Cupcake Wars Winner: Interview with Lisa Cowden: The Future of Gluten-Free Living

Lisa Cowden: Food Network Cupcake Wars Winner: Survival of the Fittest: Air Date July 09, 2010

She’s affable, humble and unabashedly open. At 28, Lisa Cowden has already discovered that fame is sweet icing on the cake “cupcake” of preparation and hard work. As winner of the Food Network’s acclaimed “Cupcake Wars,” this Scottsdale, Arizona woman wowed tough judges, beat out her competitors (one of whom was a previous Food Network contestant) and kept her cool, while wading deftly in high heels through puddles of buttercream frosting- crafting for the final episode a stunning display and 1,000 scrumptious cupcakes.  

 She’s a girl after my own heart and clearly a woman of many skills. Her baking masterpiece- a delectable Rich Chocolate Carmel Cupcake- made of all-natural ingredients, that sings of decadence- even and most especially for gluten-free folks.  

Yeah, that’s right.  

Lisa, an accomplished pastry chef and baker for the renowned and allergen friendly haven – Gluten-Free Creations Bakery in Scottsdale – understands food intolerance on a personal basis. And while her cupcakes won with all natural ingredients but traditional flour- they readily translate into equally natural, yummy gluten-free confections- as do most of Lisa Cowden’s culinary treats- providing proof that gluten-free can be both delicious and upscale.   

Wheat and dairy intolerant, Cowden’s been in the trenches pioneering tasty wheat and dairy-free foods from her preteen years. It’s no surprise that she found her niche at Gluten-Free Creations – with their prolific and tasty offerings of over 150 gluten-free treats. When Lisa won, she’d been working at LuLu’s Cupcakes in Scottsdale- an all natural bakery- which was sold to LynnRae Ries and reopened as the second of Ries successful Phoenix area GF bakeries recently.  

Forgetting the time difference, I caught up with Lisa in the midst of her frantic baking schedule. Cowden, with her characteristic good humor took the call in spite of my poor planning. Says Cowden of her Cupcake Wars experience, “We geared up our brains to come up with the most creative things we could.” An easy laugh follows, “And then the pressure hit and…it’s all kind of a blur.” On auto-pilot through the tense competition, Lisa- a 2008 graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute Le Cordon Bleu– drew on her training and passion for natural foods, as well as a profound love for the fine art of cupcake crafting to edge out competitors.  

Lisa, shares a common vision with LynnRae Ries, the owner of Gluten-Free Café and Gluten-Free Creations Bakery, to make gluten-free and allergen friendly foods that taste as good as or better than traditional fare. “It’s a really good fit for me,” notes Cowden about working at GFC.  

Ries, who has celiac disease and is a noted author, chef, national leader for gluten-free awareness and specialty diet educator, is collaborating with Cowden on an upcoming cookbook. (Given the delectable creations that pour forth from GFC, we in the gluten-free community should wait upon this project with fork in hand.) (I’ll keep you posted)  

In addition to coming away from our conversation uplifted and encouraged, I also gleaned her prize winning recipe in the gluten-free version and gained expert pastry chef tips on converting various items into dairy and gluten-free variations, which are linked in these two posts- here and here.  

(You can view her original recipe here on the food network, if you’d like.)  

Lisa's Rich Chocolate Carmel Cupcake

When I lamented the typical plight of bland, boring or just “wrong” gluten-free treats, most of which taste far too “healthy” to be considered a delicacy, Cowden said of bakery confections,“You want a treat to taste like a treat- not like health food.” But Cowden, who uses all natural ingredients to foster her culinary delights, magically makes healthy food taste like treats- a commodity sorely lacking in most GF diets.  

She stated in a recent interview with Fox News, “People call up and say, thank God I found you, you make my life so much better… most bakeries can’t say that about what they do. Absolutely no one can tell that they are gluten free or maybe even dairy free or casein free or vegan. We service all the top 8 food allergens so everyone still loves them.” The national attention that resulted from winning the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars has brought greater media focus to food intolerance and celiac disease- as well as her mission with Ries at Gluten Free Creations. “You can’t make everything yourself, ” Cowden said, my utter agreement, “It’s nice for people to have options.”  

To me, Cowden represents the future of gluten-free living. She’s joyous, inventive and creative and able to impart flavor in living healthy while coping with-and even overcoming food intolerances. And I’m thrilled my daughter has a stake in a GF future led by women like Lisa Cowden.  

Congratulations, Lisa!  

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Recipes from Cupcake War Winner Lisa Cowden and Tips on GF Baking

Lisa Cowden: Pastry Chef and Winner Cupcake Wars

Who says we can’t have gourmet fare on a gluten-free diet? Certainly not the Food Network Cupcake Wars winner, Lisa Cowden. In a recent interview, Lisa discussed her own food intolerance and shared a bit of her extensive pastry chef expertise with me. Cowden who crafts yummy treats daily at Gluten-Free Creations in Scottsdale, Arizona- where all 8 top allergens are catered to- understands both personally and professionally the need for GF food that isn’t “second best.”  While her Food Network recipe won with traditional flour, it’s easily created into gluten-free (and casein free as well) -without losing flavor.  Added perks that Cowden attributes to winning, are the natural ingredients that make these cupcakes prize worthy in your kitchen as well.    

Here’s what Lisa says, “You’ll want to substitute a gluten-free mix for the flour. A good mix should be able to substitute cup for cup for the traditional wheat flour.” Her suggestions for GF mixes include using ones that contain sorghum flour- a component used in the Gluten-Free  Creations Bakery for such items as cakes, cookies and other sweet fare. Gluten-Free Creations also has a mix you can buy that’s well worth considering, as it contains not only the exact proportions for baking, but also added vitamins that we – in the gluten-free community- often lack.    

 Below you’ll find further “tweaking” for making the Chocolate Carmel Cupcakes casein-free as well,  based on Lisa’s expert advice. Since about a third of those who have celiac disease have issues with casein or lactose (including my daughter) making items such as ganache – which is heavy on cream- requires further adaptations. Lisa offered two suggestions for casein-free, gluten-free ganache. You’ll find the second ganache option in this earlier post.    

 I was thrilled to find these cupcakes, while somewhat labor intensive for mere kitchen slobs such as me, turned out to be some of the most tasty and delicious items I’d made in the history of my home culinary events- or as Lisa said, “drool-worthy.” And you’d never know they are gluten-free. (seriously). In a spirit of adventure and kitchen mass destruction- we made both this recipe and the original winning recipe on the same day. I wasn’t disappointed in either variety. This one below, given to me by Lisa Cowden, was by far the easiest and was truly stand alone delicious. The original winning recipe  “Rich Chocolate Carmel Cupcake” as it appeared on Food Network, I tweaked for gluten/casein free diets again using Lisa’s tips. It was a bit more work, but the creme filling was well worth the added steps- you can find it here in this post.    

Chocolate Carmel Cupcakes from Lisa Cowden  

Gluten Free Baking Flour Mix (See link below for recipes)     1 ¾ cups  

Zanthan or Guar gum (if not included in your gluten-free flour mix) 1/2 tsp  

Sugar 1 ¾ cups  

Cocoa powder ¾ cups  

Baking powder 1 ½ tsp.  

Baking soda 1 ½ tsp.  

Salt ¼ tsp.  

Buttermilk 1 ¼ cups (If casein intolerant, substitute lactose free milk ,soy milk, or almond milk mixed with 1 tsp cider vinegar- but be sure to add the vinegar for chemical reaction with baking soda)  

Whole eggs 2  

Vegetable oil 4 Tbsp.  

GF Vanilla 1 tsp.  

Hot water 1 cup  

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Mix. Add the hot water while mixing well, until smooth. Fill cupcake liners ¾ full. Bake at 350F 15-20 minutes or until cupcakes bounce back in the center when touched.  

Caramel Filling  

Sugar 1 ½ cups  

Water ¼ cup  

Agave nectar 1 Tbsp.  

Heavy Cream 1 ¼ cup (Substitute heavy coconut milk for cream if casein intolerant. Cream is easier to scoop out if can is chilled in fridge first. Use only the cream part. Discard liquid)  

Butter, softened chunks 2 ounces (1/2 stick) (See this post on butter and casein. Since butter is usually 99 % casein free many people can tolerate butter. But you can substitute soy margarine such as Willow Run)  

GF Vanilla ½ tsp.  

Boil the sugar, water, and agave until it takes on a caramel color and smell. Add the cream slowly, whisking in to avoid boiling over. Whisk to loosen any hardened caramel and melt it all smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour into a squeeze bottle and chill to thicken.  

Ganache Frosting  

Heavy cream 16 ounces (Substitute heavy coconut milk as above, discard liquid and use only the cream portion)  

Dark chocolate chips      16 ounces  

Heat the cream in a pot until it steams. Pour in the chocolate chips and let sit to melt. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let sit 2-3 hours to set up slightly, or chill in the fridge to firm up, stirring frequently.  

*****  See this post for gluten-free flour mixes to whip up at home.

*****  See this post about additional ganache options for casein-free diets.

***** See this post for original Cupcake Wars winning recipe in the gluten and casein free version.

  

Winning Cupcake War Recipe Tweaked to Gluten and Casein Free

This is the original Food Network Cupcake Wars recipe that’s been tweaked by me. I’ve used the tips gleaned from pastry chef Lisa Cowden, who won the Cupcake Wars: Survival of the Fittest with this slam dunk treat. You’ll find another version she kindly offered to me here.  Even those as under developed in culinary skills- as I am- can bake this recipe successfully. Albeit, the kitchen was quite destroyed. And I’m reasonably certain the Board of Health would not approve the cat licking agave drippings from the table whilst the baking process proceeded…but even lacking the prowness of a pastry chef- these were beyond delicious.

Rich Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes by Lisa Cowden

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups gluten free mix (plus 3/4 tsp xanthan gum if not included in mix)
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 9 ounces unsalted butter, softened (See this post on butter and casein. You can also substitute soy margarine such as Willow Run or butter flavored vegetable shortening)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (If casein intolerant, substitute lactose free milk ,soy milk, or almond milk mixed with 1 tsp cider vinegar – but be sure to add the vinegar for chemical reaction with baking soda)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon GF vanilla extract
  • Caramel Cream Center, recipe follows
  • Ganache, recipe follows
  • Prepared blue rock sugar, for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 30 regular-size cupcake or muffin cups with paper cupcake liners or line 6 dozen (72) mini cupcake or mini muffin cups with mini cupcake liners.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Sift the cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Whisk the hot water into the cocoa until smooth. In bowl of electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter well. Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and add the cocoa mixture. Beat just until smooth. Fill the cupcake liners 3/4-full and bake the regular-size cupcakes for 20 minutes, or until cooked through or bake the mini cupcakes for 19 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely. Fill with Caramel Cream Center and top with Ganache Frosting and the prepared blue rock sugar.

Caramel Cream Center:

  • 6 ounces egg whites, from about 5 whole eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces to 1 pound unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces ( Or substitute soy margarine such as Willow Run)
  • 1/2 teaspoon GF vanilla extract
  • 1 batch Agave Caramel Sauce, recipe follows

Warm the egg whites and sugar over a double boiler, stirring the egg mixture until the sugar dissolves and the mixture feels warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and whip until medium-stiff peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the softened butter and vanilla until thick and smooth. Fold in the Agave Caramel Sauce until fully incorporated. Place the Caramel Cream Center in a pastry bag fitted with pastry tip and fill the cooled cupcakes.

Cook’s Note: The yield for the Caramel Cream Center is more than needed. The extra can be used as frosting or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature and stir, before using.

Agave Caramel Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 ounce sugar (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons light agave nectar
  • 5 ounces cream (Substitute heavy coconut milk for creme if casein intolerant.Use only the cream part. Discard liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened – (or substitute soy margarine such as Willow Run)
  • 1/4 teaspoon GF vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, heat the water over high heat until hot but not boiling. Add the sugar and the agave and stir gently to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, and heat to 330 degrees F, or to a warm brown color. Add the cream slowly, whis

Lisa's Rich Chocolate Carmel Cupcake

king constantly, the caramel will bubble and rise. Add the butter and continue whisking over the heat until the caramel is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Chill the mixture to thicken.

Ganache:

  • 3 cups heavy cream (Substitute heavy coconut milk for creme if casein intolerant. Use only the cream. Discard liquid)
  • 24 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (recommended: Ghirardelli 60% cocoa bittersweet chocolate chips)
  • Ice bath, in shallow bowl

 In a saucepan, heat the cream to scald. Add the chocolate chips. Stir the mixture until smooth. Chill on the ice bath until a spreadable consistency, stirring frequently. Frost the filled cupcakes with the ganache and garnish with the prepared rock sugar.

**** For gluten-free flour mix recipes check here
**** Alternate recipe from Lisa Cowden
**** Additional ganache options for the gluten and casein free diets

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