Vanilla Birthday Cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Frosting

Sometimes the best measure of a baker’s skill is to taste their simplest creations.  Vanilla cake, pastry cream, or a pie crust are relatively straightforward in their preparation, but they can also be unforgiving when it comes to highlighting mistakes.

This is why many professional bakeries ask potential employees to make a génoise and a batch of pastry cream in their interview.  These two things should be relatively easy for a skilled baker, but if something does go wrong, there is nothing to hide behind.

I can still remember my flip-flopping stomach when years ago I tried out for a position in a wedding cake bakery.  The owner asked me to make the largest batch of pastry cream I had ever seen.  It was so large that I had trouble heaving the giant stock pot off the stove when it came time to incorporate the butter.  I played it off like it was no biggie, but I was definitely breaking a sweat.  This bakery was known for its delicate fondant decorations and beautiful pulled sugar work, but those two applications weren’t even a component of the interview.  The owner knew that decorative skills could be taught on the job, as long as employees had a strong foundation in baking.

Baking a good gluten-free vanilla cupcake is just this kind of test.  It seems simple, but attaining a cupcake that is flavorful and moist, with wonderful vanilla flavor is more difficult than it sounds.  After many batches and lots of tweaking, I finally have a cake I’m proud of.  One worth sharing with you. 

Gluten-Free Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (for best results, use this one)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (Hain brand or homemade for corn-free)
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (I use a corn-free variety from Authentic Foods)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 additional egg yolks
  • ½ cup milk or milk substitute of choice
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I use Frontier brand or homemade for corn-free version)
  • scrapings from one vanilla bean (reserve pod for another use)

→Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.

→Place all ingredients (flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, granulated sugar, eggs, yolk, milk, canola oil, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean scrapings)  in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-low for 1 to 1 ½ minutes or until smooth.

→Let batter rest for 15 minutes before scooping into a paper-lined cupcake pan.  Fill ¾ full.

→Bake on center rack for 16-18 minutes.  The cupcakes will still be light in color, but they should spring back slightly when pressed.

→Cool on rack. Frost and serve.

→Store cooled cupcakes in freezer.  Thaw and frost as needed.

Yield: 12-14 cupcakes depending on how full you fill your cupcake liners

Creamy Chocolate Frosting  (Dairy-Free/ Corn-Free)

→Place all ingredients (cocoa, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, shortening and salt) in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Starting slowly, and gradually increasing the speed to medium, mix for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy.

38 thoughts on “Vanilla Birthday Cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Frosting

    • Thank you Marsha! This recipe is atually adapted from my old vanilla cake recipe which had butter and wheat flour originally. I haven’t tested it in the dairy free version with wheat flour, but I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work. I would reccommend using cake flour, and dropping the xanthan gum like you mentioned. Let me know if you give it a go!

    • Hi there, sorry for the delayed response, but to answer your question, this works well as a layer cake. I usually use two 8 inch pans. Hopefully it went well! Cheers, Terris

      • Thanks for getting back to me! That’s exactly how I did it and it worked perfectly. Great recipe! Now I can’t wait to try it as the actual cupcakes.

      • That’s great to hear. The cupcakes are nice because they store so well in the freezer. Then I just frost them as needed. You never know when you might need a frosted cupcake to save the day!

  1. You didn’t get my comment right? I have been having problem with WordPress blog and they don’t allow me to leave a comment with name, email, site anymore and error message saying I have to “log in”. So strange. I didn’t have this problem before.

    Anyway, I think my previous comment didn’t go through. I knew something was wrong and glad to be back to check.

    I think I mentioned that making gluten-free food just as regular kind must require lots of trial and dedication. I never knew you tried to work (or worked) at a pastry shop before. Now make sense how ALL of your desserts are actually better than some pastry shops. Really! Love this cupcakes and icing and decoration looks very pretty!

    • That’s strange Nami. I have that problem a lot with Blogger, but not usually on wordpress. So frustrating! Thank you for checking back. You are always so thoughtful. At least I know that I can lure you back here with sweets and chocolate! :)

  2. Nice Post. I have been working in the food and catering industry for a long time and loves to read on the latest stuff whenever got time. I just came through your blog post and you have nicely outlined about the cupcakes etc. Thanks for writing such a good post and hope you will be posting stuff like this on regular basis as I have subscribed to your blog.

  3. Boy you like to torture me – truly I want to just lick the computer screen…what’s worse is now I have this awful craving for a really good cupcake with chocolate frosting. Oh the torture….these pictures are beautiful.

  4. I just found out that my 7 year old son is allergic to peanuts, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, wheat, soybean, corn, oat, oranges, crab, & malt….so my question do you have a recipe for cupcakes that does not use potato starch in it? I need to find some kind of sweet treat to make for his birthday! Thanks

    • Hi Erica,
      I know how challenging those long lists can be. My son is also allergic to oranges, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries (on top of the wheat, corn, peanuts and walnuts). Luckily, we are able to use the potato starch, but I have made these cupcakes by using arrowroot starch instead of the potato starch. Sometimes I just have to use what I have in the cupboard! Most starches can be used interchangeably for one another with little change to the end product. Good luck and thanks for visiting Free Eats.

  5. I have a dumb question, where can I buy vanilla beans? Those cupcakes look so yummy, I want to make them for my 2yr. old grandson, he has celiacs disease & I’m sure he will love them:) Thank you!

    • That’s not a dumb question at all! I buy my vanilla beans from Trader Joe’s because they have a great price point, but you can also buy them from Amazon, in the spice section of the grocery store, or high-end kitchen supply stores. They can be a bit pricey but the flavor is so worth it. These cupcakes work wonderfully without the vanilla beans too though, just use the gluten free vanilla extract. Good luck and I hope your grandson loves them as much as my kids do!

    • Hi Ivy, I use a metal, spring-loaded muffin/ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners. The one I use is a 1/4 cup measure. Hope that is helpful! Best, Terris

  6. hi
    I am trying to bake this as a layer cake but my daughter turning 5 has multiple food allergies and egg is one of them along with dairy, nut, wheat, soy and coconut. do you think I should use an egg replacer?


    • Hi Michelle, Thank you for recommending my site! :) Olive oil would work, but I would use a light tasting version, rather than extra virgin since that would impart a noticeable flavor on the vanilla cupcake. Coconut oil is a perfect substitute, as is safflower. Really, any oil will work if there’s one that works better for your diet. This cupcake recipe is pretty forgiving! Thanks again and happy baking, Terris

  7. Could you make these as mini cupcakes? I want to bring these to my son’s day care for his 2nd birthday and the teachers always cut the regular ones in half for the toddlers since they don’t need big treats. Thought minis might be better – but only if they taste as good! :)

    • Hi Carrie, I think these would work fine as mini cupcakes. I’ve never done it but I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t work. You will need to reduce the baking time and keep an eye on them because they will bake much faster. I love the idea of taking minis for children. Full-size cupcakes with frosting always seem excessive, even for elementary-age kids! Happy Birthday to your son! :) -Terris

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  12. I’d really like a good lemon cake recipe and I already love this cake! Do you think it would work to replace the vanilla flavoring with lemon flavoring?

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