Made without refined flour or sugar for a healthy, guilt-free treat.
During my first quarter of grad school, the Chemistry Department required us to sit through multiple weekly seminars, including a 2-hour session every Friday afternoon. Called “Careers in Chemistry,” one of the older gentlemen on the faculty hosted it, and each week he invited a new speaker from a different line of work—university research, hazardous waste management, pharmaceutical drug development, and more—to share their job responsibilities, training, and life experiences.
We dreaded piling into that lecture hall with its creaky uncomfortable chairs while the rest of the campus students sprawled outside in the sunshine on the grassy quad 20 feet beyond the building’s doors. Just about everyone contemplated skipping the seminar at least once during the quarter, but since the older professor learned a thing or two over the years, he bribed us to stay with cookies.
Halfway through the lecture, he pulled out 8 or 10 different packages from a large brown grocery bag and passed them around the room. The flavors varied from Chewy Chips Ahoy and Double-Stuffed Oreos to Keebler Elves and Mother’s Iced Oatmeal—basically whatever Safeway put on sale that week. The first few students in the rows always hogged the treats and stole 5 or 6 cookies each, so those of us at the ends were lucky to get a few crumbs!
I fit right in with my chocoholic and peanut-butter-aholic classmates, always lusting over the Nutter Butters and super Chunky Chips Ahoy, but while everyone else passed by the Fig Newtons because of their “old person” reputation, I secretly looked forward to that package each week and always snagged an extra. Something about that sweet figgy filling captivated me, and because they contained fruit, I pretended the cookies were healthier than the other options to justify nibbling on a second (or third) one.
While recently pawing through my kitchen drawers, I rediscovered the package of dried figs I bought to bake fruitcake cookies in honor of my grandma. With those grad school memories flooding through my head, I knew exactly what to make. No, not a copycat cookie, but…
Fig Newton Cupcakes! With the comforting flavors of those classic cookies converted into cupcake form, these treats taste so familiar and fun. The cupcakes are perfectly spiced with just a kiss of cinnamon, while the thick fig filling tastes fruity and fresh. Finished off with a tangy yogurt frosting, these cupcakes will tickle your taste buds more than the cookies ever did, and they’re still secretly healthy with NO refined flour or sugar!
I developed a new cupcake base specifically for these cupcakes, and I’m incredibly proud of the result! Despite being 100% whole wheat, they’re still soft and moist, not heavy and dense at all, because of the combination of baking powder and baking soda. Baking powder acts as the main leavener to provide tenderness and rise, but baking soda gives them that little extra oomph to keep them especially light. A little sprinkle of cinnamon rounds out the flavor, creating a warm cozy taste—and developing into the most addictive aroma in your kitchen while they bake!
I turned to maple syrup to sweeten these cupcakes instead of the refined sugar normally included in recipes, which means you can put away your electric mixer—no creaming necessary. (And one less thing to wash too!) To help with their tender texture, I also added Greek yogurt. As my secret weapon to healthier baking, it adds lots of moisture without the excess fat and calories of butter or oil, as well as a little extra protein!
Like with other typical cake recipes, you’ll alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Alternating additions are mandatory. They prevent over-mixing, which ensures your cupcakes stay perfectly tender. If you stir too much, you’ll overdevelop the gluten strands, and your cupcakes will turn out tough. Although the batter is rather thick, make sure you stir just until the ingredients are incorporated!
Before spooning out the batter, lightly mist your cupcake liners with nonstick cooking spray. Most low-fat cupcakes (and muffins too) stick really tightly to liners, but spraying them before adding the batter helps prevent that. If the cupcakes do stick to the liners once they’ve cooled to room temperature, seal them into an airtight container for a few hours (or preferably overnight, if possible). That’ll help loosen the liners so they peel off more easily!
The fig filling is unbelievably easy to make—you just need 2 ingredients: dried figs and water. That’s it! Add them to a bowl, pop it in the microwave (to speed up the hydration process), and wait for 20 minutes before pulsing it in a food processor until smooth. Perfectly sweet without any added sugar, the slightly thick fig filling tastes exactly like the Fig Newton’s centers!
Just like the filling, the yogurt frosting requires barely any time to make. Simply stir the ingredients together until smooth—again, no creaming required! I kept this frosting on the tart side to contrast beautifully with the sweet cupcake and filling, but add a little more honey if you prefer.
To assemble the cupcakes, remove the centers using a sharp knife or cupcake corer. (I found my pink one in the photos above at Walmart for less than $2.) Save them for later or nibble as you go—I won’t judge! I prefer using a butter knife to add in the fig filling; my spoons are larger than the cavity opening and spill the filling all over the cupcake tops. Finally, drop a dollop of frosting directly on top of the filling and spread outward from there. This minimizes the amount of filling that streaks across the top.
(Or if you’re lazy, don’t make the frosting, skip the coring step, and simply spread the fig filling across the top. You could almost call them muffins and justify eating them for breakfast that way!)
With their light hint of cinnamon, fresh fruity filling, and soft tangy frosting, these Fig Newton Cupcakes taste even better than the original cookies! From their moist and tender texture, nobody will ever guess they’re 100% whole wheat, and the sweet maple syrup completely hides that they lack refined sugar too. That’s right—they’re totally healthy and guilt-free!
So go ahead and treat yourself to one of these clean-eating cupcakes, and maybe sneak a second while you’re at it. After my chemistry seminar days, you know I would too!