Paleo Vanilla CupcakesMaking healthy shifts—especially when it comes to sweet treats that give you pleasure—is key to making healthy eating deliciously sustainable.

I know it was for me…

Take these delicious Paleo vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting, for example.  (By the way, this classic “yellow cake-chocolate frosting” combo was a winner with everyone who sampled them!)

Before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I had an enduring love affair with sugar and flour.  My weakness?  Muffins, scones, croissants, scones, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, bread, and…oh, I so loved homemade fruit pies with a rich buttery crust.

I’m a foodie, so the baked goods that I ate were either homemade (for example, I used to ritually bake my own oatmeal bread every Sunday), or during my weekends upstate, they came from an old-fashioned bakery where the owner produced his own baked goods on-site.

In the City, I was a regular at a bakery three blocks north of my apartment, where I indulged my 3:00pm craving for chocolate buttercream-frosted chocolate cupcakes, or, for a hefty wedge of old-fashioned three-layer chocolate cake bound with chocolate buttercream frosting.  That “slice” of cake, by the way, weighed nearly a pound (!!), but I ate it ALL in one sitting!  These treats always set everything right in my world again.

Until they didn’t.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). As my hypothyroidism progressed, my body began rebelling against the treats that I loved.  Within minutes of eating, say, a chocolate chip cookie, I would have crazy heart palpitations that left me wired, anxious and unsettled.  That cookie would also leave me so foggy and exhausted that I, literally, could not keep my eyes open!

After my hypothyroidism diagnosis, my functional medicine doctor advised me to stop eating gluten and wheat.  In many cases, there is also a relationship between hypothyroidism (or autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and candida, or yeast overgrowth.  Many factors, including a high sugar diet, alcohol, chronic stress and poor immune health, can feed candida overgrowth.  And, despite the fact that I was mindful of making “healthy”, “organic” and “high quality” food choices, I suspected that I had candida.

For these reasons, I decided to eliminate sugar for 30 days.  “No sugar” meant no gluten, no grains, no fruit and no dairy.  I won’t pretend…it wasn’t easy, initially.  After white-knuckling through a few tough days, however, my body adjusted.  And my mental fog lifted!

After my 30-day sugar detox, I decided to reintroduce a little forbidden sweetness back into my life by way of these Paleo vanilla cupcakes with a Fleur de Sel coconut-chocolate frosting. I wanted to see how my body would react to flour (albeit coconut) and sugar (maple syrup, a natural, nutrient dense sweetener).

For the frosting, I used unsweetened cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate chips. I favor 100% unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder, an intensely dark cocoa with a deep, bittersweet flavor.

Based in France, Valrhona makes a Dutch process cocoa powder, where cocoa beans are first treated with a potassium solution to neutralize their acidity, then dried and ground.  Compared to “natural” cocoa where cocoa beans are simply roasted before being ground into a powder, Valrhona is considered a more “processed” cocoa powder.  But since it is 100% unsweetened, and I love the depth of its bittersweet flavor, I’m not overly concerned about losing antioxidants in my cocoa.

And I use melted coconut oil for the chocolate frosting.
KM_Paleo vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting

So, how do these wheat-free, gluten-free Paleo cupcakes taste?

According to my husband, who ate five in one sitting(!):  “Not a strong vanilla taste.  But the cupcakes have an appealing yellow cake texture and flavor that complements the bittersweet Valrhona-coconut frosting.  The dark chocolate flavor resonates, especially with a tiny sprinkle of Celtic sea salt on top!”

If I do say so, myself….these cupcakes are delicious!  With six eggs and coconut oil, they also contain plenty of blood sugar-stabilizing healthy fat and protein.  A little sprinkle of mineral-rich Celtic sea salt (coarse-ground) on the chocolate frosting adds delicious contrast to the bittersweet of the chocolate and the gentle sweetness of the maple syrup.  But it’s up to you—you can add or omit the Celtic sea salt.

These cupcakes are a lovely and pleasurable occasional indulgence. I found that post-sugar detox, I felt completely full and satisfied eating three cupcakes (they’re small!). In fact, five hours passed before I felt the first twinges of hunger again.

Everyone is different.  Your ability to tolerate sugar will be different than mine.  For me, the cupcakes were just sweet enough, just indulgent enough to satisfy my physiological, emotional and psychological desire for sugar.

Turns out: I hadn’t missed sugar as much as I thought I had.  Often, we are more nostalgic for the memory of how a favorite food made us feel—whether comforted, happy, or “high”—than the reality of how that food may actually make us feel (in my case, brain-fogged, exhausted, yet wired).

Fast forward to NOW:  I no longer crave cupcakes—not even gluten-free, wheat-free ones!  If I did, however, I would bake up a batch and enjoy them 100%. Without apology.
What got me to this place was allowing myself to enjoy healthy versions of the treats I once loved.  I savored.  I enjoyed.  And, without trying, I found myself saying “good-bye” to cupcake cravings!
Paleo Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting & tea

Paleo Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup organic coconut flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 large eggs, ideally from organic or local cage-free, free-roaming hens
1/2 cup organic unrefined coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup organic maple syrup, labeled Grade A, Dark Color, Robust Taste
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract

For the frosting:
1/2 cup Valrhona 100% (unsweetened) cocoa powder
3/4 cup organic unrefined coconut oil
2-1/2 tablespoons organic maple syrup, labeled Grade A, Dark Color, Robust Taste
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract
Celtic sea salt, a pinch or two to sprinkle over each cupcake

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with parchment baking cups; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together coconut flour, sea salt and baking soda.

Melt the coconut oil over low heat (you do not want the oil to burn or smoke) and remove immediately; before pouring into eggs, make sure it is cool to touch.

In another bowl, use an electric mixer and beat together eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract, adding cooled coconut oil.

Add dry ingredients into the wet (egg mixture) and blend gently with mixer until batter is smooth, taking care not to over-mix.

Transfer batter to a 4-cup (64 ounce) glass Pyrex measuring cup and carefully pour into the parchment baking cups in the muffin tin.  (*If you don’t have a 64-oz measuring cup, scoop up apx. 1/4 cup batter and carefully add to the parchment baking cups in the muffin tin.)

Place on center rack and bake15-18 minutes.  To avoid overbaking (they’ll get tough!), check after 12 minutes for doneness and every 2-3 minutes after that.

Cool completely.  Top with frosting and sprinkle with Celtic sea salt.

To make the frosting:
Using an electric mixer, mix the cocoa and coconut oil (do NOT melt!) until well blended; add vanilla and maple syrup.  You may need to add a little more coconut oil until frosting is soft and spreadable.