15 October 2008

Cookbook Review: Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Mani Niall's Sweet & Natural Baking, so when his publisher contacted me about reviewing his new book, Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener (Paperback), I was happy to do it.

The just-out-of-the-oven cupcakes seen above are from Sweet! They are the "Lemon Cupcakes" without the "Mascarpone Cream and Raspberries." I selected the recipe because it's the one shown on the cover, and it's one of the handful of recipes that use agave nectar as the sweetener. While most of the recipes tend to use derivatives of cane sugar, there are some wonderful-sounding recipes for agave nectar. I can't wait to try the rest. It's a very well-written book, and as you can see below, filled with well-tested recipes, flexible enough to stand some serious tinkering. I highly recommend it. It's a great buy on Amazon right now for less than $13!

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

I did eventually frost my lemon cupcakes, but I used neufchatel cheese instead of mascarpone, which was five times as expensive. Also prohibitively expensive were raspberries. I'm sure they would have been delightful, but the budget's a bit tight these days, so I just did without. While everyone was pleased with the flavors, I wished the frosting didn't "melt" as much as it did. I was aiming for the look on the cover of Sweet! Oh well. Next time, I'll use a touch less lemon juice and agave. That should do it.

The cupcakes themselves were fantastic the day I made them. Buttery, with just the right amount of lemon, I had a hard time telling I'd used whole wheat flour instead of the all-purpose called for in the original recipe. They degraded just slightly (only I'd notice) when I served them the next day, making the whole grain a bit more noticeable.

Another key substitution was the 1% fat milk for the whole milk. I'm not sure the milk made a big difference considering all the butter in the recipe, but it may have been able to break down the texture of the whole wheat a bit. I also could have used some lemon juice instead of all the milk, and that would definitely have attacked the whole wheat, but I'll save that experiment for next time. I'd definitely make these again because they were so moist, lightly and refreshingly lemony, and overall, quite the crowd-pleasers. Folks went back for seconds and thirds (bear in mind, I made mini-cupcakes for the crowd).

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

While these appear quite muffin-y, they are definitely cupcakes!

Here's the recipe as I made it.

Lemon Cupcakes with Neufchatel Frosting (inspired by Mani Niall's Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener recipe "Lemon Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream and Raspberries")

Cupcake Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup 1% fat milk
Zest of one lemon

Frosting Ingredients:

1 8-oz package Neufchatel cheese
3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon


1. Sift together the dry ingredients into a very large measuring cup (makes it easier to pour into the wet ingredients). You'll notice a bunch of bran left over after sifting the whole wheat flour. You can either keep this in the recipe or save it for your morning cereal. It's up to you.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it's smooth. Mix in the agave nectar, eggs, and vanilla until very well blended.
3. Slowly mix in the dry mixture, then the milk until the batter is uniform (not longer than a couple of minutes).
4. Fold in the lemon zest.
5. Let the batter sit while you preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and line your muffin pan(s) with baking cups. I used two mini-muffin pans (12 each) and one standard muffin pan (six cups filled, the others I filled halfway with water for baking). This sitting time is very important with the whole wheat. It will help the butter cling to the wheat and keep it moist. Don't skip it!
6. When the oven has reached baking temperature, fill your baking cups about 2/3 full. (I used a small cookie scoop. It worked very well -- 1 scoop for minis and two and a half scoops for the larger ones.)
7. Bake 15 minutes for mini cupcakes and about 20-25 minutes for the standard ones. If you use a tester, it should come out clean.
8. Let the cupcakes cool for 10 minutes in their pans, then take them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack.
9. While you enjoy how wonderful your kitchen smells, make the frosting:
a. Beat the cheese until smooth.
b. Add the agave nectar and lemon juice and beat again until smooth.
c. Frost the cupcakes and gently sprinkle some of the lemon zest on top.
10. Serve and enjoy!

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book


Anonymous said...

Looks like a wonderful recipe--and I think I must get that book!

Deb Schiff said...

Everyone should! :)

Yasmeen said...

WOW Deb you've blogful recipes using agave nectar:). The books sounds interesting,I'll look for it in library.
Lower fat neufchatel cheese is a delicious alternative to cream cheese.The cup cakes look scrumptious with all the best ingredients:)

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Yasmeen. :)

Angie said...

Thanks so much for your helpful suggestions about how to prevent sinking cupcakes. But thank you even more for posting the recipe for the lemon cupcakes! They look so delicious. I can't wait to try them. And I'm definitely getting that agave nectar book.

Deb Schiff said...

You're welcome, Angie! Thanks for stopping by. Just so you know, Niall's book is primarily sugar-cane-sugar-based, rather than agave centric. Sorry if I led you to believe otherwise.

Anonymous said...

A good easy "frosting" is just to mix cream cheese (or neufchatel) with agave to taste. It would be thick and easy to spread, and wouldn't run. I like to put it on flourless almond cookies.

Nice blog, glad I found it!

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Tammy! Glad you enjoyed Altered Plates. :)