Happy Birthday, Mary! Butternut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Awhile back I had a cupcake request from my friend Emilee (the same inspiration behind the banana oatmeal chip cookie variations, and supercalifragilistic supporter at Vineman, too).  She was frustrated by the beckoning allure of lard-topped creations to the under-5, and wary of boxed mixes. Baking for her two beautiful daughters, Mary and Laura, Emilee was on the lookout for healthier versions. At the same time, she wanted the be sure that they still looked like the decadently sugar versions her girls looked forward to.

Honestly, I’ve got to vouch for saving some space for cupcakes. Singularly satisfying, these mini baked goods can be at once refined and delicate, child-like and cheerful. Plus, not so suddenly, they’re totally back in style, with new publications and shops budding everyday devoted solely to assorted cup creations. Birthdays are definitely among those occasions when everyone deserves cupcakes from scratch, not necessarily overly lightened up. When it comes to kids’ birthdays, however, it’s pretty rare that birthday cake (or cupcake) is limited to the actual birth date. With strings of parties to host and attend,  it’s nice to know there are ways to “sneak” a little added nutrition into celebrations, while scaling back on sugar and fat.  This week, in honor of Emilee’s daughter Mary’s birthday coming up early in the new year, I decided to experiment with one of my winter favorites,  butternut squash, with the goal of making it rich in goodness, but more like a cupcake than a quick bread, less dense, and more fluffy.

I’ve already talked about the merits of pumpkin, easily my favorite gourd, and one of my all-time favorite foods, but butternut squash is right up there, too, and more versatile than it’s sometimes given credit for. Low in fat, high in fiber, butternut squash is transparently a stalwart source of power nutrient vitamin A, and also high in another super rich antioxidant, vitamin C, plus potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and more. Butternut definitely deserves a larger, more inclusive post, but this one’s purpose is a special 4-year old whose palate may or may not accept the experiment below, so more recipes will have to wait. : )

Yellow (butternut) cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose white flour (or two cups whole wheat pastry flour for more of an everyday healthy snack)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼   honey  (or omit brown sugar and use 3/4 cup honey only)
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1/4  cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup low fat plain yogurt
  • 1 cup skim or soy milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups roasted and pureed butternut squash

1) Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices into a bowl.

2) In another bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs and egg white. Blend in squash puree, yogurt, milk, and vanilla.

3) Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in squash mixture. Stir well to combine.

4) Spoon batter into well-greased and floured or paper-lined muffin pan cups, and fill about 2/3 full. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool completely before frosting.

Greek Yogurt frosting: 1 c Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ cup powdered sugar. Whisk until thick, refrigerate 30 minutes. Spread.

Cream cheese icing:

  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and vanilla together until the mixture is smooth. Using a spoon or spatula, spread the icing on top of the cooled cupcakes.

*Variation: My Mom likes to use cream cheese and honey for frosting, thickening it up a little powdered milk, going by feel and gauging the consistency as you go. You can also try cream cheese and honey only, using 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, about 1/3 cup honey, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Beat all three together until fluffy and chill before spreading.


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