Celebrate Love with a Gluten Free Cupcake

Valentine's day is the perfect opportunity to flex your gluten free baking muscles and create some sweet treats.

Cupcakes have been the trendy baked good of choice in Manhattan ever since the Magnolia Bakery introduced us all to the delight of vanilla buttercream frosting. When I moved to NYC, it didn’t take long before my cousin brought me to the West Village to experience Magnolia’s famous cupcakes. When I found out that they had a cookbook I started experimenting with their recipes on my own. I discovered that it wasn’t that difficult to make the frosting and that a yellow cake mix tasted just as good as the much more labor intensive cupcake recipe. I started bringing my “Magnolia Style” cupcakes to dinner parties, birthday parties, and any celebration in need of such an indulgence.

Once gluten was banned from my life, I went in search of a gluten free cake recipe that rivaled my previous concoctions. I spent hours on the weekend trying every vanilla and yellow cake mix and recipe I could find. I made my roommates try all of the results.

“Too grainy.”
“Tastes like cornbread”
“Ummm, not good”

They would look at me with sad eyes, knowing how much I needed to find a recipe that could bring back some sense of normalcy to my new gluten free lifestyle. After trying upwards of 15 recipes and mixes, I started to give up hope that I could make cupcakes that rivaled my old glory.
The Really Great Food Company yellow cake mix is pretty good and the Dowd and Rogers Dark Vanilla cake mix with chestnut flower is delicious in it’s own right, but it's not the same as a simple yellow cake. While I have embraced many of the new flavors and textures that gluten free cooking has brought into my life, I needed that small yellow cupcake. Thankfully, shortly after I had given up hope, someone on the Delphi forums posted a surprisingly simple technique for yellow cake that she claimed had ‘never-failed’ her. I decided to give it one more shot but didn’t get my hopes up. I mean, orange juice in a cupcake recipe? How could that be any good? Wouldn’t it taste like oranges? Well, it worked and it worked really well. It’s moist and delicious and just as good if not better than any ‘gluten’ cupcake. The hint of orange is only detectable when you know it’s there.

Celebratory Cupcakes

Yellow Gluten Free Cupcakes (adapted from the Celiac Disease Delphi Forums)
1 package Gluten Free Pantry Old Fashioned cake mix*

1 package Jello vanilla instant pudding
1/2 cup sugar
4 extra large eggs room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 C orange juice
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons good vanilla extract

*Do not follow the directions on the package

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients and beat on high speed for two minutes.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Fill liners 2/3 to ¾ of the way full.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If making a cake, grease the pan first, pour in the mix and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (adapted from Domino Sugar)
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
1 stick (8T) of good unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
¼ cup of milk

Combine half of the sugar with the butter and beat on low speed. Add the wet ingredients and beat. Slowly add the rest of the sugar while mixing until combined. Beat on medium-high speed for at least two minutes until the frosting is smooth and creamy. If you want the frosting to be a little bit stiffer (better for decorating) add powdered sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time. Frost cupcakes with icing at room temperature.

Tip - I find if I am going to a party that cupcakes are difficult to transport already frosted. Instead I keep the cupcakes and frosting in separate Ziploc bags or Tupperware containers and then frost them quickly upon arrival. They may not be pretty but they will taste good. This recipe stood up against cupcakes made by a professional working at Martha Stewart! Making homemade frosting is key – it doesn’t take that much extra effort on your part but it will take your baked goods to the next level.


harmonious1 said...

You mean the Jello vanilla pudding is GF and I didn't KNOW about it??? Think of all the pudding I >could< have been enjoying. Why wasn't I informed of this, I ask!
The serious part>(I really didn't know this and I'm going to try this recipe. I have been wanting a cupcake!!)

Catherine said...

Kraft foods doesn't "hide" gluten in any of its labeling so as of this post, the Jello Vanilla Pudding is indeed gluten free. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know how the cupcakes turn out for you.

Anonymous said...

I am the author of the "weird" orange juice doctored cake recipe. Oddly enough, orange juice works just as well in a chocolate or devils food version with chocolate pudding. Go figure.

If you want to try the most amazing GF bread, try Against The Grain Gourmet's (www.againstthegraingourmet) which is a new line of "real tasting" GF bread, which is just getting into Whole Foods.

Juliana said...

Catherine, thank you so much for the recipe! My Sixteenth Birthday party was last night and we had two trays of cupcakes. One of the trays had GF cupcakes and the other had regular cupcakes. Throughout the night people were constantly eating them and no one could tell the difference. The consistency was perfect and they were a hit! I will defiantly let you know about any restaurants I come across this summer in Italy!

Catherine said...

Juliana - you absolutely made my day, I'm so happy the recipe turned out well for you. I try not to bother with gluten free replacement foods unless they are as good or better than the original. I'm glad that turned out to be the case!

Ryan said...


Thank you for your recipe! I'm celebrating my officemate's birthday at the Cornell Department of Astronomy. Thanks to you, the birthday girl will be able to enjoy my trademark pineapple upside-down cake (based on a yellow-cake base with vanilla pudding). Thanks again!

- Ryan

Catherine said...


Please come back and let us know how the cake turned out. I would love the recipe. I hope the party is a smashing success.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I want to make these cupcakes for my friend's baby shower this Saturday, but I really don't want to spend $20 to order the cake mix online so that I will have it in time. Do you know if I can buy this at Whole Foods or other specialty stores, or if I can use another brand if they don't carry this in stores?


Catherine said...

They usually carry the mix at the Whole Foods near me though sometimes they are out of stock.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the help!! - Allison

Gabrielle said...

So I've been searching the internet for possible recipes I can use for my wedding cake. I've just found out in the last 2 months that I can't eat gluten, and my wedding is in a month!

Do you think it matters if I use another kind of juice? There is a healthfood store that has the cake mix you mentioned and I was hoping to run by and make a test batch, but I don't have any orange juice! I do have 100% Dole Orange, Peach, and Mango Juice.

Catherine said...

I think another juice type would have similar properties but it will probably change the flavor just slightly. Let me know how it turns out - I'm sure it will be delicious.

Gabrielle said...

Well I tried the recipe today and LOVE it. I didn't use orange juice and it worked just fine. I can taste more of the vanilla pudding then I can taste the juice, I'm sure if I use orange juice it has a much stronger taste. But I love it.

Normally wheat free baked goods taste fine once they are out of the oven and taste HORRIFIC once they cool down. But not these babies, they are fantastic. They are moist, don't crumble, and have a great taste. I don't have frosting on them and they are perfect the way they are.

I've decided to make a cupcake tower for my wedding cake, I'm so using this recipe for my wedding. ^.^ Thanks so much! ^.^

Catherine said...

Gabrielle - I'm so happy for you. Have a wonderful wedding day. If you are willing to share photos of your cupcake tower, I would love to post them to the blog!

Tee said...

I found your blog with this recipe and gave it a try...I tasted a little before we frosted it and it was delicious. My daughter's birthday is coming up and she wants a "pink" cake. I was thinking that perhaps I would try substituting a non-citrus juice in place of the orange juice, but I wasn't sure if the juice needed to be a citrus based juice or if it really doesn't matter, as long as it's some form of liquid?

I suppose I could just throw in some drops of food coloring, but I hate to do too much with added food coloring. I'm trying my hardest to stay away from the red dyes (it just might not happen for her birthday though).

Catherine said...

Tee - I don't think you would get the same effect with cranberry juice, but I would try cutting the juice down slightly and use pureed frozen strawberries - the strawberry flavor would be great with these. Please let us know how it turns out!

nancygoat said...

Yum!!!! These are the best cupcakes I have ever tasted. Instead of Jello pudding (which, I'm not sure, but I think has artificial stuff), I looked up instant pudding recipe and found a chocolate one on www.foodnetwork.com. Even though it was chocolate, it still was delicious with the vanilla orange cake. I couldn't find how you made the icing pink, so I used boiled beet peelings which I squeezed into the icing as I stirred. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe... I have missed cupcakes so much!

Tee said...

Well, I tried the strawberries (liquefied in the blender) and the OJ (did half and half. The cake came out just fine, but didn't achieve the "pink" color. But, that's fine. The flavor is just fine...you wouldn't know there were strawberries in it, unless you were really trying to taste them (kind of like the OJ's effect).

Thanks for the idea...and it does work, if someone else was wanting to do half OJ and half liquefied berries. :) It doesn't change the way the cake is baked and it doesn't really change the consistency or the flavor. I'll have to continue to do some experimentation on my own in future cake-baking-endeavors to see if I can get different flavors/colors. I wonder if blueberries would have a richer color and make the cake purple. Guess we'll have to try it and see! :)

Thanks for your help and thanks for posting such a wonderful cake recipe!

cris said...

I made these today for my daughter's first birthday party and they were great. I heard over and over from people that they were better than gluten ones, so, thanks!

Tee said...

Ok, back with another question. Do you know if these would freeze well (unfrosted) or if that's just not something that would work well at all. I'm just thinking about my daughter going off to school in the fall and needing to bring in ONE cupcake at a time for various birthdays through the school year. I would hate to have to buy and make cupcakes EVERY time they had a birthday party. I did that recently for a birthday party and while they are yummy, my husband's and my waistlines really don't need to finish off the rest of the cupcakes before they would go bad, and then I would have to make a fresh batch for the next party at some point.

Just wondered whether you've frozen them for "future treats" when you have a craving?