanks for the nutritional info, but what's the carb count per unfilled, filled, etc?

Posted by: Bill | March 29, 2008 11:31 AM

Kim -

Also, remember - some diabetics have different reactions to different foods, GL or no.

I for one, am lucky - lactose doesn't seem to impact me much one way or the other. So the occasional reasonable portion of ice cream with a little bit of something mixed in for flavor barely registers with my sugar. Or one of lower-fat recipes for refrigerator cakes that use low-fat or fat-free whipped cream as a base. Not great calorie wise, mind you, they just don't impact my sugars too badly if I'm having a craving.

Anything with chocolate, though? Including the cocoa powder cupcakes with the chocolate ganache? I'd just have to smell them for my sugars to go up.

Now, if you could find me a diabetic friendly glass of unsweetened cranberry juice, I'd be more excited than chocolate/peanut butter cupcakes...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 29, 2008 4:15 PM

What high altitude adjustments would I need for this recipe? I'm above 8000ft.

Posted by: Joe R | March 30, 2008 10:23 AM

MdMD, the effects of fructose on A1c is one of the reasons I'm skeptical about the glycemic index, but I wouldn't say a features article from the Chicago Tribune is a reliable source for this.

And Chasmosaur, it's likely the high fat content of the icecream is delaying your reaction to the lactose rather than your body coping better with lactose than other sugars. Though I absolutely agree that every diabetic reacts differently to different foods.

Posted by: mollyjade | March 31, 2008 11:07 AM

I made the recipe without the filling, which seemed like a lot of work and instead of agave, I substituted 1 cup of unprocessed/raw sugar and I made a very simple peanut butter icing with confectioners sugar, peanut butter, and earth balance soy margarine. They were divine. My fiance, who is not vegan, gobbled all of them up.

Posted by: Lisa | March 31, 2008 12:35 PM

I firmly don't believe in eating ANYTHING that has ever been alive, including plants. Do you have any recipes where I can substitute dirt and sand?

Posted by: Plants Feel Pain Too | March 28, 2008 04:45 PM

* * * * * *

Thanks for that! I was ready to pull my hair out reading all the comments from people complaining about cost and asking to substitute every single ingredient. If it's too expensive or difficult, make something else. Be grateful that Kim finds all these great recipes and resources for her readers. Although she puts a lot of time and effort into this blog, she can't individually babysit every one of us!

Posted by: babysitter | March 31, 2008 6:08 PM

A simpler game plan for a delicious-sounding recipe if you find (as I do) the thought of individual pastry-tube-injection dispiriting:

Bake the recipe as a cake, spread peanut butter mousse between two layers & top with ganache. Cut into slices & voila!

Posted by: monticello | April 1, 2008 9:32 PM

mollyjade -

Went down that road with my dietitian. fat uptake aside, it really doesn't seem to impact me as much as other "ose's". Not to say my sugars don't go up, but not as much as expected.

Then again, it's not like I'm a milk-junkie, so it's not a huge part of my diet anyway....

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 2, 2008 7:11 PM

based on and the labels from some agave nector and agave nector light bottles, I'm calculating 368 cal/serving and 16.5 g fat per serving. it is possible I did a conversion wrong, but that is a lot of calories for a "healthy" cupcake.

Posted by: arlingtonwoman | April 3, 2008 11:48 AM

Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds) could also be a peanut butter substitute. Thanks for the kids are allergic to dairy and eggs...peanuts as well, thats how I know about the sunbutter. It has a better consistency than soy pb...

Posted by: Kevin | April 6, 2008 11:36 PM


I've used agave to make cheesecake for my diabetic father... okay cheesecake was not the best choice but the agave worked great! At least it cut down on some of the carbs.

Posted by: Monique | April 22, 2008 7:22 AM

It is a huge amount of calories for a "healthY" cupcake. I would not consider these to be healthy, they are just vegan. Vegan does NOT mean healthy in any way shape or form, after all, hydrogenated vegetable shortening is a common vegan substitute for butter in baking, and it definitely isn't good for you. And sugar and corn syrup and all sweeteners are vegan-which doesn't mean that they are healthy.

Plants feel pain too: I definitely agree that if you have to substitute a lot of ingredients you should just make a different vegan cupcake (there are a lot of vegan cupcake recipes out there), but at the same time, your comment reminded me of the fact that people in Haiti are eating cakes made out of clay and oil because of the food shortages. And no, they aren't very nutritious, but that is all they have right now.

Posted by: Lyra | April 23, 2008 2:48 PM

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