Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cupcake Challenge Accepted! (Dairy-free molten lava cupcakes)

Not a traditional molten lava cake, but the
 filling mimics the molten core of a usual cake!
This past weekend, some of my crazier athletically capable friends ran the Tough Mudder event in Lake Tahoe. Basically, they impressively braved tons of ridiculous obstacles - ice-cold water, electrical shocks, walls, barbed wire, and mud - for five hours. I myself didn't participate (mud and shocks aren't my thing), but I did come with them up to the cabin in Tahoe. I thought it would be nice to bake something for them to celebrate finishing the race, which led me to create the Tough Mudder Cupcake!

A molten lava cake immediately came to mind, which fit with the whole mud theme of the event. Thanks to all the cooking competition shows I watch, I knew that molten lava cakes can be notoriously difficult to make, so Challenge #1 was to adapt this difficult recipe into a cupcake form.

Challenge #2 was to make the cupcakes dairy-free. One of my friends who ran the race is allergic to dairy, but I didn't want to exclude her, especially since she was running such a tough race. This was the recipe that I loosely based my eventual final recipe on, but to make it dairy-free, I had to replace some of the ingredients. I already regularly bake with almond milk, so I didn't have to worry about replacing the milk. I didn't have to worry about the baking mix I used either - online research revealed that the Duncan Hines mixes I use anyways were dairy-free. I just had to worry about the chocolate chips and the whipping cream. For the chocolate chips, I found dairy-free chocolate chips made by Guittard at my local Safeway. After wandering the aisles a little longer, reading the ingredient labels on everything, I found a coconut-based creamer that I decided to use for the whipping cream.

Once I actually got up to the cabin in Tahoe, I realized there a few more challenges I hadn't anticipated. Challenge #3 was that I'd be baking in an unfamiliar oven with some unfamiliar equipment, which didn't end up being a huge deal - nothing that I do really requires specific equipment.

What was a little worrying though, was Challenge #4: the fact that I was 5000 feet above elevation.  For one, the oven temperature had to be increased because cakes will rise faster and the higher temperature will set the structure of the cakes before they expand and/or dry too much. Consequently, because the temperature is higher, the baking time had to be shortened to prevent over-baking. Additional flour is also a good idea to help set the structure. I also used an extra egg to prevent the cakes from drying out too much.

With all those worries in mind, I set out to tackle this baking challenge at the same time my friends were tackling the mud obstacles. It wasn't easy - I definitely encountered a lot of issues on the way.

First of all, the chocolate mixture I was using for the "molten lava" filling in the cupcake was made with the dairy-free chocolate chips and the coconut creamer. Most likely because the creamer wasn't as thick as regular cream, the chocolate mixture wasn't thickening as much as I wanted. I had some chocolate fudge instant pudding mix on hand (there was pudding mix in the cake batter), so I threw a few tablespoons of the mix into the chocolate filling and it thickened up right away.

To counter the high altitude issues, I added some extra flour to the recipe, as well as used a higher temperature/shorter time baking combination. My batter ended up being much thicker than I expected - in fact, it was basically just as thick as the chocolate filling. Because it was so thick, it was tricky to fill the muffin tins and I ended up overfilling most of the tins. The cupcakes rose up and spilled out of the tins, but luckily, once I took them out of the oven to cool, they deflated a little down to normal sizes (and plus frosting covers all ugly cupcake mishaps).

Speaking of frosting, I tried two different types of dairy-free frostings. For half of the cupcakes, I used Duncan Hines Whipped Chocolate Frosting from the can, primarily because it was dairy free. For the other half, I had some leftover chocolate filling, so I added another half cup of the leftover pudding mix into it to thicken it up even more and used that as frosting.

Too many cupcakes!
All in all, despite all of the problems, I managed to make 30 delicious cupcakes for my friends when they finished Tough Mudder!  I always have an irrational fear that my baked goods would go uneaten, especially since there was only about 8 of us at that cabin, but somehow, by the end of the weekend, every single cupcake had disappeared.

Of course, baking cupcakes in the comforts of a cozy cabin was nothing compared to what my friends accomplished and survived, so major props to them for completing Tough Mudder! I also have an appreciation for the dairy-free life - I never had to worry about it before, so I never noticed how dairy was in so much of my everyday foods, like butter or chocolate.

I had a lot of fun tackling this cupcake challenge and I definitely look forward to the next baking challenge!

Tough Mudder Cupcakes (makes ~30 cupcakes)
Dairy-free molten lava cupcakes
Recipe adjusted for high altitude baking - remove flour and bake for ~20 min @ 350 degrees for regular baking


  • 1 box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food Mix
  • 1/2 cup of Jello Chocolate Fudge Instant Pudding Mix
  • 1 and 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup flour


  • 3/4 cup coconut creamer
  • 1/2 cup semisweet dairy-free chocolate chips (from Guittard)
  • 4 Tbsp of Jello Chocolate Fudge Instant Pudding Mix


  • 1 can of Duncan Hines Whipped Chocolate Frosting
  • OR
  • Leftover filling from above + 1/3 cup of Jello Chocolate Fudge Instant Pudding Mix
  1. Heat creamer in small saucepan until hot (but not boiling), remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate for 45 minutes. Stir in pudding mix and put back in fridge until ready to use. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients for the cupcakes together with an electric mixer until combined.
  3. Fill lightly greased cupcake tins halfway with batter. Place a half tablespoon of chocolate filling in the center on top of the batter in each tin. 
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes are set.
  5. Let cool and then frost with one of the two frosting choices!
  6. EAT!

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