Gluten-Free Vanilla Cupcakes

I’ve been wanting to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon for a while now, and the opportunity came when a friend’s birthday gave me the perfect reason to finally get cracking.  A while ago, I made gluten-free, vegan chocolate chip cookies and was introduced to the use of almond flour in baking as a substitute for all-purpose flour, agave syrup as a substitute for sugar, and grapeseed oil as a substitute for butter.  But one project doesn’t mean I can really bake gluten-free (or vegan, for that matter).  I wanted to bake gluten-free and have it taste good, have a nice texture, and be as close to the regular, made-with-all-purpose-flour cupcake/cookie/whatever.

Enter this recipe I found while googling for gluten-free recipes.  Yes, I realize it’s a pound cake recipe, but you can convert any cake recipe into a cupcake recipe.  Just put the batter in cupcake pans and bake at approximately 20 minutes (to start…most cupcake recipes I’ve used require only about 20 minutes of baking time).

Before I even came across this recipe, I never knew there was such a thing as gluten-free vanilla and gluten-free baking powder.  Luckily for me, I have a bottle of Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste, which is certified gluten-free, so that saved me the trouble of looking for gluten-free vanilla.

The interesting part of this recipe was really the gluten free flour blend, which consisted of potato starch, rice flour (I used brown rice flour.  The nice lady at the organics store told me that brown rice flour, as opposed to white rice flour, is better because it’s less carbs), tapioca flour, and xanthan gum.  I was most fascinated with xanthan gum, because it sounded so…mysterious.  Xanthan gum is “used by people who are allergic to gluten to add volume and viscosity to bread and other gluten-free baked goods. It is made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris and is a natural carbohydrate,” according to the Bob’s Red Mill web site (incidentally, I used Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum for this recipe).  Apparently it’s also used as a thickener in sauces, gravies, etc.  Hmmm…fascinating.  Good to know.

Anyway, I know you’re really here for the pictures, so here they are:

 

I took that last picture because I wanted a close-up of the texture.  With gluten-free baking, what tends to be noticeably different is usually the texture.  In regular baking, flour is the ingredient responsible for the presence of gluten, a protein found in wheat-based food products which adds elasticity to doughs.  Gluten, which is not necessarily a bad thing to most people, is certainly a bad thing for people who have celiac disease or simply have a gluten intolerance.  Hence the need for gluten-free foods.  Anyway, the texture of this cupcake was almost exactly like the texture of a regular cupcake.  In fact, I can’t really tell much of a difference.
The taste of the cupcake itself was pretty good.  It was dense, but not too dense, and very moist and vanilla-y and buttery.  Now I know that if I want a dense cupcake, I should use a pound cake recipe.  I used an old standby for the frosting, a chocolate cream cheese frosting, which paired quite well with the cupcake.  Not having my 1M piping tip, I decided to use a different method of frosting a cupcake, what I would call the “dollop and turn” (I just made that up now).  I learned from this YouTube video (I love YouTube!) below:
I think this method of frosting is dependent on the consistency of the frosting.  They are clearly using a fairly stiff buttercream frosting in the video.  My frosting probably could have used a bit more stiffness for the design to have held more distinctly, but I think I did pretty good.  🙂
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