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Gluten Free Vanilla Cupcakes

Gluten Free Vanilla Cupcakes

These never-fail bakery-style gluten free vanilla cupcakes are incredibly moist and tender. They can even easily be made dairy free, too!

Vanilla cupcake in brown liner with white swirl of frosting on small white plate on purple cloth

Cupcakes are not really mini cakes (exactly…)

Did you know that not all cake recipes make good cupcakes? It’s true! Just like not all muffin recipes can be made as quick breads (or vice versa).

When you bake cake batter in miniature portions, even if it bakes flat in a round or square cake pan, it may dome quite a bit when portioned into the wells of a cupcake tin.

One vanilla cupcake with swirled white frosting cut in two pieces on brown paper liner on a small white plate above a white cloth

Tips for making these gluten free cupcakes

I like a cupcake with a nice, flat top, so it’s easy to pile on a nice fluffy frosting. You can see for yourself that this recipe for gluten free vanilla cupcakes is the perfect frosting delivery system.

My recipe for the very best gluten free vanilla cake is truly perfect in every possible way—and it does happen to make very nice cupcakes. But it requires some sifting and other fussiness in the method, and the cupcakes don’t bake up as flat.

These gluten free vanilla cupcakes effortlessly rise into a flat top, and don’t require any sifting of the dry ingredients.

Just be sure not to overfill the wells of the cupcake tin (2/3 of the way full is absolutely perfect), bake at no more than 325°F, and only until the tops spring back when pressed very lightly in the center. The toothpick test is not the best test for doneness here.

cupcake liners with vanilla cupcake batter in 6 well metal muffin tin

Do gluten free cupcakes taste “different”?

No! Well, they certainly shouldn’t have a strange aftertaste or a gritty mouthfeel. They should have a moist and tender crumb, just like you’d expect from a cupcake in a bakery. A good bakery!

If you’ve had gluten free vanilla cupcakes in the past and found them to be “good, for gluten free,” then you weren’t eating the right cupcake, made with the right recipe and ingredients.

A gritty mouthfeel is from an all purpose gluten free flour blend made with a gritty rice flour. A strange aftertaste or mouth feel mean likely mean the flour wasn’t good quality and well-balanced.

A dry cupcake might be made with the wrong recipe, so the ingredients were poorly balanced. Or, again, the flour blend wasn’t good quality.

Which gluten free flour is best for cakes?

The best gluten free flour blend for cakes is a combination of Better Batter gluten free flour, which can be replaced in all cases with my mock Better Batter all purpose gluten free flour, and cornstarch. All cake flour, including gluten free cake flour, contains cornstarch.

In conventional cake-baking, cornstarch is used to reduce the amount of gluten formation in baked goods. In that way, it makes for a lighter, more tender result.

In gluten free cake-baking, cornstarch is used to soften the blend because, once combined with liquid, it becomes gelatinous. It helps create a flour blend that expands during baking and creates a more tender crumb.

Baked vanilla cupcakes in 6 well cupcake tin in brown liners on purple cloth

The best frosting for the best cupcakes

Although I do love a traditional buttercream frosting, my favorite vanilla frosting is this “Best” Vanilla Frosting. It’s a cooked flour frosting that can be made in stages.

Instead of relying upon confectioners’ sugar for the proper consistency, a cooked flour frosting has significantly less sugar than buttercream. And it’s soft and velvety, but still stable at room temperature.

I haven’t ever tried making it with dairy-free butter, I’m afraid. I bet it would work with butter-flavored Spectrum nonhydrogenated shortening, though.

6 baked vanilla cupcakes in a muffin tin one with frosting swirl and hand holding piping bag on top of second cupcake in background

Ingredients and Substitutions

Dairy

These cupcakes can easily be made dairy free by using vegan butter (my favorite brands are Melt and Miyoko’s Kitchen), or butter-flavored nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening in place of butter.

Any unsweetened nondairy milk works well in place of cow’s milk. I like unsweetened almond milk because it has some fat and is less watery than some nondairy milks.

These cupcakes are more tender with buttermilk. If you’re dairy free or don’t have buttermilk, you can make a buttermilk replacement with half milk (dairy or nondairy) and half plain yogurt (dairy or nondairy) by volume.

Eggs

It’s a little tricky to replace the egg and egg white here than it would be if the recipe called only for whole eggs. I haven’t tried it, but you can try replacing the egg and egg white with 1 1/2 chia eggs.

Be sure to use ground chia seeds, not whole seeds, though. And avoid flax eggs, particularly in a recipe as simple as this, as flax has a strong flavor.


Vanilla cupcakes with frosting in paper liners on round wire rack above purple cloth

Words perfect gluten free vanilla cupcakes on top of image of vanilla cupcakes in brown liners in metal muffin tin one with vanilla frosting one being frosted

Like this recipe?

Prep time: Cook time: Yield: 16 cupcakes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose gluten free flour (I like Better Batter here)

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)

2 tablespoons (18 g) cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

1 egg (50 g, weighed out of shell) + 1 egg white (25 g) at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup (5 1/3 fl. oz.) milk or buttermilk, at room temperature

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line 16 wells of standard muffin tins with cupcake liners or grease the wells, and set the tins aside.
  • In a small bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine well. Set the bowl of dry ingredients aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a large bowl with a handheld mixer, place the butter, sugar, egg, egg white and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until it appears whipped (about 2 minutes).

  • To the large bowl with the butter mixture, add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the milk or buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat lightly after each addition until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter should be light and fluffy.

  • Fill the prepared wells of the muffin tin about 2/3 of the way full of the batter. Shake the tin back and forth to evenly distribute the batter in each of the wells.

  • Place the tin in the center of the preheated oven and bake until the cupcakes are very lightly golden brown and spring back when pressed lightly in the center (about 20 minutes). Don’t over bake.

  • Allow the cupcakes to cool for at least 5 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cupcake batter. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting and/or decorating.

  • Originally published on the blog in 2017. Recipe unchanged; photos new.

Love,
Nicole

  • Samantha
    July 29, 2021 at 2:05 PM

    Hi Nicole! Do the cupcakes freeze well?

    • Nicole Hunn
      July 29, 2021 at 8:50 PM

      Yes, Samantha! They freeze beautifully. Freeze them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, then pile them into a freezer-safe container and eliminate as much air as possible. Defrost at room temperature!

  • Heather F
    July 4, 2021 at 4:44 PM

    Mmm, these just came out of the oven and smell amazing! Mine happen to have divots in the middle. Do you know what may have caused that? I had to make substitutions for dairy and egg, and I used Presidents Choice gluten free flour blend. They aren’t extremely sunk in, so there’s just a little more room for frosting ;).5 stars

    • Nicole Hunn
      July 4, 2021 at 5:39 PM

      It’s all of your substitutions, Heather. You’ve made quite a few, including the flour blend, and each influences the result. Together, it’s nearly a different recipe altogether. Glad they smell good, though!

  • Crystal
    June 13, 2021 at 2:30 PM

    A couple of questions. I’m new to gluten free baking and bought 2 of your books. Do all your recipes work with Better Batter unless a blend is otherwise specified? If you just say gluten-free all-purpose flour and don’t specify a blend, can Better Batter be used? And I think cupcakes are where I should start, right? Is that easy enough to be a first recipe, or is there something else you’d recommend for someone just starting out? I don’t think I am prepared for the cost to make a custom blend right now, and have a lot to learn before I can do so. So, I’d like to make things a little easier and start with Better Batter.

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 13, 2021 at 3:45 PM

      Hi, Crystal, those are all great questions! Yes, you can use Better Batter’s all purpose gluten free flour blend anywhere one of my recipes calls for an “all purpose gluten free flour.” There’s actually never a reason to make mock Better Batter, unless you can’t or don’t want to buy the actual product. Instead of cupcakes, I’d actually start with drop cookies, like these gluten free chocolate chip cookies. Measure by weight, mind the temperature of your ingredients as specified in the recipe, and you’ll do great. If you’re not yet signed up for my email list, I’d do that, since I have a 3-email welcome series right now that’s a really useful, short introduction to the blog and gluten free baking. You can sign up right here, if you’d like.

  • Lydia Kanar Reichelt
    June 12, 2021 at 4:13 PM

    Cupcake turned out to be sugar cookies lining muffin tins and the frosting was slime. Threw it all together and made delicious cake pops. Both taste amazing but neither resembled what they were intended to resemble. And I followed both recipes to a “T”! Even weighed the ingredients to be sure. super sad.

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 12, 2021 at 4:38 PM

      Lydia, it’s a shame that you weren’t successful with this recipe. Everyone states that they followed recipes to a T, but the recipe works when made as written, using the ingredients specified, including the all purpose gluten free flour blend specified, with the ingredients at the proper temperatures as specified. I assume you used a gluten free flour blend that is one I recommend against, but you didn’t give me any details, so I can’t help you troubleshoot to figure out where you deviated from the recipe as written. Regarding the frosting, it’s a classic buttercream. If you didn’t make substitutions, then your ingredients were too soft. There isn’t any other way a classic buttercream would be “slime.”

  • m. elaine yourick
    June 6, 2021 at 10:23 AM

    Could this batter be baked in a small loaf pan or a cake pan?

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 6, 2021 at 10:50 AM

      Definitely not, Elaine. I have recipes for quick breads, which are baked in loaf pans, and for an excellent vanilla cake, which is what you’ll need for a cake. Please use the search function!

  • Kimbettly
    May 21, 2021 at 4:15 PM

    HI! Thanks for this easy recipe. I made them a day before my son’s party. Should I refrigerate them unfrosted? Or is it okay to leave them in a sealed container over night?5 stars

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 21, 2021 at 4:58 PM

      Hi, Kim, I wouldn’t ever refrigerate them, since the that tends to be very drying. I would definitely leave them in a sealed container at room temperature overnight. For anything longer than that, I’d freeze and defrost, then frost and serve!

  • Jill
    May 16, 2021 at 11:16 PM

    Made these tonight as a practice run for a welcome home party for our son. Used Pamela’s all-purpose GF flour (because I didn’t have the patience for the all-important science Nicole detailed in her blend (another time)). These were delicious, not very sweet, and I can’t wait to try The Best Vanilla Frosting recipe on them (if they last long enough to frost)! Thank you Nicole for your tireless efforts.

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 17, 2021 at 8:01 AM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the cupcakes, Jill. I actually don’t have any experience with Pamela’s all purpose gluten free flour blend. I’ve always shied away because it leads with brown rice flour, and contains guar gum, which isn’t as good in heated applications as xanthan gum. It also has a lot of moisture-loving flours in it, so I’ve assumed it makes things gummy. Just to give you some perspective!

  • Rick Woodward
    May 16, 2021 at 11:05 AM

    Nicole, I have been following you for some time now. I consider you to be the top ” Kitchen Scientist” Baker there is. You are truly outstanding in your research, baking, recipes and caring for all of us who are gluten free and diary free. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do. Best wishes to you and your family. Sincerely, Rick W.

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 16, 2021 at 11:30 AM

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Rick! I really do try to do all of that, and consider it essential to my ability to promise you success in following my recipes. It can be very rewarding, and it’s definitely made much more so by your kind words. Thank you again for that. It means so much!

  • Christine M Eckels
    May 12, 2021 at 4:25 PM

    Hi, Pamela –
    Can I substitute monkfruit for the granulated sugar?

    Thanks –
    Chris

    • Nicole Hunn
      May 12, 2021 at 4:56 PM

      Hi, Chris, I’m Nicole, not Pamela. I haven’t tried making these with an alternative, but I do like Lankato brand monkfruit granulated sugar replacement, generally. It does tend to be drying, though, so you may have to add more milk or buttermilk. Please watch the video carefully and try to mimic the consistency of the cupcake batter. In short, you’ll have to experiment!

  • Pamela
    June 22, 2017 at 2:52 PM

    I have made GF cupcakes in the past. They were great fresh out of the oven. I made them a couple of days in advance and froze them so I could take my time decorating them. When I defrosted the cupcakes, the texture was like riced cauliflower and had a doughy taste. Is that just the nature of GF flours, or is there something I can do to avoid this problem?

    • Nicole Hunn
      June 22, 2017 at 4:16 PM

      Hi, Pamela,
      It’s really hard for me to say for sure, since you didn’t use one of my recipes, but it sounds like an issue with a gritty rice flour. That, and unbalanced, poorly-written recipes, are the most common problems with gluten free baking. I recommend taking a look at my Gluten Free Flour Blends page for full information.

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