The Retro Mom

Bringing your grandmother's comfort food out of her recipe box and into your gluten-free kitchen

Cupcakes by any other name……would still be cupcakes

Not sleet, snow, rain, locusts, plagues, a sick me, nor sick children could stop The Man’s birthday from happening.

Believe me, I tried to stop it. It just wouldn’t listen. You can’t stop the hands of time, it would seem.

Luckily, he’s pretty laid back for his birthdays. A nice lunch/dinner out somewhere and a big huge ginormous epic dessert at home. In years past, it has been a pistachio cheesecake. This year was…. ….

no different.

Since the kids can’t have dairy – I needed to make a tasty dessert for them as well. The Boy wanted a pint of his favorite vanilla coconut milk ice cream. Plain vanilla ice cream on his dad’s (….mumbles number of years….) birthday? This was a day to celebrate! It required cupcakes! Nothing less. So into the Tardis I went, and in the course of three hours in Doctor Who-esque time, this all happened…it could have been longer, I really have no concept of time when I’m in the lab kitchen..

Let’s focus on the cupcakes today, shall we? They were divine! Like pound cake. But not. Crumbly, but not like the cake in Crumbly Cake Causes Compelling Consumption way. Light, but heavy. Tender. So very tender.

But how could a cupcake be all of that, and more? It just happened. There was no trick. No special ingredient. No traveling to Madagascar for vanilla pods to soak in homemade bourbon. Or to Kuala Lumpur for the bark of the bong-bong tree. Sometimes, you just need to lower your expectations in the kitchen and realize it will all be okay, and tasty! And, it’s pretty hard to mess up cupcakes. It’s no secret that I don’t like boxed cake/cupcake mixes. They are mealy, chalky, dry, moist and chewy all at once. They have ingredients like xanthan gum in them. Just not a fan. So, I turned once again, to my BFF, Betty. She would never steer a girl wrong.

cupcake recipe

I did have a good laugh when the recipe said it was delicious (true) and not too expensive. Clearly, Betty has never cooked with gluten-free ingredients. There’s like a 600% markup on them. Unless you have a Trader Joes nearby. Then the cupcakes will only cost you about $3.99. I’m assuming you have a home stocked with milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. If you don’t have a Trader Joes nearby, try to find a gluten-free flour mix without xanthan gum in it – it will make these cupcakes turn out the way I have described instead of chewy and feeling like they are rubbery. The plain cupcake passed The Boy’s taste/texture test immediately. I was on to something……

And as for that lone cake pop up there? I just found a cakepop pan and had a tiny bit of batter left over, just enough for one perfect little ball of happiness! And the recipe worked perfectly. My kids cannot wait for some occasion to make more cupcakes and cakepops. Like a random Thursday. Or Election Day.

Let’s get started!

Here’s What I Did To Make Cupcakes:


1. I used 3 cups of gluten-free all-purpose flour mix. No xanthan gum/guar gum/binders in the mix.

2. I reduced the sugar to 1 cup, and even then my family thought they were too sweet.

3. I used 4 generous teaspoonfuls of baking powder. Gluten-free flour needs a little “help” to rise.

4. I changed the 2/3 cup shortening to coconut oil, and used only 1/2 of a cup. Why? Gluten-free baking requires less liquid than regular baking. The flours aren’t “thirsty” like regular flour. And yes, “thirsty” is the correct term for how different brands of flour will bake up more dry or moist than others. I am going to try making them with butter sometime, and eat them all myself.

5. I used only 3/4 cup of almond milk, and warmed it before adding it to the coconut oil mixture, or I would have had a hardened gloop of coconut oil in there!

6. I used 2 teaspoon of vanilla, sometimes you need a little more to make it taste like “yellow cake”.


There is a specific order to adding and mixing the ingredients used in most cake recipes. I learned this many years ago, and I also learned to do it the way the recipe said to. No other way. There is a science to why all of the ingredients mix and make for a better cake than you would ever guess. Here’s a bit from

If a cake with a velvety, dissolving texture is your heart’s desire, the two-stage method is for you. First you blend all the dry ingredients, all the fat, and a small amount of the total liquid, and then you add the remaining liquid. This method lets the fat coat all the flour proteins and prevents the formation of gluten, producing an incredibly tender cake—so tender that it falls apart in your mouth. This dissolving texture gives the illusion of lightness, but in fact, cakes made by this method are a little heavier than those made by the creaming method.

OK, so even though the above explanation references gluten, the results remain the same. And yes, I know that the cake mix from the store says to throw everything in a bowl and mix. But, gentle reader, if you have come this far in my short but busy blogging life, you know I don’t take shortcuts in scratch cooking.

Here’s the difference sifting all of the dry ingredients makes in your flour mix:


And that makes all of the difference in the “crumb” of your baked good. Sift. For all of us. Sift. I implore you. Sift.


And for the love of all that is good in this world, whisl this mixture until you think it can’t be mixed any longer, and then add in two more minutes. You are adding as much airy lightness as possible into the batter. And airy lightness is not a term associated very often with gluten-free baked goods. Now, these cupcakes won’t come out light in weight, but the texture will be fine and tender when you have used the above method to mix your ingredients and then whirled it around in a bowl at high speed for umpteen minutes.

Pour your batter quickly, keeping all of the good baking powder bubbles going! I didn’t fill up my cupcake papers as high as I should have – this recipe doesn’t rise much, so go ahead and live on the wild side and fill them up 3/4 of the way. Bake until done. I can’t tell you how many minutes it will take, because there are too many variables with ingredients. Just make sure NOT to overbake them.

cupcake row

Yes, they cracked. That’s why frosting was invented. I’m just sure of it.

cupcakes 2

I used chocolate frosting from my post about cake, and kind of made up a recipe for vanilla. Artoo wanted vanilla frosting. OK. Without dairy. Sure. Without lumps. Ugh. So after careful deliberation (note: that means throwing things in a bowl and praying he’ll eat it) I came up with this:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsps. vanilla

1 tbsp. almond milk (you may need a bit more depending on what type of powdered sugar you use)

I mixed it all and spread a bit on the cupcakes. It formed the best, smooth covering! It literally spread itself on the cupcake! This, I like.

It passed his taste test. This, I love.

Even The Man, famously hard to impress with gluten-free baked goods, ate an entire cupcake. Will wonders never cease in this home?

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