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)
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 2 ½ cups corn-free powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup milk or milk substitute of choice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla (I use Frontier brand or homemade for corn-free version)
- ½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
- pinch of salt
→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.